Do violent movies, games make teens aggressive?
October 18th, 2010
07:15 PM ET

Do violent movies, games make teens aggressive?

Watching violence portrayed in movies and other media may make teens more accepting of violence, researchers report in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Previous research has shown a connection between violent media and aggression, as well as violence and desensitization. But this study looks at how teenagers' brains specifically respond to violent media, said Jordan Grafman, senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Participants in the study were 22 boys ages 14 to 17. For that reason, researchers cannot determine whether the brain patterns they observed would also apply to girls. This is also a small sample size, meaning more research should be done to confirm the results.

Each participant watched clips of violent scenes from 60 different videos, which included movies such as "World's Wildest Street Fights Vol. 1 and 2," Grafman said, and rated the aggression of the scenes. Researchers could observe their brain function because each boy watched these scenes while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

These brain images showed that more aggressive violence was associated with desensitization in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, which scientists believe has to do with emotions and emotional responses to events. They measured this by looking at the deoxygenation of blood in this area of the brain and how it changes over time.

Participants also wore electrodes on the fingers of one hand to measure the electrical conductance of the skin, which indicates emotion. This was used to look at how desensitized the boys were to different videos, depending on the level of violence. This electrical conductance test showed that the boys appeared to be more desensitized by the mildly and moderately violent videos than the ones with a low-level of violence.

Boys who had the greatest level of exposure to violent media routinely showed the greatest desensitization in this study.

If you already have a predisposition toward violence, based on your home  life and genetics, and are exposing yourself to violent media, "the risk would go up for being, first, accepting of violent or aggressive behavior around you, which be often as devastating as actually committing the act, or potentially being more easily provoked," Grafman said.

That assessment does not apply to these individual children in the study, but it's the study's broader message, he said.

"Sometimes people just call these 'games,' but imagine if you're doing this three hours a day, four hours a day; it's not just 'games,' it's your environment, he said."

Although the study did not directly address the issue of violence in video games, previous research found that "emotional desensitization had been associated with children’s exposure to violent video games and adults' self-reported reduced sympathy with victims in violent movie scenes," Grafman's study said.

But there may be a flip side to video games with some degree of violence. A September study in the journal Current Biology found that participants ages 18 to 25 could make faster decisions that were no less accurate after playing action games such as "Call of Duty 2" and "Unreal Tournament," which are first-person shooter games.

The lesson from that is not to carve out as much time for video games as you can, said Alexandre Pouget of the University of Rochester,  co-author of the Current Biology paper. Rather, exploring how video games help with quick thinking can translate into educational tools and games that more effectively teach useful skills, he said.

For children over 6 years of age, pediatricians recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day, said Dr. Jennifer Shu, CNNHealth living well expert. But some studies have shown that, in practice, many kids spend about 7 hours a day in front of some kind of screen, including smart phones.

Parents should put limits on-screen time, she said. It's a cause for concern if a child becomes hyperactive, has attention problems, doesn't sleep well or get enough exercise because of things like video games and television.

soundoff (167 Responses)
  1. Fuyuko

    When I was a teen I liked horror movies that I would never watch these days due to the graphic violence. but as a teen that was exciting. And teens are more aggressive. they are getting ready to leave home and join another tribe.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ankhharu

    Let's not accept blame as parents for raising our kids improperly. You know, not being allowed to spank, being their friend instead of parent. Let's find someone else to blame. Typical modern day society. Never our fault, always someone else's fault. "My kids fat because of McDonalds". No, your kids fat because you let them decide what and where they want to eat. Let's not be parents, lets be parents by proxy, ala TV, PS3, Xbox, MTV, etc.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Curtis Candy

    One of the issues here is what was demonstrated was a desensitization to video game violence. That, in no way, necessarily demonstrates the same desensitization to real world violence.

    These kids are bright enough to know the difference, even on a subliminal level, and are reacting acordingly.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thor

      If you believe in the Bell Curve, which many do not. You would know that most people in fact do not have the intellectual capacity to discern right from wrong, especially at an early age. Hopefully the Flynn effect is strong enough to make this statement true, in time. As for now, the possibility of complex ramifications for poor choices do not occure to roughly 50% of people.

      October 19, 2010 at 20:28 | Report abuse |
  4. T-BonezLemonGirl

    What you see is what you get.
    Show love more, you love more. Show happiness more you are happy.
    Show and train to hate and fight and explode, what do you think that does to the brain. Some people are naturally aggressive, so this means of violent video games will make them even more violent. Some people are not naturally violent by nature, but the constant playing will develop in them the violent nature and replace their calm tendencies with aggressive behavior. That's why these children have no idea what they did if somebody has bothered them or bullyed them. They zone out and explode in violent behavior. These violent video games are the start of a new nation of children who are not taught the morals or attitudes of a society that wants to get along with itself.
    It teaches self-anniniliation and get back at people who have hurt them by using aggression and violent behavior instead of talking. These violent games teach you can kill somebody and they bounce right back to fight again and again.
    But put a Glock in the hands of a boy or girl who kills, that person is dead, not coming back, not bouncing back.
    Can you see the Evil One laughing at our children who are becoming this way?
    Love and hug your children. Be in their face. Know their friends. When they close their door, open it and talk to them. Be involved in their lives. Stop watching tv all day and talk. Don't eat in front of the tv, talk to your kids.
    You probably will be able to save their life.
    It's worth it, isn't it?

    October 19, 2010 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Joeg

    I'd like to challenge the assumption that aggression is bad. I deal with people from all over the globe and what I find is that Americans are generally more passive than people from the countries that are trouncing us economically. I think our children need to be a lot more forward, a lot more aggressive, fiercer. If the world is going to contain lions, tigers, and bears...you don't want have the attitude of a sheep.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Guest

    It would be interesting to see a study done on how aggressive the kids were BEFORE the video games. To me, aggressive video games invite already aggressive people (in some form or fashion) to play. I grew up viewing a lot of aggressive stuff like horror films and even Tom and Jerry cartoons (that are now considered aggressive for kids). I play video games online where I kill animals as well as people to gain experience. Yet I do not go out and kill people. I think we are too quick to point fingers at other things rather than taking personal responsibility.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ron

    Well, first off, this study used movies, not games as the stimulus. So, generalizing to video games is speculative and not science, at all. As far as the study goes, if they had stopped with this sentence, "These brain images showed that more aggressive violence was associated with desensitization in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the brain," their conclusions would have some validity. But, to go on to speculate on how that finding translates into behavioral changes is, once again, speculative. Science is not specualtion and once you engage in speculation, you abandon all pretense at objectivity. This is sensationalism, not science.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. fireybuddha

    duh. of course. we are a direct result of all we take in – tv, radio, internet, video games, news – and all the complacency re: violence has led to a desensitized society. it's obvious, isn't it? the fact that kids will beat a homeless person or minority just for the hell of it – and record it and distribute said beating – says it all.

    October 19, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sarge

    I don't know which is worse the pseudoscience or the trumped up religious speeches that pass as intelligent discourse around here. So here is the bottom line: Everyone wants a silver bullet to dealing with troubled/violent youth. There is none, if you teach your children right and reinforce that teaching the problem is solved. You don't need to beat them over the head with a bible or philosophy book you just need to be a firm parent.

    October 19, 2010 at 19:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MIchael

    I've become desensitized to violence from the media. Everyday I turn on the news, it's a new suicide bombing, or murder over a speed bump, or a victim escaping after 20 yrs of captivity. These video games are "soft" compared to real life.

    October 19, 2010 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. thor

    A little violence never hurt anyone.....oh, wait...sorry. My bad. But without violent videogames to help me simulate the murder of soldiers, how will I deal with my urge to kill?

    October 19, 2010 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Constantine

    Hmm – i have good idea, lets stop doing preliminary tests on sample sizes that are so small that we wont be able to get a definitive answer.

    October 19, 2010 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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  13. Ken

    Lemon Girl... it is that kind of flawed and exaggerated fear mongering that spawns piss poor journalism and research that we see right here in front of us. Implying that the human mind is this fragile snow flake in the wind is rubbish. The mind is powerful, and we can choose how to accept stimuli. Cause the mind is more than a shallow husk that you implicate it to be.

    October 21, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. coolman

    I have played all the GTA games, and every good shooting game. I played my first shooting game at 8 or 9 and my brother at 4. I am now at Stanford University about to graduate. He is at Tufts. Were not violent. Our parents let us have whatever games we wanted, we were allowed to play whenever we wanted. We just knew we had school work to do. I have an xbox in my dorm i play gta 4 on it a lot. I hate it when i see people say violent video games make kids violent. WRONG the kids/families/households were screwed up to begin with.

    October 29, 2010 at 04:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. CNN rated M

    In Canada, purchase of an M rated game is controled by retailers.I have witnessed a young boy being denied the sale of an M rated game. Parental controls on most current TV sets can help parents control what they want to allow thier childen to view based on the stations rating. All stations report the display of violence before and during the program being viewed....with the exception of the news.
    Cnn , daily shows REAL graffic violence, drug use and suggestions of sexuallity during the hours which young children are watching.
    This is real..not a video game or movie..and children know the difference.
    This morning Novemder 1 approx 9:00 am CNN aired clips of M rated video game violence, wiithout warning, for all the childen of America to see.
    Should this be legal?
    Should CNN be allowed to air mature content during the hours children are wacthing?
    Should CNN be a non rated network, not controled through your internal TV parental control?
    Should CNN be allowed to show mature content without first showing the typical disclaimer?
    Shouldn:t CNN :report: on this story?

    November 1, 2010 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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  23. This Research is a

    This is complete bull video games don"t make people violence. i should know because i play this games and so do many friends that i know these games just make us past time when were bored we don't get the urge to kill. we just play together in have fun online. People just overact about violent games in order to blame something other then themselves.Also every one is naturally aggressive if you want too win something you turn aggressive that's how these games are aggressiveness depends on the person background life.

    April 25, 2012 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. zakumah

    Teens and adult choose to be violent because they want, also parents let them deal with their own parents should also help them making the right choice some parents do and some parents don't, also parents should sometimes sit down and talk too their kids because maybe their kids could be going through something in school or out of school or maybe out of home not all people are the same, some parents sit down and talk too them and some parents don't when they don't they end up getting scared because their afraid of losing their kids, well too say but thats what happens when you don't be responsible parents should also talk too them more often become their friend not their enemy some kids see their parents as friends and some kids see their parents as friends don't be afraid too sit and talk too your kids I hope that what I think doesn't offend anybody I'm just be honest and telling the truth if I did offend anybody I apologize I'm very sorry

    November 28, 2012 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ken Rhode

    look im a 17 year old with straight As, no criminal record, and i volunteer in my community and i play violent video games and look at me, also i have no mental problems so they say it effects people in my age range. how about you look at the 12 year olds [playing call of duty and say it effects older teenagers

    January 11, 2013 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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