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J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
DOI 10.1007/s10964-010-9610-x
Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis
in Adolescents
Christopher J. Ferguson
Received: 24 September 2010 / Accepted: 9 November 2010 / Published online: 14 December 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract The potential influence of violent video games
on youth violence remains an issue of concern for psychologists, policymakers and the general public. Although
several prospective studies of video game violence effects
have been conducted, none have employed well validated
measures of youth violence, nor considered video game
violence effects in context with other influences on youth
violence such as family environment, peer delinquency,
and depressive symptoms. The current study builds upon
previous research in a sample of 302 (52.3% female)
mostly Hispanic youth. Results indicated that current levels
of depressive symptoms were a strong predictor of serious
aggression and violence across most outcome measures.
Depressive symptoms also interacted with antisocial traits
so that antisocial individuals with depressive symptoms
were most inclined toward youth violence. Neither video
game violence exposure, nor television violence exposure,
were prospective predictors of serious acts of youth
aggression or violence. These results are put into the
context of criminological data on serious acts of violence
among youth.
Keywords Computer games Mass media Aggression
Violence Adolescence
Although several prospective studies of video game effects refer to
themselves as ‘‘longitudinal’’, none use multiple assessment periods
over years that typically mark longitudinal designs. Rather they are
short-term prospective studies by and large.
C. J. Ferguson (&)
Department of Behavioral, Applied Sciences and Criminal
Justice, Texas A&M International University,
Laredo, TX 78045, USA
e-mail: CJFerguson1111@Aol.com
Concerns about the potential influence of violent video
games on serious acts of youth aggression and violence
have been debated in the general public, among policy
makers and among social scientists for several decades. At
present, a general consensus on video game violence
effects has been elusive, with great debate occurring among
scholars in this field. Some scholars have concluded that
strong video game violence effects on aggression have
been conclusively and causally demonstrated in wide
segments of the population (e.g., Anderson et al. 2008;
Anderson 2004). Others have concluded that video game
violence may have only weak effects on youth aggression,
or may only influence some youth, particularly those
already at-risk for violence (e.g., Giumetti and Markey
2007; Kirsh 1998; Markey and Scherer 2009). Still others
have concluded that video game violence effects on youth
aggression are either essentially null, or that the field of
video game violence studies has difficulties with methodological problems to such an extent that meaningful conclusions cannot be made about the existing research (e.g.,
Durkin and Barber 2002; Kutner and Olson 2008; Olson
2004; Savage and Yancey 2008; Sherry 2007; Unsworth
et al. 2007). For instance, as some have noted (e.g., Olson
2004), the increased popularity of video game play among
youth has been correlated with a societal reduction in youth
violence rather than an increase in youth violence.
The divergence in findings may be understood as a
function of methods used. As has been found for television
research (Ferguson and Kilburn 2009; Savage and Yancey
2008; Paik and Comstock 1994), studies of video games
that use well validated measures of aggression or violence
find less evidence for harmful effects, as do studies that
employ greater statistical controls for third variables
(Ferguson and Kilburn 2009). Thus, put generally, it
appears that more careful controls are correlated with
weaker effects, which essentially was the conclusion of
Ferguson and Kilburn (2009) in their review of the
research. For example, Ybarra et al. (2008) found weak
bivariate correlations between video game violence exposure and youth violence. However, as indicated in their
Fig. 2, these correlations vanished once other relevant
factors were controlled, such as family environment and
personality. Similarly, Ferguson and colleagues (Ferguson
et al. 2008) found that controlling for ‘‘third’’ variables in a
correlational study, and using a well-standardized aggression measure in an experimental design (as opposed to ad
hoc unstandardized measures often used as discussed in
Ferguson et al. 2008) resulted in no correlational or
experimental evidence for harmful effects.
Prospective Studies of Violent Video Game Effects
At present, a small number of prospective designs have
examined video game violence influences on player
aggression. Thus far, results have been mixed and arguably
limited by use of aggression measures that do not necessarily tap well into serious aggression or violence, nor use
sophisticated controls for third or confounding variables.
As such, the generalizability of existing prospective
designs to behavioral outcomes of most interest, namely
serious/pathological aggression and criminally violent
behavior, may be limited (see Gauntlett 1995; Savage and
Yancey 2008 for a discussion of aggression measure
validity issues). Below, a review of prospective studies of
video game violence appearing in peer-reviewed journals
The first prospective study of video game violence was
by Williams and Skoric (2005). This study was unusual
in that it employed an experimental design, randomly
assigning 213 volunteers to either play a violent on-line
game Asheron’s Call 2, or to a control group that did not
play the game (none of the participants had previously
played the game). Outcome measures included a scale of
normative beliefs in aggression (NOBAGS) as well as a
self-report measure of engaging in verbal aggression such
as arguments and name calling with others. Results indicated that, controlling for previous game exposure, randomized exposure to the violent game did not influence
players’ normative beliefs in aggression, nor frequency of
verbal altercations. However, this study has some significant weaknesses. First, the prospective period was fairly
short (1 month). Second, the outcome measures are more
relevant for mild or non-serious aggression (i.e., intention
physical assaults were not measured) and cannot be generalized to more serious aggressive acts. Further the outcome measures related to constructs such as ‘‘normative
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
beliefs’’ in aggression are among those criticized for not
predicting actual aggressive behavior effectively (Savage
and Yancey 2008).
Anderson et al. (2008) reported on several prospective
studies, two occurring with Japanese samples and one with
an American sample, all involving youth. The prospective
periods in these studies ranged from 3 to 6 months. The
authors found small but statistically significant prospective
effects (ranging from .075 to .152, suggesting the covariance between video game violence exposure and aggression may range between .5 and 2.3% when time 1
aggression is controlled). Although the authors interpret
these findings as highly significant and generalizable to
serious youth violence, it is not clear how to interpret such
small effects (falling mainly near or below Cohen’s 1992
guidelines for trivial findings). None of these prospective
results control for third variables, thus it is possible that the
actual effects may even be lower than reported here.
Finally, the aggression measures used in this study again
fall under the category of those that have been criticized in
the past for validity problems (Gauntlett 1995; Savage and
Yancey 2008), particularly when generalizing to serious
aggression or violence.
Shibuya et al. (2008) report a prospective study of 591
fifth-grade Japanese youth with a prospective period of
1-year. Gender and living area (urban or rural) were controlled as third variables, but other variables known to be
predictive of youth violence (peer delinquency, depressive
symptoms, family environment, etc.) were not. The outcome measure was trait aggression, once again not clearly
well-validated as a predictor of serious youth aggression
and violence (Gauntlett 1995; Savage and Yancey 2008).
Interestingly in this study, time spent playing violent video
games (exposure to violent games 9 time spent playing
interaction) was related to reduced trait aggression (b =
-.15) in boys, but had no influence on girls. Weaknesses of
this study are similar to those above. Although the authors
did control for gender and living area, other third variables
were not controlled, nor was a well-validated measure of
serious aggression employed.
Finally, Moller and Krahe (2009) provide a prospective
analysis of 143 German youth with a 30 month prospective
period. Outcome measures included normative beliefs
about aggression (NOBAGS. similar to Williams and
Skoric 2005), hostile attribution bias and a measure of trait
aggression (divided into physical and relational aggression
subscales). Results of this study were inconsistent. At Time
1, video game violence exposure was not related to physical aggression (b = .09, NS), but was slightly related to
relational aggression (i.e., arguing, spreading rumors,
similar to Williams and Skoric 2005, b = .19). In the
prospective analyses, exposure to violent video games did
not have direct effects on either physical aggression
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
(b = .11, NS) or relational aggression (b = .02, NS), but
did potentially indirectly influence physical aggression
through a small moderating relationship with normative
aggressive beliefs (b = .26). This indirect relationship was
not found for relational aggression.
In summary, among existing prospective studies of
video game violence on aggression, two do not find evidence of effects or (in the case of Shibuya et al. 2008)
suggest violent game exposure may reduce aggression for
boys. One study (Moller and Krahe 2009) finds inconsistent
evidence for an indirect relationship between video game
violence and physical but not relational aggression, but no
evidence for direct effects, and the last finds consistent
effects but of small magnitude. Arguably, across these
studies, prospective analyses of video game violence
effects raise little cause for alarm.
Despite whether individual prospective studies appear to
support or not support causal beliefs in negative video
game violence effects, these studies display several consistent flaws including the failure to consider and control
for third variables (family environment, peer delinquency,
etc.) and reliance on outcome measures that are not well
validated as measures of pathological youth aggression and
violence. To qualify in the latter category, it would be
desirable for outcome measures to demonstrate high predictive validity coefficients (.3–.4 or above) with pathological outcomes. Otherwise, it is unclear if research
studies are merely examining minor fluctuations in normal,
even healthy levels of aggression (see Hawley and Vaughn
2003). The intent here is not to be overly critical of the
above studies, it is merely to argue that much remains to be
known about the prospective influences of violent video
games on pathological aggression.
Three Theoretical Views of the Video
Game Violence/Serious Aggression Relationship
There are three basic views of the potential relationship
between video game violence exposure and serious
aggressive behavior among youth. Quite simply, these are:
first, video game violence exposure has a learning-based
causal influence on subsequent serious aggression; second,
individuals with high levels of a priori aggression are
subsequently drawn to video game violence or; third that
any correlation between the video game playing and
aggression is due to underlying third variables. Each of
these views present different hypotheses for the ways in
which video game violence and serious aggression/youth
violence relate.
The ‘‘causal’’ view, namely that video game violence
exposure causes subsequent serious aggression in players,
has roots in Bandura’s social learning experiments in
which children modeled aggressive behavior of adults in
experimental videos (e.g., Bandura et al. 1961, 1963),
although elements of the same view can be traced back at
least to the Payne Fund studies of movie violence (Blummer 1933) or even Plato’s concerns that Greek plays would
cause rebelliousness and licentiousness in youth who
watched them (Griswold 2004). As noted above, much of
the debate on video game violence focuses on whether this
theoretical perspective is ‘‘true.’’ Proponents of this view
tend to express considerable certitude (e.g., Anderson
2004; Huesmann 2007) where as detractors suggest that
existing evidence is not sufficient to support this view
(Cumberbatch 2008; Mitrofan et al. 2009; Olson 2004;
Savage and Yancey 2008) or suggest the causal view relies
on outdated tabula rasa theories (Pinker 2002).
The second view, that a priori aggression leads to
extensive video game violence use, is most often offered as
a counterargument by skeptical scholars (e.g., Freedman
2002; Gauntlett 1995) to the causal view. However, this
basic position is likely consistent with both social and
biological theories that emphasize influences more proximal to youth than media effects, such as family environment, peer influences and evolutionary and biological
influences (e.g., Beaver et al. 2007, 2009; Buss and
Shackelford 1997; Pinker 2002). Similarly, research has
indicated that exposure to and selection of different forms
of media is not a passive process but that individuals
actively seek out certain forms of media and these preferences are correlated with pre-existing personality profiles
(e.g., McCown et al. 1997; Rentfrow and Gosling 2003). In
relation to video game violence, two models have emerged
that typify this view to varying degrees. First the ‘‘catalyst’’
model developed by Ferguson et al. (2008) suggests that
serious aggression and violence results from a combination
of genetic and proximal environmental influences (such as
family and peers) but that distal environmental factors such
as media, have little influence on behavior. Patrick Markey
(Giumetti and Markey 2007; Markey and Scherer 2009)
has developed a somewhat different view in which a priori
personality traits such as psychoticism interact with violent
video game exposure to produce serious aggression.
Finally, it could be argued that video game violence use
and serious aggression have little real influence on each
other. Some correlation between aggression and video
game violence use may exist, but such correlations are
expected to be rather small in size, and due to underlying
third variables rather than any direct relationship between
aggression and video game violence. For example, boys
play more violent video games and are more inclined
toward aggressive and violent behavior than girls. As such,
gender is an obvious and important ‘‘third’’ variable,
although one still overlooked in some studies. Similarly,
aggressive or antisocial personality traits may direct individuals to be more inclined to violent games and violent
behavior. Peer and family influences may have a similar
impact, and individuals with certain mental health problems may be both more inclined toward aggression and
seek violent games as a form of cathartic release (Olson
2010). This perspective appears to be endorsed by research
indicating that video game use, including the use of violent
games, is widespread among even non-violent youth, particularly boys (e.g., Lenhart et al. 2008; Kutner and Olson
2008; Olson et al. 2007). It is important to note that temporal sequencing cannot rule out this possibility. For
instance, maturational processes that lead to increased
violent video game use in early childhood may not necessarily produce increased aggression until later in adolescence. Thus, the temporal sequence of video game
violence use and the emergence of aggression, even if
correlated, does not rule out the influence of third variables.
The Current Study
The current study intends to improve upon past designs in
several ways. First, the present study will focus to a much
greater extent on clinical and criminological measures that
are well validated as outcome measures for pathological,
serious aggression and rule-breaking (i.e., parent and youth
report versions of the Child Behavior Checklist; CBCL),
bullying other children (the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire; OBQ) and criminologically violent behavior (Negative Life Events, NLE). A focus on these clinical and
criminological outcome measures will help illuminate the
potential impact of violent game exposure on serious levels
of aggression and violent crime among youth. Second,
most previous prospective studies have employed only
basic controls and have not considered the potential influence of third variables.
Several hypotheses will be tested in the current article.
First, it is hypothesized that exposure to violent content in
video games will be consistent across time (H1). Second,
the frequency of exposure to violent content in video
games at Time 1 will predict serious aggressive behavior
across outcome measures 1-year later once third variables
have been controlled (H2). Third, aggression level (composite across aggression measures) at Time 1 will be predictive of video games exposure at Time 2 (H3).
As a note, H2 and H3 essentially are opposing perspectives, both presented in the affirmative. Finding evidence for H2 but not H3 would support the overarching
theory that video game violence exposure comes first in the
temporal pattern, where as finding evidence for H3 but not
H2 would suggest that aggressive tendencies come first in
the temporal sequence. Finding support for H2 and H3
would suggest the relationship is bidirectional, whereas
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
finding evidence for neither H2 nor H3 would suggest that
the interaction between violent video game exposure and
aggression is limited (meaning that children’s choice to
play violent video games is not dependent upon their
aggressiveness nor vice versa).
Participants in the current study were recruited from a prior
study of youth violence (Ferguson et al. 2009). This study
examined cross section data on correlates of youth violence
in a sample of 603 mainly Hispanic youth. Results from
this study indicated that depressive symptoms and peer
delinquency were the best predictors of concurrent
aggression and violence, as were antisocial traits and
parental psychological aggression. Video game and television violence were not strong correlates of youth violence. The present study presents prospective data not
included in the prior study, thus there is no resubmission of
prior existing data (i.e., data presented here do not overlap
with that presented in the previous study). 536 children
(89%) from the original sample volunteered to participate
in this prospective design at Time 1 (T1). As with the
discussion of the T2 dropout below, the sample who volunteered for the prospective study did not systematically
differ from those who did not. As this sample was drawn
from a small Hispanic-majority city population on the
border of Mexico, this sample of youth were almost all
(519; 96.8%) Hispanic. Proportions of Caucasian, African
American, Asian American and other ethnic groups were
all at 1% or less. This ethnic composition is consistent with
the ethnic composition of the city from which the sample
was drawn and represents a ‘‘convenience’’ sample,
meaning that Hispanics were not specifically recruited for a
theoretical reason. However, to date, no prospective (and
few cross sectional or experimental) studies of video game
violence have considered Hispanic majority samples. As
such, examining such a sample may help generalize this
research to ethnic groups beyond Causasians and Japanese.
All participants were between the ages of 10 and 14 at T1
(M = 12.34, SD = 1.33) as this age was viewed as that
likely to see high rates of video game play (Griffiths and
Hunt 1995; Lenhart et al. 2008; Olson et al. 2007) yet
young enough that developmental processes may still be
strong and easily observable. About an equal number of
boys (275, 51.3%) and girls (261, 48.7%) were included in
the study. Children included in this study were from the
general community, not specifically at-risk children for
serious aggression.
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
Recruitment of a representative community sample of
youth was obtained using a modified multimethod
‘‘snowball’’ approach. Snowball sampling, like other forms
of non-random sampling, is not without the potential for
certain kinds of biases. At the same time snowball sampling has been shown to be an effective sampling approach
under most conditions and is better at detecting ‘‘hidden
populations’’ as may be the case with violent youth, than
are institutional sampling techniques (Goodman 1961;
Salganik and Heckathorn 2002). In snowball sampling,
respondents for a sample are drawn from associates nominated by an initial group of study participants. Several
variations on this approach were used in this study in an
attempt to achieve as representative a sample as possible.
First an approach similar to that used by McCrae et al.
(2002) in which college students at a local university
nominated relatives or associates within the targeted age
range for inclusion in exchange for extra credit, was
employed. Second, several community social organizations
were approached for nominations of children to be included in the study. Third, the study was advertised in the
local newspaper and on several popular local FM radio
stations (catering to both English and Spanish language
music), including interviews between the DJ and lead
investigator on several radio stations during prime (i.e.,
morning traffic) listening hours. These interviews were
very brief, requesting participants for a study of ‘‘youth
health.’’ No discussion of video games or youth violence
took place during any of these media appeals. Families
were encouraged to nominate themselves for the study. No
compensation was offered for participation.
Analysis of T2 Nonresponse/Drop-Out
All participants who volunteered at T1 were contacted
again approximately 12 months later for the Time 2 (T2)
assessment. T2 assessments were conducted via phone
interview with a trained research assistant using a standardized scripted interview comprised mainly of items
taken from the outcome assessments (CBCL, OBS, NLE)
and video game use. At T2 302 children and their families
completed the follow up assessment representing a completion rate of 56%. This figure is reasonably representative
of dropout rates typical in prospective studies although at
greater issue is whether drop-out is selective or random
(Wolke et al. 2009). In particular, were children with
greater rates of serious aggression or violent behaviors to
drop from the study than children without these problem
behaviors, results obtained in this study would potentially
be confounded. To examine for this potential t-test comparisons on all outcome variables (CBCL parent and child
report, OBQ, NLE violent and non-violent crime subscales,
all of which are described below) were conducted. All
t-test comparisons were non-significant (p [ .05) lending
confidence to the conclusion that drop-out in this study was
random rather than selective. Gender (52.3% female), age
and ethnicity composition of the final T2 sample of 302
children was essentially identical in proportion to that
reported above for the T1 original sample. Given that the
local city includes a fairly high proportion of both migrant
workers and transient government employees (e.g., Border
Patrol, FBI. DEA. etc.,), some degree of dropout was
expected. Retention rates for the current study reflect the
general pattern from other prospective studies of video
game violence. Williams and Skoric (2005) report a
retention rate of approximately 75% at 3 months, Shibuya
et al. (2008) report a retention rate of 62% at 1-year,
whereas Moller and Krahe (2009) report a retention rate of
48% at 30 months. Anderson et al. (2008) do not report
retention rates.
With exceptions noted below, all materials used Likertscale items and demonstrate psychometric properties suitable for use in multiple regression and path analyses. All
measures were included in the T1 assessment. For the T2
follow up, only the media exposure, depressive symptoms
and outcome variables were reassessed. Alphas reported
are for T1; T2 alphas did not differ greatly.
Media Violence Questionnaire
Child participants were asked to list their 3 favorite television shows and video games and estimate how often they
play or view the media in question. Many media studies in
the past asked respondents to rate violence levels in media
they watched, although this runs the risk of variable estimates between respondents. In the current study, I took a
slightly different approach, using existing Entertainment
Software Ratings Board (ESRB) video game ratings as an
estimate of video game violence exposure. ESRB ratings
were obtained for each game reported by the respondent,
and ordinally coded (a maximal score of 6 for ‘‘Adults
Only,’’ 5 for ‘‘Mature,’’ 4 for ‘‘Teen,’’ etc.). This ordinal
coding system was designed to correspond to the levels of
the ESRB rating system. The ESRB system has been
supported by the Federal Trade Commission (2009) and
the Parent Teacher Association (2008) as effective and
Many factors go into an ESRB rating, including language, sexual content, and use of (or reference to) drugs or
gambling. However, among those factors that determine
the age-based rating, violence appears to take priority. Of
the 30 ‘‘content descriptors’’ that accompany ratings, ten
concern violence. Descriptors of listed games were
reviewed to ensure that high ratings had not been obtained
primarily for sexual content; this was not the case for any
of the games reported by youth. The ESRB rating system
was also tested by pulling a random sample of ten commercially available games (Lego Star Wars II: The Original
Trilogy, Call of Duty 4, F.E.A.R., Bioshock, Race Pro,
Baja: Edge of Control, Sonic Unleashed, Spiderman 3,
Silent Hill: Homecoming. Lego Indiana Jones). Each of the
games were played (for approximately 45 min each) by
two independent student RAs (one male, one female, neither heavy gamers). The RAs had not played any of the
games previously, and was not aware of the ESRB ratings
for each game. The RAs were provided with and trained on
a standardized 5-point violence assessment ranking system
and asked to code each game on this system after playing.
Each RA was alone while playing and ranking the games
and did not know of each others’ ratings. Interrater reliability was high (kappa = .95). The RAs’ rankings, which
focused exclusively on violence, were then correlated with
the categorical ESRB ratings for each game. The correlation between the mean RA rankings and the ESRB ratings
was .98, providing external evidence for validity of the
ESRB ratings as estimates of violent content.
The ESRB ratings were multiplied against the respondents’ reported time spent playing each game then summed
across the 3 games listed. For television ratings a similar
approach was employed using the TV Parental Guidelines
System (PGS; i.e., TV-Y through TV-MA). As with the
video game ratings, the television ratings were checked for
violent content using the external check process described
above. The sampled television shows were Wizards of
Waverly Place, Hannah Montana, Spongebob Squarepants,
South Park, Zoey 101, Heroes, CSI, Chowder, WWE
Superstars and Robot Chicken, all shows reported by youth
in our current database as among those watched. Interrater
reliability between the RAs for rating violent content in the
shows was kappa = .88. The correlation between the mean
RA rating and the PGS was .89, lending evidence to the
validity of using the PGS system as an estimate of violent
content in television shows.
This general approach has been used with success in the
past (Olson et al. 2009). As with all attempts to assess
game or television content exposure, this is only an estimate; however, it removes some of the subjectivity inherent in previous methods.
Negative Life Events
The Negative Life Events instrument is a commonly used
and well validated measure of youth behaviors used in
criminological research (NLE; Paternoster and Mazerolle
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
1994) and includes the following scales used in this study
as third variables:
Neighborhood problems (e.g., How much of a problem
are each of the following in your neighborhood?
Vandalism, traffic, burglaries, etc.; alpha in current
sample = .86).
Negative relations with adults (e.g., My parents think I
break rules, My parents think I get in trouble, etc.;
alpha = .95)
Antisocial personality (e.g., It’s important to be honest
with your parents, even if they become upset or you
get punished, To stay out of trouble, it is sometimes
necessary to lie to teachers, etc.; alpha = .70)
Family attachment (e.g., On average, how many afternoons during the school week, from the end of school or
work to dinner, have you spent talking, working, or
playing with your family, etc.; alpha = .86)
Delinquent peers (e.g., How many of your close
friends purposely damaged or destroyed property that
did not belong to them, etc.; alpha = .84).
This measure tapped multiple constructs related to family,
peer and school environment as well as delinquent
behavior and beliefs. Scales described here are used as
predictor third variables, although two scales (violent
crimes and non-violent crimes) related to delinquent
behaviors (described below) function as outcome variables.
There are no item overlaps between subscales.
Family Environment
The Family Environment Scale (FES; Moos and Moos
2002) is a 90-item true–false measure designed to assess
styles of family interaction and communication. Research
on this instrument has demonstrated good internal consistency and test–retest reliability, as well as validity in distinguishing between functional families and families
experiencing a variety of dysfunctions including psychiatric and substance abuse problems and physical abuse. The
family conflict subscale (alpha = .57) was used in the
current project. Sample items include ‘‘We fight a lot in our
family’’ and ‘‘Family members sometimes get so angry
they throw things.’’
Family Violence
The child’s primary guardian was asked to fill out the
Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS; Straus et al. 2003), a measure
of positive and negative behaviors occurring in marital or
dating relationships. The CTS has been shown to have
good reliability and corresponds well to incidents of dating
and family violence. It is used here to get a measure of
conflict and aggression occurring between the primary
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
caregiver and their spouse or romantic partners and thus a
sense of the child’s exposure to domestic violence. Subscales related to physical assaults (e.g., ‘‘I beat up my
partner’’; ‘‘I pushed or shoved my partner’’; alpha = .88)
and psychological aggression (‘‘I insulted or swore at my
partner’’; ‘‘I called my partner fat or ugly’’; alpha = .81)
were used in the current study. The physical assaults subscale was found to have a significantly skewed distribution
and a square-root transformation was conducted to produce
a normalized distribution.
Depressive Symptoms
The withdrawal/depression scale of the Child Behavior
Checklist Youth Self-Report (YSR; Achenbach and Rescorla 2001) indicated child depressive symptoms. This scale
has no item overlaps with the aggression/rule breaking
scales described below. Depressive symptoms were reassessed at T2 and this variable, current depressive symptoms, is used in the regression equations described below.
Coefficient alpha of the scale with the current sample was
.80. Sample items include ‘‘I feel sad’’ and ‘‘I would rather
be alone.’’
Serious Aggression
Regarding mental health, youth and their primary caregivers filled out the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL,
Achenbach and Rescorla 2001). The CBCL consists of a
youth self-report and parent report on problematic behaviors which may represent psychopathology. The CBCL is a
well researched and validated tool for measuring behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Research
indicates the CBCL is highly valid in diagnosing serious
externalizing behavior problems in children including
conduct disorder (Hudziak et al. 2004; Tackett et al. 2003).
Caregivers filled out the parental version of the CBCL,
whereas children filled out the YSR on themselves. These
indices were used to indicate outcomes related to delinquency and aggressiveness. All alphas with the current
sample were above .70. Sample items for the aggression
scale (from the child prospective, parents items are simply
reworded) include ‘‘I attack people’’ and ‘‘I threaten others’’ and for the rule breaking scale ‘‘I lie or cheat’’ and ‘‘I
skip school.’’
The Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (OBQ; Olweus 1996)
was used to measure bullying behaviors in the current
study. This measure is commonly used and well researched
with high reliability and validity reported. With the current
sample, alpha was .83. Sample items include ‘‘In the past
month I have called another kid ‘‘stupid, fat, ugly’’ or other
mean names’’ and ‘‘In the past month I have Forced
another kid to do something they didn’t want to do.’’
Delinquent Behavior
The NLE questionnaire, described above has a subscale
related to general delinquency (e.g., How many times in
the following year have you stolen something worth more
than $50, etc.). The general delinquency scale can be further divided into non-violent (alpha = .96) and violent
(alpha = .98) criminal activities. As indicated above, these
scales are widely used in criminological research and do
not overlap in items with the third variable predictor scales
described above.
Statistical Analyses
Main analyses consisted of hierarchical multiple regression
equations. Separate hierarchical multiple regressions were
run for each of the outcome measures related to pathological aggression (parent and child versions of the CBCL
aggression and rule-breaking scales, violent and nonviolent crime commission as reported on the NLE, and
bullying behavior). In each case, gender, depressive
symptoms and T1 pretest score for the specific scale were
entered on the first step, NLE variables (neighborhood,
negative adult relationships, antisocial personality, family
attachment and delinquent peers) were entered on the
second step, the FES conflict scale was entered on the third
step, CTS psychological aggression and physical assault
were entered on the fourth step and television and video
game violence exposure entered on the fifth step. Lastly,
interaction terms between antisocial traits and depressive
symptoms and media violence exposure (a composite of
television and video games) were included on the final
step. The antisocial, depressive symptoms and media violence terms were first centered before creating the interaction terms to avoid multicollinearity. This hierarchy was
designed theoretically to extend from most proximal variables outward (e.g., Bronfenbrenner 1979). Out of concern
that placing video game violence exposure in the last step
may artificially reduce the predictive value of this variable
on youth aggression, each regression equation was then
rerun with video game violence exposure included as a step
1 variable. Multicollinearity was examined using tolerance
and VIF statistics and found to be acceptable in all cases.
Highest VIF values were 1.9, and lowest tolerance values
were .54, which fall within most recommended acceptable
guidelines (Keith 2006). Secondary analyses involved the
use of path analysis to test alternate causal models
regarding the development of pathological youth
aggression as well as temporal relationships between video
game violence exposure and youth violence outcomes.
Power Analysis
A post-hoc power analysis was conducted to examine the
sensitivity of the current design and sample to pick up
small effects. Results indicated that the current design is
capable of detecting effects as statistically significant at or
just below the r = .14 level, close to Cohen’s threshold for
trivial effects (Cohen 1992).
Prevalence of Violent Game Exposure and Criminal
At T2 75% of children reported playing some video games
on computer, console or other devices in the preceding
month. 40.4% of children reported playing games with
violent content as indicated by their own self-ratings of
violence in games. Using the ESRB ratings, 20.9% reported playing an M-rated game in the preceding month.
Consistent with past research (Griffiths and Hunt 1995;
Olson et al. 2007), boys were more likely to play violent
video games than girls [t(234) = 6.65, p B .001, r = .40,
.30 B r B .49]. Video game violence exposure was not
correlated with age of the child r = .02, nor reported GPA
of the child (r = -.02), nor did hours spent playing video
games predict GPA (r = -.09).
As for criminal activity, at T2 22 children (7.3%)
reported engaging in at least one criminally violent act over
the previous 12 months based specifically on the results
from the NLE. Most common violent crimes were physical
assaults on other students and strong-arm robbery (i.e.,
using physical force to take an object or money from
another person). Regarding non-violent crimes, 52 (19.2%)
of children reported engaging in at least one non-violent
crime over the past 12 months based on the NLE. Most
common non-violent crimes include thefts of small objects
(i.e., shoplifting) and thefts occurring on school property.
The commission of violent and non-violent crimes was
highly correlated (r = .51, p B .01, .42 B r B .59).
Consistency Among Parent and Child Reports
of Aggression on the CBCL and YSR
One intended strength of the current research design is that
it includes both parent and child report based outcome
assessments. Consistency between child and parent report
on the CBCL/YSR rule-breaking scales was r = .57
(.49 B r B .64), and for aggressive behavior, r = .52
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
(.43 B r B .60). Paired samples t-tests indicated that children tended to report both higher levels of rule-breaking
[t(301) = 8.16, r = .43, .34 B r B .52] and aggression
[t(301) = 6.62, r = .36, .26 B r B .46]. Taken together,
these results suggest that parents have a good idea of the
‘‘gist’’ of how problematic the behavior of their children is
relative to other children, but generally are unaware of the
full scope of children’s behavior problems.
Consistency in Video Game Violence Exposure Over
Time (H1)
Table 1 presents bivariate correlations between video game
violence exposure at time 1 and time 2.
Video game violence exposure at T1 was significantly
correlated with video game violence exposure at T2
(r = .33, p B .01, .23 B r B .43); however, the effect size
was small, allowing a considerable amount of variance
across time in video game violence exposure, probably as
children put away older games and pick up news games
that are different in genre and violence content.
Long-Term Relationships Between Aggression
and Video Game Violence Exposure (H2, H3)
Bivariate Correlations Between Video Game Violence
Exposure at T1 and Violence and Aggression Related
Table 1 presents bivariate correlations between video game
violence exposure at T1 and aggression related outcomes at
T1 and T2. A Bonferroni correction due to multiple comparisons of p = .004 was applied. As can be seen, bivariate
correlations between T1 video game violence exposure
were significant only for bullying at T1, and T2, but not for
the other six outcome variables. Those results that were
significant were still small in size with none reaching
r = .2.
Table 1 T1 Video game violence bivariate correlations with
aggression and violence related outcomes at T1 and T2
Outcome variable
Time 1
Time 2
CBCL rule breaking (parent report)
YSR rule breaking (child report)
CBCL aggression (parent report)
YSR aggression (child report)
NLE violent crimes
NLE non-violent crimes
* p B .004
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
Prospective Hierarchical Multiple Regressions (H2)
Seven sets of hierarchical multiple regressions were run
with the steps described above in the procedure section.
These results are presented in Table 2. Steps in the hierarchical model are broken down by double solid lines in the
Table, with delta R2 reported at each step. Standardized
regression coefficients (beta-weights) presented are for the
final model in each case, as all model steps were statistically significant. A representation of the depressive
symptoms/antisocial personality interaction (using a composite of the aggression/violence/bullying measures) is
provided in Fig. 1. Both variables were split into four
categories (i.e., ‘‘quartiles’’) based on mean and standard
deviation scores to make visualization easier; however, it
should be clearly stated that continuous scores were used in
the regression model. Quartiles based on means and standard deviations were viewed as more clinically meaningful
than percentile splits. As can be seen, the influence of
depressive symptoms on violence was most severe for
individuals with preexisting antisocial personality traits. In
each case, reversing the step on which the video game
violence variable was entered did not influence results.
For the child-report aggression YSR outcome variable,
current level of depressive symptoms predicted aggressiveness and this was a strong predictor (b = .66) of T2
aggression as was the interaction between antisocial traits
and depressive symptoms (b = .15). Video game violence
exposure was not predictive of T2 aggression.
For the child-report rule-breaking YSR outcome variable, current level of depressive symptoms predicted rule
breaking and this was a strong predictor (b = .62) of T2
rule breaking whereas peer delinquency at T1 was a significant but weaker predictor (b = .12) as was the antisocial/depressive symptoms interaction (b = .12). Video
game violence exposure was not predictive of T2 rulebreaking.
For the parent-report aggression CBCL outcome variable, T1 CBCL aggression (b = .22), current depressive
symptoms (b = .54), the antisocial/depressive symptoms
interaction (b = .14) and parental level of psychological
abuse in relationships (b = .15) were all predictive of T2
aggression. Video game violence exposure was not predictive of T2 aggression.
For the parent-report rule-breaking CBCL outcome
variable, T1 CBCL rule breaking (b = .20), current
depressive symptoms (b = .52), and parental level of
psychological abuse in relationships (b = .15) were all
predictive of T2 rule-breaking. Video game violence
exposure was not predictive of T2 rule-breaking.
For NLE non-violent crimes at T2, T1 commission of
nonviolent crimes (b = .26) was significant predictive of
T2 commission on non-violent crimes as was the
interaction of antisocial traits and depressive symptoms
(b = .12) and between antisocial traits and media violence
(b = .18). An examination of this latter interaction suggested that individuals who were low in antisocial traits,
but who were exposed to more violent media committed
fewer non violent crimes than their peers. However, the
most antisocial youth who also consumed the most violent
media committed more non-violent crimes than their peers.
Direct video game violence exposure was not predictive of
T2 non-violent criminal behavior.
For NLE violent crimes at T2, attachment to family at
T1 served as a protective factor (b = -.15) at T2, whereas
the interaction between antisocial traits and depressive
symptoms (b = .17) and between antisocial traits and
media violence (b = .14). An examination of this latter
interaction suggested that individuals who were low in
antisocial traits, but who were exposed to more violent
media committed fewer violent crimes than their peers.
However, the most antisocial youth who also consumed the
most violent media committed more violent crimes than
their peers. No other variables were significant predictors
of T2 violent criminal behavior. Video game violence
exposure was not predictive of T2 violent criminal
For the OBQ at T2, only current depressive symptoms
(b = .32) and T1 antisocial personality (b = .12) were
significant predictors. Video game violence exposure was
not predictive of T2 bullying behavior.
The above regressions were rerun with T1 depressive
symptoms replacing current (T2) depressive symptoms on
step 1. T1 depressive symptoms did not prove to be predictive of T2 aggressive or violent outcomes in any of the
equations. As such, current depressive symptoms rather
than a past history of depressive symptoms is most predictive of violent outcomes. In each of these regressions
with T1 depressive symptoms, T1 violent video game
exposure remained non-significant as a predictor of T2
aggression and violence outcomes.
Prospective Video Game Violence Analysis (H3)
To examine the temporal sequence between aggression and
video game violence use, a hierarchical multiple regression
was run with video game violence use at T2 as the
dependent variable. Ordering of variables was the same as
described for the regressions above, with the exception that
video game violence exposure at T1 was entered on step 1
(just as aggression T1 variables were included on step 1 for
the aggression regressions). T1 aggression was entered
along with T1 television violence exposure on step 5 (this
gave T1 aggression the same positioning in this regression
as T1 video game exposure had in the aggression regressions). In order to avoid multicollinearity, a composite
Antisocial/media int.
.12 (.04, .21)*
.12 (.04, .21)*
.62 (.55, .69)*
14 (.06, .23)*
.15 (.07, .24)*
.22 (.11, .33)*
.54 (.46, .61)*
.15 (.07, .24)*
.20 (.09, .30)*
.52 (.43, .60)*
.18 (.09, .29)*
.12 (.04, .21)*
.26 (.15, .37)*
.14 (.06, .23)*
.17 (.08, .28)*
-.15 (-.07, -.24)*
.12 (.04, .21)*
.32 (.22, .42)*
* Statistical significance
YSRac youth self report, aggression, child, YSRrbc youth self report, rule breaking, child, CBCLap child behavior checklist, aggression, parent, CBCLrbp child behavior checklist, rule breaking,
parent, NVCrime non violent crime, NLE, VCrime violent crime, NLE, Bully Olweus Bullying Questionnaire, DS depressive symptoms
Numbers in parentheses represent 95% confidence interval for standardized regression coefficients. Confidence intervals included only for significant results. Pretest score = T1 score for the
specific outcome measure. Italicized values represent steps in the regression model. Adjusted R2 is reported for each step in the hierarchical models
.15 (.07, .24)*
Antisocial/DS int.
Video game violence
Television violence
Delinquent peers
CTS physical abuse
Family attachment
Antisocial personality
Neg. rel. with adults
CTS psychological agg.
Neighborhood problems
FES conflict
.66 (.59, .73)*
Pretest score
T2 depressive symptoms
Male gender
Predictor variable
Table 2 Multiple regression results for multiple measures of pathological youth aggression at T2
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
Interaction Effect of Depression and Antisocial
Personality on Composite Aggression Score
Composite Aggression
Fig. 2 Initial time sequenced path model
aggression measure was created from the sum of the
seven individual aggression measures. This composite
measure showed high consistency (alpha = .81). The
resulting regression equation was statistically significant
[F(15,250) = 6.20, R = .52, adj R2 = .23] through the last
step. Male gender (b = .31, .20 B r B .41), current (T2)
level of depressive symptoms (b = .30, .19 B r B .40) and
T1 video game use (b = .16, .05 B r B .27) were all significant predictors of T2 video game use. Aggressive
behavior at T1 was not predictive of video game use at T2.
Adding aggression to step 1 rather than step 5 of the
regression did not change the outcome.
Separate path analyses were run with T1 video game
exposure leading to T2 aggression and T1 aggression
leading to T2 video game exposure (these paths are represented by the divided arrows in Fig. 2). Aggression was
measured by the T1 and T2 composite measures described
above. Neither of these proved to be good fits to the data,
nor did a combined path analysis with T1 aggression and
video game violence exposure both leading to T2 aggression and video game violence exposure.
Next, a path model was developed based on the
regression results with aggression pre-score, current
depressive symptoms, and the antisocial/depressive symptoms interaction each functioning as separate, direct contributors to the composite youth aggression measure at T2.
Although close to the criteria described above, this model
did not prove a good fit. Antisocial personality traits were
then added to the model as a contributor to T1 aggression.
This model proved to be a good fit to the data [v2(6) =
23.8, p C .05, NFI = .91, CFI = .92, RMSEA = .09] and
is presented in Fig. 3.
Path Analysis of Temporal Sequencing of Video Game
Violence Exposure and Aggression (H2, H3)
Path analysis can be used to test the temporal sequence of
video game violence exposure and aggressive behavior,
using each variable and T1 and T2. If video game violence
exposure at T1 is predictive of aggression at T2, but
aggression at T1 is not predictive of video game violence
exposure at T2 this lends support to causal beliefs that
video game violence exposure leads to subsequent
aggression as the alternative hypothesis (that aggression
leads to subsequent video game violence use) is ruled out
(however the data remains correlational, and alternate
explanations based on third variables cannot be ruled out).
The basic path analysis was based on that used by
Moller and Krahe (2009), and is represented in Fig. 2.
Using path analysis, goodness of fit can be evaluated both
through a non-significant chi-squared analysis, as well as
by several goodness of fit indices such as the ‘‘Adjusted
Goodness of Fit Index’’ or root mean squared error of
approximation (RMSEA).
The issue of video game violence exposure remains
a pressing one in Western society. The US State of
California, as well as nations ranging from Australia and
Switzerland to China and Venezuela, are considering
efforts to restrict youth access to violent video games. As
of yet, the empirical understanding of the long-term
influences of video games on youth violence remain
murky. Although several short-term prospective studies of
youth violence have been published (Anderson et al. 2008;
Moller and Krahe 2009; Shibuya et al. 2008; Williams and
Skoric 2005), these have been inconsistent in results and
have been limited by the low clinical validity of the
aggression/violence measures used, and paucity of statistical controls for other relevant variables. The current study
represents the first prospective study to employ well-validated clinical measures of aggression and violence, and to
control carefully for a number of other relevant factors that
may influence youth violence.
Depression Quartile
Antisocial 1st Quartile
Antisocial 3rd Quartile
Antisocial 2nd Quartile
Antisocial 4th Quartile
Fig. 1 Depressive symptoms/antisocial interaction
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
Fig. 3 Final ‘‘good fit’’ path
Several important conclusions can be made from the
current study. First, hypothesis H1, that video game use
would be consistent over time, was moderately supported
by the current data with a stability coefficient at 1 year of
r = .33, as indicated in the bivariate correlations. This
indicates moderate stability in video game violence exposure over time, but this stability coefficient is far smaller,
for instance, than that seen in personality research (McCrae
et al. 2002). This suggests that children’s video game genre
selection may be reasonably variable over time.
Relevant to H2, that video game violence exposure at T1
would prospectively predict serious acts of aggression at
T2, no evidence was found to support this hypothesis either
in the regression analyses for the seven outcome measures,
or for the path analysis using the composite aggression
score. No evidence across any of the outcome measures
supported H2. This remained true whether video game
violence exposure was entered on step 1 or step 5 of the
hierarchical multiple regressions. It would be reasonable to
express the concern that, despite a reasonable level of
power in the current analysis, small effects might have
been missed. However, with the exception of bullying
(b = .12), all of the effects for video game violence
exposure were at or below Cohen’s (1992) suggested
threshold of r = .10 for trivial effects (the effect for bullying nonetheless fell below Ferguson’s 2009 recommendations for interpretation of practical significance). The
effect for bullying was slightly larger than for other outcomes. It is important not to overinterpret this, as the
bullying finding remained non-significant and very small in
effect size. Nonetheless, it may be simply that less serious
forms of aggression show slightly higher relations with
video game violence than do more serious forms of
aggression, an observation made previously in the literature
(Ferguson and Kilburn 2009).
It appears reasonable to conclude that, in the current
sample, little evidence supported a significant predictive
relationship between violent video game exposure and
serious user aggression. Results of the current study are, in
fact, not out of league with previous prospective studies, all
of which have found only small effects (hovering on either
side of r = .10) of video game violence on subsequent
aggression. What seems to vary between reports is the
language used in interpreting these effects ranging from
attempts to generalize findings to serious acts of youth
violence (Anderson et al. 2008) to the conclusion that such
small effects effectively represent null findings (Williams
and Skoric 2005). It may be prudent for scholars to be more
temperate and conservative in their interpretations in the
future, particularly where effect sizes have tended to be
generally weak.
In the current study, results by and large are at or below
r = .10 with confidence intervals that, as such, cross the
zero mark and thus, irrespective of statistical significance,
do not provide support for H2. It may be argued that some
scholars have, in the past, been overzealous in arguing for
strong, consistent and general effects, when evidence
backing such conclusions is limited (see Sherry 2007 for a
similar conclusion). The current study, however, is the first
prospective study to carefully examine pathological/serious
youth aggression and violent behavior using well validated
clinical measures. Thus, generalizability to serious youth
aggression is more possible with the current study than
with those previously mentioned.
For criminal behaviors (both violent and non-violent),
although no direct effects of video games or television
violence were seen, total media violence consumption
interacted with antisocial traits. Interestingly, for children
with low antisocial traits, media violence exposure was
associated with less criminal behavior. Only for the most
J Youth Adolescence (2011) 40:377–391
antisocial children was media violence exposure associated
with more violent crimes. There are two possible explanations for this phenomenon. First, antisocial children who
are most inclined toward criminal behavior may also be
those most likely to select violent media. This is the
explanation favored by Ferguson et al. (2008) based on
similar findings as well as by Kutner and Olson (2008).
However, Giumetti and Markey (2007) alternatively suggest that, although violent video games are harmless for the
vast majority of children, for those with preexisting high
antisocial traits, video game violence may exacerbate these
traits. More data is needed to ascertain which of these
possibilities is correct. These findings also should be tempered by their small effect size and the fact that the media
interaction term was not a good fit for the path analysis.
Related to H3, that a priori aggressiveness predicts T2
video game use, no greater support for this view was found
in either the regression analyses or path analysis than for
H1. Indeed, aggressiveness and video game violence use do
not seem to be highly predictive of one another, at least
prospectively. Of the theoretical perspectives discussed
earlier in the article, the ‘‘third variable’’ perspective that
aggression and video game violence have little causal
impact on each other, is best supported by the results of the
current study.
Of the third variables that predicted T2 serious aggression and violence, by far the best predictor was current
(T2) depressive symptoms in both the regression and path
analyses. As such, this variable warrants some discussion.
The effect size for the T2 depressive symptoms variable on
pathological aggression was, by the standards of social
science, large (Cohen 1992), ranging between .5 and .62
for the CBCL outcomes, and .32 for bullying (but nonsignificant for criminal behavior). Also depressive symptoms and antisocial traits appeared to interact, such that
individuals with high antisocial traits who also were
depressed were most likely to engage in aggressive and
criminal acts. By contrast, T1 depressive symptoms were
not predictive of T2 serious aggression. These results
suggest that current mood states may be more important in
the etiology of aggressiveness than historical influences, at
least for children and young adolescents. Although some
T1 third variables, such as peer delinquency and parental
psychological aggression in romantic relationships, were
predictive of some serious aggression outcomes, these
effects were generally small and inconsistent across measures. Therefore, in the current analysis, depressive
symptoms stand out as particularly strong predictors of
youth violence and aggression.
Some research has indicated that low serotonergic
functioning is related both to increased levels of depressive
symptoms and serious aggressive behavior (Carver et al.
2008) and results of the current study may reflect this.
Similarly a US Secret Service and US Department of
Education (2002) evaluation of adolescent and young adult
‘‘school shooters’’ (a group often linked with violent video
games in the popular press) found that 78% had a history of
feeling suicidal prior to their assault, and 61% had a history
of significant depressive symptoms or despondency,
although this often went undiagnosed (the figure above
reflects psychological autopsy results in which diaries or
blogs of shooters reflected serious depressive symptoms
that was not brought to the attention of mental health
professionals). Thus, current levels of depressive symptoms may be a key variable of interest in the prevention of
serious aggression in youth.
Results from the current study suggest that long-term
prediction of youth violence remains spotty at best and
practitioners may need to be careful not to ‘‘profile’’ youth
who have not committed serious aggressive acts. Predictive
results based on sociological variables (or video game use)
may run the risk of significant overidentification of ‘‘at
risk’’ status. Practitioners and policy makers may be eager
to identify and intervene with at-risk youth, but where
long-term prediction remains unreliable, the potential for
damage as well as good should temper and restrain efforts
in this realm.
No study is without flaws, and it is important to document them in a research report. It should be reemphasized
that the current sample is non-random. Although efforts
were made to get the most representative sample possible,
generalizations from a non-random sample should be
undertaken only with caution. The current sample also was
a Hispanic-majority sample. Although this represents an
important extension of prospective designs into a previously neglected ethnic group, generalization to other ethnic
groups and cultures may be unwarranted. Furthermore, it is
not possible for a single research design to consider all
possible third variables. Important third variables that were
not considered in the current study but which have been
identified as important in other research (e.g., Pratt and
Cullen 2005) include poverty, substance abuse, school
influences, self-control and genetics. Further research
designs may wish to consider these predictor variables in
the future. The aggression related outcome measures used
here were designed to tap into more serious forms of
aggression, than in previous prospective studies. However,
it is reasonable to note differences even between these
measures. Arguably the severely violent criminal behaviors
referenced by the NLE differ from bullying behaviors
tapped by the OBQ. Thus, caution is warranted in generalizing across these outcomes.
In conclusion, the current study finds no evidence to
support a long-term relationship between video game violence use and subsequent aggression. Although debates
about video game violence effects on player aggression are
likely to continue for some time, it is suggested that the
degree of certainty and statements regarding the strength of
causal effects should be revised in a conservative direction
(similar calls have been made by other scholars, e.g.,
Cumberbatch 2008, Freedman 2002; Olson 2004, Savage
and Yancey 2008; Sherry 2007). A reasonable argument
and debate for small influences could probably still be
made (e.g., Markey and Scherer 2009), although statements
reflecting strong, broad effects generalizable to serious acts
of youth violence are at current, likely unwarranted. This is
particularly important to note given that, as video games
have become more widespread over the past few decades,
the incidence rate of criminal youth violence has declined
sharply; it has not increased as feared (Childstats.gov
2009). Naturally, video games are an unlikely cause of this
youth violence decline (to conclude otherwise would be to
indulge in the ecological fallacy), however these results
suggest a mismatch between public fears of violent video
games and actual trends in youth violence (i.e., fears of
juvenile superpredators never materialized, see Muschert
2007). It is argued here that scientists must be cautious to
remain conservative in their conclusions lest the public be
misinformed. A continued debate over violent video games
will likely be positive and constructive, but such a debate
must be made with restraint. It is hoped that the current
article will contribute to such a debate.
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The play takes a scathing look at the recent political debate over the sale of violent video games to minors, culminating with the
recent Supreme Court decision giving retailers a very wide berth. Since joining Streetpeace, teens like Wilbur, Jones and David
Betancourt, 13, have stopped playing violent video games .
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Shirlene Jones understands why she got addicted to video games. “Stay inside; it’s safer,” has become the mantra of many parents in
her East Dayton neighborhood.
The 13-year-old feels that she has no safe haven — not the corner grocery, not the ice cream truck, not even the playground.
That’s hardly hyperbole. Jones’ friend, Ronika Owens-Clemons, was shot to death last summer at a West Dayton school playground
when her boyfriend’s gun discharged in a confrontation with another teen.
That tragedy brought about a lot of soul-searching for Jones and her friends at Streetpeace, a youth anti-violence group based at
Ruskin middle school. Her death was one of the inspirations behind an original play, “Playground Revolution,” about the impact of
violent video games on young people.
Robert Morris
University Library
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Search with indexing terms
Computer & video games
Middle schools
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Critical thinking
The play takes a scathing look at the recent political debate over the sale of violent video games to minors, culminating with the recent
Supreme Court decision giving retailers a very wide berth.
Courtney Cummings, another friend of Owens-Clemons, challenges the audience, “While you adults stand around and argue about
whether video games cause aggression in kids and whether or not guns kill people or people kill people, I have a name for you. Ronika.
“Throw her into your research. How she ends up dead on a school playground. Her boyfriend shot her. He was arguing with another
dude. Ronika was being herself, trying to be a good person, trying to break up the conflict between these two dudes … Her last words
were, ‘You shot me, baby.’ ”
Then the performers form a Greek chorus about the profound disconnect between teens’ “virtual lives” and real-life consequences:
“Maybe he thought in the next scene, she would wake up revived in front of the hospital.”
“Maybe he thought she had more than one life.”
The play was intended as a one-time fundraiser for East End Community Services, which runs the after-school Streetpeace program at
Ruskin middle school.
It turned out to be an awareness raiser as well, and the students are eager to perform “Playground Revolution” at other schools. “We’d
like to do a world tour,” joked Rachel Wilbur, 14, adding on a serious note, “The message is so important. We can’t play outside because
it’s too dangerous, but then we’re getting virtually assaulted in our own living rooms.”
Janis James, development director for East End Community Services, marveled that “our young people, here in an inner-city school,
from an impoverished neighborhood, are leaders on how the video games are affecting their reality and even more so, how big
business is making millions by encouraging our children to adopt violence as a plaything.”
Streetpeace program director Julie McGlaun, a language arts teacher at Ruskin, began interviewing students last year about violent
video games. Her research revealed that 89 percent of the sixth-to-eighth-graders interviewed played violent video games, averaging
three hours a day. Many told her they “played all day, every day” when they aren’t at school.
Sixty-five percent of U.S. households play video games, and 26 percent of the gamers are 18 and younger, according to the Education
Database Online. The median age is 32, and the average gamer spends 18 hours a week playing video games.
Page 1 of 2
Play explores impact of violent video games: Youth group laments dangers of outdoor recreation. – ProQuest
2/11/16 9:11 PM
Given such statistics, it’s no coincidence that the Streetpeace motto contains the phrase, “If you’re up until 3 a.m. playing video games,
you’re probably being remote controlled.”
When asked why the students don’t play outside more, Jones said, “The girls don’t go outside because the johns all assume we’re
prostitutes and they solicit us every time we leave the house.”
When McGlaun asked the girls how many had encountered that problem, nearly every girl raised her hand.
It was a painful revelation, McGlaun said, but it’s the reason she stays after school every day to run the Streetpeace program. Two
dozen teens make the commitment to stay after school for three hours every day, learning such skills as critical thinking and media
“We need to raise the level of consciousness in our students to think critically and to ask questions about the media they consume so
they’re not being manipulated,” McGlaun explained.
Since joining Streetpeace, teens like Wilbur, Jones and David Betancourt, 13, have stopped playing violent video games. “When you’re
exposed to that level of violence, what do you do in real life?” Betancourt asked. “The line between reality and virtual reality becomes
really thin.”
Working on the play, and being involved with Streetpeace, in contrast, “made us feel empowered,” he said. “As kids we don’t get to
express ourselves very often. This made us feel awake and in control of our lives. We acknowledged the problem and asked ourselves,
‘What are we going to do about it?”
The Streetpeace kids dedicated their new play to “Ronika and all victims of gun violence.”
Owens-Clemons’ boyfriend, Bobby Lavel Moore, is serving 16 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Wilbur reflected sadly, “Maybe he thought the game would reload. In video games, people who are killed reappear somewhere else. In
real life, that doesn’t happen.”
Credit: By Mary McCarty Staff Writer Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2209 or mmccarty@DaytonDaily News.com.
Caption: Playground Revolution cast members (from left) David Betancourt, Shirlene Jones, Rachel Wilbur and Alicia Martin play at
Steele Park in the Twin Towers neighborhood. The teens say children play video games too much because it is unsafe to play on
Word count: 901
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Page 2 of 2
J Youth Adolescence (2014) 43:127–136
DOI 10.1007/s10964-013-9986-5
Video Game Violence Use Among ‘‘Vulnerable’’ Populations:
The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying
Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression
or Attention Deficit Symptoms
Christopher J. Ferguson • Cheryl K. Olson
Received: 18 April 2013 / Accepted: 17 July 2013 / Published online: 24 August 2013
Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Abstract The issue of children’s exposure to violent
video games has been a source of considerable debate for
several decades. Questions persist whether children with
pre-existing mental health problems may be influenced
adversely by exposure to violent games, even if other
children are not. We explored this issue with 377 children
(62 % female, mixed ethnicity, mean age = 12.93) displaying clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive
symptoms on the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. Results
from our study found no evidence for increased bullying or
delinquent behaviors among youth with clinically elevated
mental health symptoms who also played violent video
games. Our results did not support the hypothesis that
children with elevated mental health symptoms constitute a
‘‘vulnerable’’ population for video game violence effects.
Implications and suggestions for further research are
Keywords Video games Aggression Violence
Mental health
Whether violent video games do or do not contribute to
behavioral aggression and societal violence among youth
has been debated, at the time of this writing, for three
C. J. Ferguson (&)
Department of Psychology, Stetson University,
DeLand, FL 32729, USA
e-mail: CJFerguson1111@Aol.com
C. K. Olson
Reston, VA, USA
decades. By societal violence, we refer to a range of
behaviors, from bullying and physical fighting to criminal
assault and even homicide, which are of concern to lawmakers and parents. We contrast societal violence with the
measures of relatively mild aggression (or perhaps competition) often used in laboratory studies of college students, which arguably do not tap well into the issue of
societal violence (Kutner and Olson 2008). Caution is
required in generalization of laboratory aggression measures to societal violence as the potential for misinformation
is considerable (Ferguson et al. 2011). To date, no consensus has been reached on the matter of whether violent
games and societal violence are linked: some scholars argue
that violent games contribute to behavioral aggression
(Fraser et al. 2012) or even societal violence (Strasburger
2007), while others suggest that video games have a negligible influence on aggression (Puri and Pugliese 2012) or
may even reduce aggression (Colwell and Kato 2003).
Existing societal concerns about video games have
intensified after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre
(Ferguson 2013) and other well-publicized school shootings.
The tragic 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in
Newtown, Connecticut resurrected these debates amid
reports that the 20-year-old shooter was an avid gamer (e.g.,
Henderson 2012). The Newtown shooting also brought
renewed attention to wide discrepancies in opinion regarding
whether violent video games influence criminal behavior.
The Brown v EMA (2011) Supreme Court decision, in which
the Court ruled that a California law restricting the sale or
rental of violent games to minors was an unconstitutional
violation of the First Amendment, highlighted the limitations
of existing studies of violent video games and the difficulty
of applying this pool of research to policy-relevant questions.
A series of appellate court rulings made similar points (see
Brown v EMA 2011, p. 12). Given these court rulings, and
the recurring media focus on video games, researchers need
to do more to answer the questions of greatest public concern
regarding video games and any potential harm to youth. The
recurrence of these concerns with each school shooting or
court ruling points to the need for studies that can meaningfully inform policy and legal debates.
Video Game Violence Research: What is the Evidence?
Much speculation focuses on the issue of whether violence
in video games or other entertainment media, such as
television, can contribute to real-life violence. Evidence to
date is scant. For instance, in a recent meta-analysis that
focused on criminal aggression, Savage and Yancey (2008)
found that exposure to media violence shared only trivial
amounts of variance with criminal aggression. Similarly, in
a large sample of youth aged 10–15, Ybarra et al. (2008)
found that violent media exposure did not predict violence
once other confounding variables were controlled. It is also
noteworthy that the explosion in popularity and availability
of video games has coincided with a precipitous decline in
youth violence, not a rise (see Ferguson 2013 for
There exists a large pool of studies examining video
game violence effects in college students using laboratory
methods and measures of relatively mild aggression. The
validity of these measures has been debated within the
research community (e.g. Giancola and Zeichner 1995;
Ritter and Eslea 2005). One point of contention is the lack
of clear correspondence between these measures and the
types of aggressive behaviors of interest to policy makers
and parents. For instance, such studies have examined
outcomes such as filling in the missing letters of words,
where ‘‘kill’’ rather than ‘‘kiss’’ is considered more
aggressive (Farrar et al. 2013); self-ratings of hostile
feelings (Williams 2011); or administering non-painful
bursts of annoying noise to consenting opponents in a
reaction-time test (Anderson and Dill 2000). Taken at face
value, such studies may be generalizable to competitiveness rather than aggression, or perhaps to mild aggressive
acts (the equivalent of children sticking tongues out at each
other), but cannot be generalized to societal violence. Even
these studies produce mixed results, however, and have
been criticized for methodological issues such as failing to
match violent and non-violent video game play conditions
carefully (Adachi and Willoughby 2011), using unstandardized outcome measures that may allow researchers to
pick and choose outcomes fitting their hypotheses (Ferguson 2013), and high potential for demand characteristics.
By contrast, studies of video game effects on violent
behaviors among children, conducted outside laboratory
settings, remain relatively few in number. Such studies
J Youth Adolescence (2014) 43:127–136
differ in quality and standardized approach to measurement. One study (Anderson et al. 2008) found weak links
between video game violence and aggression in US and
Japanese children, although interpretation of results is
complicated by the use of non-standard measures of
aggression and inadequate control for other variables. A
later German study tying media violence, including video
game play, to aggression in children (Krahé et al. 2012)
also did not use standardized assessments. That study may
have been compromised by the introduction of a media
education program into the schools mid-way through the
longitudinal period (e.g., Möller et al. 2012) introducing
demand characteristics (i.e., advertising the study hypotheses to prime respondents to answer surveys in a particular
way, not representative of how they actually behave).
Another recent study that links violent games with
aggression, by Willoughby et al. (2012), carefully controlled for important ‘‘third’’ variables. With other variables controlled, exposure to violent video games
correlated with later aggression with an effect size equivalent to r = .07, indicating that violent game use was
associated with approximately half a percent increase in
aggressive behavior. The authors noted, however, that it
may be competitive qualities of the games, not violent
content, which led to this increase (see Adachi and Willoughby 2011). In a follow-up longitudinal study (Adachi
and Willoughby 2013), the authors confirmed that competition predicts later aggression, irrespective of violent
game exposure history.
Few other studies of children and video games have
made a solid case for a connection to aggression or violent
outcomes. Several have suggested that use of violent video
games might reduce aggression (Colwell and Kato 2003;
Shibuya et al. 20081). Others indicate that, with other
factors controlled, effects are null (Ferguson 2011; von
Salisch et al. 2011; Wallenius and Punamäki 2008; Ybarra
et al. 2008) or that effects may be idiosyncratic among
children (Unsworth et al. 2007). Meta-analyses (e.g.,
Sherry 2007) have found weaker effects in studies of
children than for college students, the opposite of what
might be expected developmentally. Thus, overall, it is
We note the issue that some research reports insinuate links
between violent games and aggression, where their data fail to support
such insinuations. We note that in Shibuya et al. 2008, in their
Table 2, the video game exposure by violence presence variable is
associated with a reduction in aggression in boys, but not girls. For
Ybarra et al. (2008) the null effect for violent video games is noted in
their Figure 2, although they largely ignore their own results to imply
links between violent games and youth aggression. These papers
highlight the need to closely examine research results when understanding the true implications of a research study. The rhetoric
employed by scholars in their abstracts and discussion sections does
not always match their data.
J Youth Adolescence (2014) 43:127–136
difficult to make clear conclusions about links between
video game violence and childhood aggression or violence.
Post-Sandy Hook, a view emerged, typified by the report
of the US House of Representatives Gun Violence Prevention Task Force (2013), that current research probably
did not support concerns that the average child was harmed
by video game violence. Rather, attention should be
focused on prevention and early intervention with ‘‘at-risk
youth,’’ with particular emphasis on mental health. This is
a reasonable hypothesis, but one that has not been studied
extensively. Several studies of college students by Patrick
Markey found that violent video games may interact with
preexisting anger symptoms in some young adults to
increase hostility, although he has been cautious about
extending these findings to violence in children (Giumetti
and Markey 2007; Markey and Markey 2010; Markey and
Scherer 2009). These warnings are consistent with those of
criminologists who warn against generalizing laboratory
aggression measures to criminal violence (Savage 2008).
One recent analysis with children (Ferguson 2011) was
unable to confirm the hypothesis that children with preexisting antisocial traits were adversely influenced by
violent video games. However, more research would certainly be welcome.
The Current Study
The current study is intended to address gaps in the existing
literature by considering the impact of exposure to violence
in video games on criminal delinquency and bullying
behaviors in a sample of children with clinically elevated
mental health symptoms. It is important to note at the
outset that the vast majority of children with mental health
symptoms do not engage in violent behavior. Although
some symptoms of mental health problems such as
depression (Ferguson 2011) and attention deficit disorder
(Wymbs et al. 2012) have been identified as risk factors for
aggressive or violent behavior, this occurs only in combination with other significant risk factors, not as a direct
result of the mental health symptoms. Thus, scholars must
exercise caution not to further stigmatize mental illness by
insinuating links with violence.
Rather, our analyses are intended to address the
hypothesis that children with clinically elevated mental
health symptoms consistitute a ‘‘vulnerable’’ population of
individuals who may be susceptible to video game violence
effects even if clinically ‘‘normal’’ children are not. We
thus test two main hypotheses. First, it was hypothesized
that children with clinically elevated symptoms of
depression will demonstrate a correlation between violent
video game exposure and criminal delinquency and bullying behavior-related outcomes. Second, it was
hypothesized that children with clinically elevated attention deficit symptoms will demonstrate a correlation
between violent video game exposure and criminal delinquency and bullying behavior related outcomes.
The current study includes a subset of participants from a
large federally funded project examining video game violence effects on youth. Details related to the initial development and recruitment for this project can be found at
Kutner and Olson (2008). Only children who scored in the
clinically significant range on clinically validated scales
related to depressive or attention deficit symptoms (scales
discussed below) were included in the current analyses.
These included 377 children: 182 with clinically elevated
attention deficit symptoms, and 284 with clinically elevated depressive symptoms. Clinically elevated symptoms
were comorbid for 89 (23.6 %) children. There were 234
females in the sample and 140 males (3 chose not to report
their gender). The mean age of the children was 12.93
(SD = .76). Children were recruited from both an urban
and suburban school. The ethnic makeup of students in the
urban school was 50 % white, 43 % black, 2 % Asian, 5 %
Hispanic and1 % other. The ethnic makeup of students in
the suburban school was 90 % white, 4 % black, 4 %
Asian, 1 % Hispanic and 1 % other (individual students
were not asked to report their ethnic background).
Depression/Attention Symptoms
Symptoms of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity
problems were assessed using the relevant subscales of the
youth self-report version of the Pediatric Symptom Checklist—17 (PSC; Gardner et al. 1999). This instrument is a
validated, brief screening device for mental health problems
in children, and provides clinical cut-offs to identify children
whose symptoms merit further evaluation. Participants were
asked to rate whether they experienced particular mental
health symptoms ‘‘never,’’ ‘‘sometimes’’ or ‘‘often.’’ With
the current sample, coefficient alpha for the ADHD subscale
was .75 and for the depression subscale .80. The sample
reported mean was 5.41 and standard deviation was 2.28.
Trait Aggression
The Attitudes Toward Conflict scale (ATC; Dahlberg et al.
1998) consists of eight Likert items related to potential
aggressive responses to various hypothetical situations.
Sample items include, ‘‘It’s OK for me to hit someone to
get them to do what I want’’ and ‘‘I try to talk out a
problem instead of fighting.’’ Due to the stability in trait
aggression it is commonly regarded as an important control
variable and we include it here for this reason. Trait
aggression correlated with video game exposure at r = .24
for youth with elevated attention deficit symptoms and .23
for youth with elevated depressive symptoms. However,
predictive relationships between exposure to video game
violence and trait aggression became non-significant in
regression equations with gender, parental involvement,
stress and family/peer support controlled. Thus, we are
confident that our use of trait aggression as a control variable does not miss relationships between video game
violence and trait aggression with other factors controlled.
Coefficient alpha for the current sample for the ATC was
.76. The sample reported mean was 16.48 and standard
deviation was 4.60.
Parental Involvement
To measure parents’ involvement with their children’s
media use, sharing media consumption with children and
making media consumption decisions for them, a nine-item
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