I am not a scientist. The trouble with giving information to people like me, who comprise the overwhelming majority, is that we often confuse causation with correlation. The latter term means that some relationship between two factors exists, but does not mean one causes the other. Here is a classic example: As ice cream sales increase, the rate of drowning deaths increases sharply. Therefore, ice cream causes drowning. This assumption fails to take into account that ice cream sales and swimming both increase during the summer months. Increased deaths by drowning are simply caused by greater exposure to water-oriented activities in the hotter months.
Increasing youth violence is often attributed, in part, to increasing exposure to violent video games. Proponents of this linkage point to extreme cases like the violent-video-game orientation of Columbine perpetrators Dillon Klebold and Eric Harris. Faced with a seeming increase in such horrific events, people want to be able to do something about it. They want to believe that they have some control. No one wants to spend years researching the massive social, economic and cultural shifts that probably underlie recent trends. It is much easier to put that energy into an easy and glaring target: violent video games. Yet, scientific studies provide, at best, a very weak relationship for predicting violent behavior from exposure to violent video games.
Several studies in the last few years, on the other hand, should still give us reason for pause. While the vast majority of children will not end up hurting others because of exposure to violent video games, there are some children for whom these games represent a very severe danger, one that can exacerbate a personality profile already trending toward antisocial and hurtful behavior. Returning to Klebold and Harris, these two showed serious maladaptive characteristics: extreme anger, depression, spitefulness, aggression, and even some psychotic traits. These were clearly apparent long before they went on the school shooting spree.
Teachers, therapists and parents need to be on the lookout for maladaptive traits and keep those children away from violence of any kind as much as possible. A recent research article specifies personality characteristics that, combined, should sound the alarm:
- Low conscientiousness– NOT well-organized and responsible; NOT performing tasks, projects and assignments in an efficient, diligent, and self-controlled way.
- Low agreeableness- LACKING in altruism, trust, compliance and concern for others.
- High neuroticism– Negative emotionality, including vulnerability to stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotional states.
Children who exhibit these three trait sets should be steered away from violent video games. For the overwhelming majority, however, violent video games may well be a healthy outlet for built-up emotions, stress, and unexpressed aggression.
I know I have written frequently on this topic. I have done so out of a deep passion that we focus our energies in the right direction.
- What’s your opinion on this issue? Is your opinion rooted in scientific evidence? Gut instinct? Things you’ve heard from others?
- Please weigh in on this very important debate.