New research from Craig Anderson, a psychologist and professor at Iowa State University who is known for his anti-game research is making the rounds this week, but it is not going unchallenged. Anderson's latest research suggests that children who play violent video games "may experience" an increase in aggressive thoughts, which "could" lead to aggressive behavior. In the study, children ages 8 to 17 who played a lot of violent video games showed an increase in aggressive behavior (such as hitting, shoving and pushing) three years later, compared to their behavior at the study's start. The study goes on to conclude that those who reduced the amount of time playing video games saw a decrease in aggressive behavior.
They were also more likely to see aggressive behavior as an appropriate way to respond to provocation, according to Anderson.
"Children and adolescents who play a lot of [violent] games change over time, they start to see aggressive solutions as being more reasonable" ways to respond to conflict or frustration, Anderson told Live Science.
Christopher Ferguson (pictured, left), an associate professor of psychology at Stentson University in DeLand, Fla., said that the data used in the new study has been used in the past to make connections between violent video games and aggression, and has been strongly criticized.
"Given that this data has been out there already, and that there's so many problems, I don't think that's much here for parents or policy makers to take away from it," Ferguson said.
Ferguson said that one of the flaws is the fact that the children who participated in the study are asked themselves to rate the violence of their video games, which could bias the results. He also points out that, despite an increase in violent entertainment over the last few decades, the rate of youth violence has not increased.
"If video games really did have this direct, linear affect, we would be able to see it in society, and we're not," he said.
Andrew Przybylski, a social scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, agrees with Ferguson, noting that the findings are "weakened by analytical shortcomings that make it difficult for me to assess where it fits in the debate."
Przybylski said the study does not provide an important number known as the effect size, which would describe how much violent video games account for aggressive behavior. This is important, he says, because researchers have debated whether video games really increase aggressive behavior more than other factors, such as substance abuse, having siblings, and other factors related to family situations.
Anderson thinks that, if parents are concerned about the findings of his new study, they should pay close attention to their child's media habits, and substitute violent game content with pro-social content (such as those that involve cooperation). Ferguson disagrees, noting that the decision is up to parents on what their children should and should not consume.
"I think each parent has both the right and responsibility to decide what is best for their family, and also to respect that what works for one family may be different than what works for a different family," he said. "It’s best to understand that this is a moral decision, not a public health decision."
Przybylski closed by calling on the researchers of the new study to share their data with others to help move the debate forward in a meaningful way.
"This data set is very rich, and this publication raises a lot of questions about how things are being computed," Przybylski said. If the data were shared "then everyone would be looking at the same facts, instead of just trading relatively ideologically driven opinions," he added.
The study in question was published this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Source: Live Science