A study was published in the journal Pediatrics that got a lot of press this week. Among lots of places it appeared on CNN.com with the title, “Violent Video Games Linked to Child Aggression“.
Even before I read the story I suspected that Craig Anderson was involved. Anderson has never done a study where he didn’t find that something caused aggression. He sees aggression everywhere. Now I’ve read an interview or two with him and he sounds reasonable. He certainly doesn’t seem as if he wants to go all Jack Thompson or anything.
The problem with this Anderson’s work? At least in the papers of his that I have read (and as seems to be common in certain academic fields his name gets attached as coauthor on a lot of papers so it is hard to read all of them) he never offers a clear definition of “aggression.” This article is no exception.
In one paragraph the authors write,”‘Aggression’ also is defined differently by behavioral scientists than by the general public. Social and developmental psychologists typically define ‘aggression’ as behavior that is intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid that harm. In other words, aggression is an act conducted by 1 person with the intent of hurting another person; it is not an emotion, thought, or intention.” (page e1068)
However, in the next paragraph they contradict the statement that agression “is not an emotion, thought, or intention” when they state, “Existing experimental studies demonstrate that playing a violent video game causes an immediate increase in aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions.” (page e1068)
So does “aggression” include thoughts or emotions or not?
Regardless, both the Japanese and the USA groups involved self-reporting of “aggression” which puts the results in doubt and there’s no information on why the participants in each group were chosen (the Japanese group was actually data from another study) so there’s no way of knowing if games make kids more aggressive or if aggressive kids play more games.
Finally, the study was funded in part by the National Institute on Media and the Family (page e1070) which also calls the results into question since they are an outspoken group about the evils of videogames.
So what does this study show? I’m not a psychologist but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t show much of anything.