Effect of Violent Video Games on Children

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How Violent Video Games Can Affect Altruism & Empathy

The American Psychological Association (APA) cites violent video games as a significant risk factor for aggression, selfishness, and indifference in children. In fact, according to the APA Task Force, there is a relationship between violent video game exposure and increased negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions along with indifference or low levels of empathy in children.

Studies have indicated that playing violent video games on a regular basis can lead to aggressive short-term and long-term behaviors in children. One theory is that violent games desensitize or numb children to violent, aggressive, destructive, uncaring, and harmful behaviors. When children become used to seeing these types of actions, it reduces empathetic, compassionate, and pro-social behaviors like helping those less fortunate, being understanding of others and their situations, lending a helping hand to someone in need. Some children begin to view violent behavior as “normal” and some even try to imitate what they see on the game in real life.

The longer a child is exposed to these video games, the more likely he or she will exhibit the same or similar hostile, unsympathetic, or cruel thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Studies also indicated that even though males spend more time playing these games and are typically more aggressive because of them, any exposure to violent video games, regardless of gender, can affect one’s ability to be altruistic and empathetic. 

Moreover, a group of researchers found that violent games that encourage players to demean, harm, or abuse females, can have serious implications for young boys and teens. In fact, this 2016 study suggests that boys, who identify with violent male protagonists, have less empathy for real-life females. In addition, researchers found that male high schoolers, who play aggressive games (i.e. Grand Theft Auto), are more uncaring and unsympathetic towards female violence victims, than those who do not play these types of games.

In Summary…

Violent video games may not trigger aggressive, violent, uncaring, or indifferent behaviors in all children, who are exposed to them; however, these games can affect some children, especially if they are vulnerable or prone to these behaviors. This is especially prevalent in young males, who spend long hours playing video games that promote violence. Children, who are exposed to violence on a regular basis, are not only at-risk for identifying with the violent characters in these games, but also for reduced altruism and empathy towards others. Therefore, our recommendation is to avoid violent games as much as possible.


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  • The American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media. (2017). The American Psychological Association Task Force Assessment of Violent Video Games: Science in the Service of Public Interest. American Psychologist. 72(2): 126-143. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28221065
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