ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Observations

Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Are Violent Video Games Corrupting Children? Supreme Court Says States Cannot Decide

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



video game, violence, psychologyThe U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling Monday (pdf) that California cannot regulate the sale or rental of violent video games to minors is the latest chapter in the long-simmering debate over the impact of aggression in the virtual world on children’s behavior in the real world. The high court’s ruling is based on law and politics; it noted that states don’t have the right to restrict children’s First Amendment rights. Still, the science to date suggests that violent video games do negatively affect the behavior of children.

California’s 2005 law was written by Senator Leland Yee (D–San Francisco), who is a child psychologist. In a statement on his Web site, Yee expressed disappointment today’s ruling, accusing the majority of the Supreme Court with "once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children."

Yee’s stance on whether to let children under the age of 18 play video games depicting violent scenarios—murder, car jackings and the like—is that such games cause "an increase in aggressive behavior, physiological desensitization to violence, and decrease [in] pro-social behavior," according to an earlier statement on Yee’s site. His position lines up with those of the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Among other supporters of Yee’s position is a group of psychologists and social researchers led by Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence, who last year authored a paper that pointed to "clear and convincing" evidence that "media violence is one of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression." The study, entitled "The Influence of Media Violence on Youth" and published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, concluded that "research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts."

Rowell Huesmann, head of the University of Michigan Aggression Research Program, supported Anderson’s findings at the time but acknowledged in that same issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest that this was unlikely to change the perception that the issue is undecided because "some studies have yielded null effects, because many people are concerned that the implications of the research threaten freedom of expression, and because many people have their identities or self-interests closely tied to violent video games."

The other side of the violent video games disagreement claims that violent crimes among juveniles are declining even as video games have gotten more violent and that it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between any one medium and a group’s behavior, let alone the actions of an individual.

In a June 2010 Scientific American article social psychologist Dara Greenwood evaluated arguments on both sides of the debate. Whereas research by Cheryl Olson, a public health specialist at Harvard, found that children’s reported motivations for video game playing and found that their top rated choices were to have fun, to compete well with others, and to be challenged. Olson also elaborated on the psychological benefits such play might afford, describing how video games facilitate self-expression, role play, creative problem-solving, cognitive mastery, positive social interactions and leadership.

Greenwood acknowledged that "no media psychologists worth their salt would conclude that violent video games will turn your children into gun-toting sociopaths." Still, she concluded that violent media, including video games, may affect people in "countless subtle ways, increasing hostility and apathy to those around us."

California’s loss in the Supreme Court has a greater impact than simply scuttling that state’s attempt to limit children’s access to violent video games. The 11 other states—Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia—that submitted an amicus brief in support of California’s law now find their options likewise limited.

Image courtesy of Artur Gabrysiak, via iStockphoto.com





Rights & Permissions

Comments 13 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. fyngyrz 7:21 pm 06/27/2011

    The supreme court said that parents should decide, not the state. And they were RIGHT.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Aspiringphysicist 1995 8:41 pm 06/27/2011

    Parents should definitely decide. Not all children interpret things the same as far as media. I know for a fact that when I was younger, seeing my cousins play Grand Theft Auto did not inspire me to go and commit vicious crimes. Plus the ESRB rating "M" gets thrown around much to often in the world of video gaming. Halo is a well known science fiction franchise having to due with Humans vs. an all out alien alliance. With war comes blood and violence; Due to a horrible American society kids grow up in , war is a normal thing. I think that before we make changes to the way our own children are entertained we must look at the way we function as a society.

    Link to this
  3. 3. gesres 10:25 pm 06/27/2011

    "seeing my cousins play Grand Theft Auto did not inspire me to go and commit vicious crimes."

    Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, yet smoking increases the probability of it, so we’re comfortable making the generalization that smoking causes cancer.

    I’m not necessarily arguing that we should regulate video games, but the fact that it didn’t increase the aggression of one particular person (you) isn’t much of an argument against it.

    Link to this
  4. 4. tmclaurin4 12:51 pm 06/28/2011

    the Cal, Courts ruled on violent games—from npr story 6/27/00

    "cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them," he said.—NO THEY SEE STUFF EVERYDAY–BUT GAMERS AREN,T JUST LOOKING –THEY SPEND HOURS IN THE CLOUD OF –POWER ORIENTED REWARD PUNISH MODE—-JUST A GAME ?–THEY ARE GOING BEYOND -IDEA AND IMAGE EXPOSURE ?–THEY’ER BRAINS ARE EATING AND CREATING REACTION PATTERN SCHEMATICS THAT ARE SURELY NOT REMOVEABLE -"-O THATS JUST A GAME "–NOT TO WORRY I DON,T PROCESS THINGS THAT WAY ? -DO THESE "PATHWAYS" EFFECT–REWARD CENTERS ?—I THINK IT MAY EFFECT FUTURE TRENDS REGARDING MANY ISSUES FROM HUMAN RIGHTS TO CRASH AND BURN –SCORCHED EARTH POLICY– TO SHCEMING FINANCIAL SKULLDUGGERY –TO CYBER HACKING WERE PEOPLE DONT SEE THE EFFECTS OF THERE ACTS-ON PEOLPES LIVES FINANCIAL, REPUTATIONS–ETC…-THEY ONLY SEE NUMBERS AND CODE BREAKING–A GAME WITH GOTHIC ANARCHIC ROMANCE?—-IT SETS AN ACRID TONE ?—-I SEE THIS MAYBE AS THE TAKEOVER OF DRIVE IN’S IN THE 1970′S—-EVERY-OTHER TOWN HAD ONE—50 FT. –SCREENS—AS A TEEN WELL !?!—BUT LOOKING BACK THIS PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALITTLE MORE DISCRETE ?—YEAH THE TIMES AND ALL-CONTEXTUAL——SO I SEE THIS RULING AS A TYPE OF –I CANT’ BELEIVE THAT___? — AGE IS IMPORTANT WHEN IMPRINTING CERTAIN SOCIALIZING ETIQUETTES—–VIOLENCE AND SEXUALITY MAY BE ATTRACTIVE SUBJECTS TO YOUTH SOMETIMES —BUT I THINK THESE ARE VONERABLE YEARS FOR SOME OF US —WHEN FORMING IDEAS OF EMPATHY AND NOTIONS OF SELF CONTROL —GRANDMA AND GRANDPA!—–SO YES i AGREE–IDEAS AND IMAGES CAN’T BE LEGISLATED —AND WHO WOULD WANT TO!–BUT I FEEL EARLY -MID TEENS SHOULD HAVE A PARENT PRESENT AND SIGNATURE –AT PURCHASE OF THESE VIOLENT GAMES—-AND YOUNGER NOT AT ALL. —-I THINK THE STUDY OF COMPOSERS LIKE RICARD WAGNER, JOHN WILLIAMS, AND SOME FORM OF INTERACTION / SPLICE TOGETHER YOUR OWN MOVIE SOFTWARE—-WITH THESE THEMATIC TYPE MUSIC SCORES WOULD BE FUN? —-AND A CONSTRUCTIVE WAY ??–JUST THINK’N—–old foegy??

    Link to this
  5. 5. racer79 2:05 pm 06/28/2011

    You are correct that violent games not causing one child to be violent isn’t much of an argument against violent games causing violence in youth in general, however, the argument isn’t, whether or not violent games do indeed cause violence. The argument posed here is whether or not the United States goverment should spend it’s time and resources with an already overstreched budget trying to make the way a parent raises their child the goverment’s business. In my personal opinion, the goverment shouldn’t have to sit around and tell parents how to raise their children, and furthermore it offends me that they would try.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Max Redalia 3:54 pm 06/28/2011

    How else are we going to train our kids for the new "bloodless" drone wars, where they push a button and civilians die on the other side of the world? We must desensitize our kids to violence and video games are the way to do it. And as President Obama says, dropping bombs on people no longer qualifies as aggression. Blasting people to bloody shreds with flying robots is a peaceful and wholesome educational activity for the whole family!

    Link to this
  7. 7. Avraham Keslinger 1:30 am 06/29/2011

    When I was a kid back in the Stone Age there were violent cartoons such as "Road Runner" yet there was no violence in my life other than the usual boys’ fights.American society was also much less violent then. IMHO, the basic problem is the breakdown of traditional values and communities.

    I also agree that having governmental bodies decide is opening up Pandora’s box. Who knows what some bureaucrat will take into his head to prohibit? On this there was once a saying "no man’s liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session".

    Link to this
  8. 8. Marty Gull 6:56 am 06/29/2011

    I’m surprised that experts’ time and tax payers’ money is still being wasted on this tedious perennial. The effects model was blown out of the academic water decades ago. The problems of decadence are demonstrably located in the broader cultural context.

    General criticisms of the effects model:

    1. The effects model tackles social problems ‘backwards’.

    2. The effects model treats children as inadequate.

    3. Assumptions within the effects model are characterized by barely concealed conservative ideology.

    4. The effects model inadequately defines its own objects of study.

    5. The effects model is often based on artificial studies.

    6. The effects model is often based on studies with misapplied methodology.

    7. The effects model is selective in its criticisms of media depictions of violence.

    8. The effects model assumes researchers’ superiority to the ‘masses’.

    9. The effects model makes no attempt to understand the meanings of the media.

    10. The effects model is not grounded in theory.

    Link to this
  9. 9. sunnystrobe 4:41 am 07/1/2011

    The law is an ass; it lags centuries behind scientific evidence that our brains tend to mix the virtual world with reality. Violent computer games are clearly pre-conditioning our youngsters to see the killing of persons, alien or not, as ‘fun & entertainment’.The recent Wikileaks have shown to the world how casually some young pilots treated their Middle East shooting spree. They must have had the borderline between ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’ with a blurred vision . And who can blame them? Brain scans have shown that our grey matter lights up the same way, irrespective of whether it’s for real or not! Asking parents to settle this problem is not very fair I think. They are not the legislators after all, nor are they psychologists or psychiatrists; therefore, why not leave it to the specialists who have clearly advised against violent games on TV before.

    Link to this
  10. 10. kaebomb 4:44 am 07/1/2011

    When I was a kid back in the Stone Age there were violent cartoons such as "Road Runner" yet there was no violence in my life other than the usual boys’ fights.
    –I don’t follow how you can compare Roadrunner with kids making decisions to, and getting points (rewards) for raping women and gunning down everyone in their path. And while they are raping and killing, these virtual people are shrieking out in terror. Their life-like screams sound so much different than the bouncing noise the coyote made when he popped back into his original shape.

    Link to this
  11. 11. kaebomb 4:51 am 07/1/2011

    In my personal opinion, the goverment shouldn’t have to sit around and tell parents how to raise their children, and furthermore it offends me that they would try.
    - Yes, parents should be with their children every second they are awake to ensure no one sells them violent games, cigarettes, or alcohol while their backs are turned. And in order to keep their attention fully on their children, they should not be working, but collecting welfare so they can raise their kids properly. Really, it’s a huge waste of government money to enforce an 18 year old smoking age and 21 year old drinking age. All these ridiculous, wasteful bans should be lifted so we can spend less tax dollars and the children can have their freedom.

    Link to this
  12. 12. talha7o 3:48 pm 07/28/2011

    I appreciate the words of your. Check on the following link regarding violent vidoe games. Its really very interesting.
    http://awaroz.com/wp/?p=1226

    Link to this
  13. 13. jackedup 5:42 am 04/19/2012

    i appreciated you thinking about highlighting the topic… but there are solutions to it.. we can use proper medicines to improve our standard against them..
    check following link for solutions. it is really helpfull
    http://www.jackedup.me/

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Special Universe

Get the latest Special Collector's edition

Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, Future

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X