New research from Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and independent researcher Cheryl Olson (author of Grand Theft Childhood) concludes that games such as Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo do not serve as "triggers" to teenagers with symptoms of depression or attention deficit disorder. In other words, video games do not cause these groups to become aggressive bullies, delinquents, or murderers.
The study (Video Game Violence Use Among “Vulnerable” Populations: The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression or Attention Deficit Symptoms – published in Springer's Journal of Youth and Adolescence) concludes the opposite, in fact. Researchers found that playing such games actually had a "very slight" calming effect on youth with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce their aggressive and bullying behavior.
Ferguson and Olson studied 377 American children with an average age of 13-years-old from various ethnic groups who had "clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive symptoms." The children were part of an existing federally funded project that examines the effect of video game violence on youths.
Researchers found no association between playing violent video games and subsequent "increased delinquent criminality or bullying" in subjects diagnosed with clinically elevated depressive or attention deficit symptoms. The findings are in line with data from a recent Secret Service report in which the occurrence of more general forms of youth violence were linked with aggressiveness and stress rather than with video game violence.
Ferguson and Olson noted in the published research that the results could not be generalized to extreme cases such as mass shootings, but that they strongly advocate for a change in general perceptions about the influence of violent video games.
Christopher Ferguson told GamePolitics this afternoon that this initial study shows that the wild speculation about the dangers of at-risk children diagnosed with depression or attention problems playing video games is just that – speculation. He also said that more studies are needed:
"I think perhaps the best take-away of the study is that links between violent games and delinquency and bullying in this study were quite minimal," Ferguson told GamePolitics. "I’m not sure I’d make too much of the “cathartic” finding, that was just one outcome out of four. But there’s been a lot of speculation about whether certain kids represent an at-risk population for violent video games. This initial study suggests that, at least for kids with depression or attention problems, that isn’t the case. It would be good for further studies to examine this in other populations of kids, but at least at this point such speculation about at-risk populations is just that…speculation."
You can find the research report here.