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Violent Video Games Can Hinder Development, Simmons Study Finds

BOSTON (April 4, 2011) — Children's exposure to violent video games over time can impact their ability to develop empathy and sympathy for others, according to a new study written by Simmons College Communications Professor Edward T. Vieira, Jr., Ph.D. and published in the 2011 spring/summer edition of the Journal of Children and Media.

The study is the first of its kind to examine how violent video games impact the development of moral reasoning among children ages 7-15, based on such variables as age, gender, perspective-taking, and the ability to sympathize.

The study found that frequent exposure to violent video games impact children's perception that some types of violence are acceptable or "right." The study also found that children who spend a great deal of time playing violent video games (as defined by the Entertainment Software Rating Board) have an increased likelihood of accepting all types of violence. The study confirmed that boys spend twice the amount of time playing violent video games as girls do, and highlighted the increased risk faced by boys who can become desensitized to violence because of frequent exposure to violent video play.

Vieira, who teaches communications at Simmons, led the study and collaborated with Wake Forest University Communications Professor Marina Krcmar, Ph.D.

"Certainly not every child who continues to play violent video games is going to go out and perpetrate a violent act, but the research suggests that children — particularly boys — who are frequently exposed to these violent games are absorbing a sanitized message of ‘no consequences for violence' from this play behavior," said Vieira. "The concern arises when children are taking in this message and there is a convergence of other negative environmental factors at the same time, such as poor parental communication and unhealthy peer relationships."

In noting that moral reasoning development is based on the ability to understand a perspective outside of oneself, the study suggested that violent video games do not provide the perspective of the victim of a violent act, and that repeated exposure to violent video games impede the perspective-taking development during a crucial developmental period.

Other results include:
• 71% of the video games reported contained at least some mild violence.
• 25% of the video games played contained intense violence, blood, and gore.
• Children who reported playing a number of video games, consistently played the same type of games whether violent, sports, etc.

Additionally, the study found that although many of the children polled ranged in ages from 7 to 12, they reported playing games rated "M" for "Mature content," which are games designated for ages 17 and older. Mature content games contain intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content and/or or strong language.

The study surveyed 166 children from 29 schools in the Boston and southern New Hampshire areas. Of the children studied, 34% were girls and 66% were boys. The research is based on the General Aggression Model, which states that repeated exposure to violent video games is likely to lead to more aggressive thoughts and behavior.

Simmons College is a nationally recognized private university located in the heart of Boston. It offers an undergraduate education for women, and renowned coeducational graduate programs in health sciences, education, liberal arts, social work, library and information science, and communications management, as well as the nation's first MBA program designed specifically for women. Follow Simmons on Twitter @SimmonsCollege

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