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article imageHarvard Researchers: Playing Violent Video Games Does Not Make Kids More Violent

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By Chris Hogg     Apr 18, 2008 in Entertainment
According to Harvard researchers, there is no evidence to support the argument that playing violent video games will make kids violent. In fact, they say kids who don't play video games are at just as much risk of turning violent as those who do.
Digital Journal -- It's an issue that has been debated since the early days of video games: Do violent games make children and teens who play them more violent? According to two Harvard researchers, the answer is no.
Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson are authors of the book Grand Theft Childhood a book that examines "the surprising truth about video games." According to their research for a Harvard study, video games (including violent games) can actually benefit families.
As their website reads:
In 2004, Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, began a $1.5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice on the effects of video games on young teenagers. In contrast to previous research, they studied real children and families in real situations
What they found surprised, encouraged, and sometimes disturbed them.
Coming to the project with no agenda except to conduct sound, responsible research, their findings conform neither to the views of the alarmists nor of the video game industry. In Grand Theft Childhood, Kutner and Olson untangle the web of politics, marketing, advocacy and flawed or misconstrued studies that until now have shaped parents’ concerns.
In an interview with G4 Tech TV (video below), Kutner says there is absolutely no evidence to support the argument that playing violent video games could turn a child or teen into a violent criminal. Kutner cites the fact that while time spent playing games has increased, violent crime has actually decreased in the U.S.
But what about the fact that some studies show the exact opposite, that playing video games can lead to more violence? Olson says there is a core of "experimental psychologists" that have grabbed onto the topic and performed tests that are not scientific. For example, Olsen says psych professors will often ask students to play violent games for 15 or 20 minutes and then ask the student to shock or blow an air horn at someone they can't see in another room. Olsen says this type of research then gets reported as evidence where a student who blows a horn for a second longer after playing violent games is somehow more violent. She says she believes this type of behaviour does not translate into real-world violence.
Kutner also points out the difference between short- and long-term affects; when teens watch a martial arts movie they will often come out playing or kicking their friends but that goes away quickly. That type of reaction is excitement, not aggression, he says.
"There's this leap of faith that if a child, or a teenager or even a young adult is exposed to this and they have a short-term response, that means it's going to change their behaviour," said Kutner. "We found actually quite the opposite [is true]."
Kutner says behaviour and exposure is important to note. He said kids who play violent M-rated games for 15 hours a week or more are at greater risk of getting into trouble. He said most kids who do play for this long won't become violent, but they are at statistically greater risk. However, Kutner said boys who don't play video games are also at significantly greater risk of getting into trouble.
Kutner cites one example that was misrepresented in the media: After the fatal shooting at Virginia Tech a year ago, pundits got on air blaming the violent behaviour on video games. However, Kutner says, if you read the report that came out of that investigation it shows the shooter (Seung-Hui Cho) played Sonic the Hedgehog at age nine, but did not play video games later in life.
To hear more from Kutner and Olson, check out the video below:
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