In the JournalsPerspective

Playing violent video games linked to dangerous gun-related behavior in kids

Children who played a video game that featured violence with swords or guns were more likely to engage in risky gun-related activities than children who played a nonviolent video game, according to findings recently published in JAMA Network Open.

Justin Chang, MA, and Brad J. Bushman, PhD, both of the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, randomly assigned 220 children aged 8 to 12 years (mean age, 9.9 years; 129 boys) who knew each other in an approximate 1:1:1 ratio. The children either played or watched a version of Minecraft with either gun-related content, sword-related content or no violent content. Then, the pairs of children were left alone in a different room with a cabinet with two hidden disabled handguns and told they could play with the toys in the room. Both activities lasted 20 minutes.

Researchers found that among the 76 children who played the video game with gun violence, 61.8% subsequently touched a gun, as did 56.8% of the 74 children who played the video game that included sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 children who played the nonviolent video game

Chang and Bushman also found that children who self-reported exposure to violent media were positively linked to total trigger pulls (incidence rate ratio = 1.4; 95% CI, 1-1.98) and trigger pulls at one’s partner or oneself (IRR = 1.88; 95% CI, 1.29-2.72). In addition, trait aggression was positively linked with time spent holding a handgun (IRR = 4.22; 95% CI, 1.62-11.02), total trigger pulls (IRR = 13.52; 95% CI, 3.14-58.29) and trigger pulls at one’s partner or oneself (IRR = 25.69; 95% CI, 5.92-111.39).

“Our study highlights another danger of violent media exposure: it increases dangerous behavior around firearms. Specifically, exposure to violent video games can increase a child’s interest in firearms, including shooting a handgun at themselves or others. In addition, habitual exposure to violent media was a risk factor for dangerous behavior around real guns,” they wrote.

“As such, parents and guardians should be cognizant of the risk associated with exposure to violent media. Most importantly, gun owners should secure their firearms,” they continued.

In a related editorial, Cheryl A. King, PhD and Cynthia Ewell Foster, PhD, both from the University of Michigan, explained how Chang and Bushman’s findings assist in the comprehension of intentional violence toward others.

Video game player 
Children who played a video game that featured violence with swords or guns were more likely to engage in risky gun-related activities than children who played a nonviolent video game, according to findings recently published in JAMA Network Open.
Source: Adobe

“A child or adolescent who actively engages with a video game with firearm violence may have a lower threshold for using a firearm against another person when experiencing strong negative emotions and a precipitating event. This may occur through one or more of the mechanisms that have been proposed to account for the relationship of exposure to violence with aggressive behavior (eg, desensitization, activation of a schema or script for aggression),” King and Foster wrote.

“One framework for understanding the likelihood of subsequent aggression, the general aggression model emphasizes the importance of personal variables (eg, personality traits) and situational or external variables (eg, presence of weapons, exposure to media

violence, availability of alcohol, provocation of others). Based on this framework, the risk profiles of children and adolescents are highly heterogeneous, ever changing, and not entirely controllable,” they added. – by Janel Miller

Disclosures: King reports that her employer at the University of Michigan, The Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, is funded by the NIH. No other relevant financial disclosures were reported.

Children who played a video game that featured violence with swords or guns were more likely to engage in risky gun-related activities than children who played a nonviolent video game, according to findings recently published in JAMA Network Open.

Justin Chang, MA, and Brad J. Bushman, PhD, both of the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, randomly assigned 220 children aged 8 to 12 years (mean age, 9.9 years; 129 boys) who knew each other in an approximate 1:1:1 ratio. The children either played or watched a version of Minecraft with either gun-related content, sword-related content or no violent content. Then, the pairs of children were left alone in a different room with a cabinet with two hidden disabled handguns and told they could play with the toys in the room. Both activities lasted 20 minutes.

Researchers found that among the 76 children who played the video game with gun violence, 61.8% subsequently touched a gun, as did 56.8% of the 74 children who played the video game that included sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 children who played the nonviolent video game

Chang and Bushman also found that children who self-reported exposure to violent media were positively linked to total trigger pulls (incidence rate ratio = 1.4; 95% CI, 1-1.98) and trigger pulls at one’s partner or oneself (IRR = 1.88; 95% CI, 1.29-2.72). In addition, trait aggression was positively linked with time spent holding a handgun (IRR = 4.22; 95% CI, 1.62-11.02), total trigger pulls (IRR = 13.52; 95% CI, 3.14-58.29) and trigger pulls at one’s partner or oneself (IRR = 25.69; 95% CI, 5.92-111.39).

“Our study highlights another danger of violent media exposure: it increases dangerous behavior around firearms. Specifically, exposure to violent video games can increase a child’s interest in firearms, including shooting a handgun at themselves or others. In addition, habitual exposure to violent media was a risk factor for dangerous behavior around real guns,” they wrote.

“As such, parents and guardians should be cognizant of the risk associated with exposure to violent media. Most importantly, gun owners should secure their firearms,” they continued.

In a related editorial, Cheryl A. King, PhD and Cynthia Ewell Foster, PhD, both from the University of Michigan, explained how Chang and Bushman’s findings assist in the comprehension of intentional violence toward others.

Video game player 
Children who played a video game that featured violence with swords or guns were more likely to engage in risky gun-related activities than children who played a nonviolent video game, according to findings recently published in JAMA Network Open.
Source: Adobe

“A child or adolescent who actively engages with a video game with firearm violence may have a lower threshold for using a firearm against another person when experiencing strong negative emotions and a precipitating event. This may occur through one or more of the mechanisms that have been proposed to account for the relationship of exposure to violence with aggressive behavior (eg, desensitization, activation of a schema or script for aggression),” King and Foster wrote.

“One framework for understanding the likelihood of subsequent aggression, the general aggression model emphasizes the importance of personal variables (eg, personality traits) and situational or external variables (eg, presence of weapons, exposure to media

violence, availability of alcohol, provocation of others). Based on this framework, the risk profiles of children and adolescents are highly heterogeneous, ever changing, and not entirely controllable,” they added. – by Janel Miller

Disclosures: King reports that her employer at the University of Michigan, The Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, is funded by the NIH. No other relevant financial disclosures were reported.

    Perspective
    Douglas Gentile

    Douglas Gentile

    Studies such as Chang and Bushman’s remind me of research I was lead author on that was published in JAMA Pediatrics that followed children across a school year.

    Parents who set limits on the amount and content of screen media their children consumed saw significant benefits across a wide range of health and wellness indicators. Children whose parents set limits at the beginning of the school year were rated as less aggressive and more pro-social by their teachers at the end of the year. We also found that these children were getting better grades and more sleep, the latter of which likely will provide health benefits that will have a significant positive, powerful ripple effect across their lives. Perhaps our findings can help primary care physicians broach the subject of these newer findings with patients and their patients’ parents.

    That said, Chang and Bushman’s study is about more than just PCPs telling their patients and their patients’ parents to set time limits. Because kids learn from what they see and practice, their study is also about PCPs telling parents to shifting their child’s focus of other media away from drama caused by conflict and fighting as much as possible and replace them with programs and games where characters care for each other. Studies show these types of media increase children’s empathy and prosocial behaviors.

    • Douglas Gentile, PhD, MA
    • professor, department of psychology, Iowa State University

    Disclosures: Gentile reports potential future interest in a media literacy firm.