Cambridge (MA) – A pair of Harvard researchers say violent video games don’t turn children into killers. According to a newly published book, ‘Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do’, psychologists Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson dispel common myths about violent games. In their two-year study, they found that there was no data to support any causation between games and real-life violence.
Kutner and Olson studied 1200 middle-school children in a $1.5 million federally funded study. Instead of studying the children in the laboratory, like other studies, the pair actually sat down and talked to kids after long bouts of game playing – sometimes in excess of 15 hours a week. The lucky kids played a variety of games from the very non-violent The Sims to grandma shooting, pedestrian bashing Grand Theft Auto.
They discovered that children who played violent video games – those rated Mature or above – were just relieving stress. Some children did exhibit some playful fighting after playing games, but this was similar to what children have always done after watching action or Karate-type movies.
51% of male children who played 15 hours or more of violent games per week were involved in fights in the past year compared to 28% who played regular video games. For girls, 40% of the violent game players were in fights compared to 14% of the non-violent players. Despite the figures, Kutner and Olson say this is just a correlation and that the fighting was probably due to an underlying psychological problem that children had before playing the video game.
Perhaps the most startling finding (at least for people the likes of Jack Thompson) is that boys that don’t play any video games at all are now considered to be socially inept. A danger sign for boys is “not playing video games at all, because it looks like for this generation, video games are a measure of social competence,” says Kutner and Olsen.
I wonder if Kutner and Olsen will now do a follow-up study to find out if the children who play GTA4 will have increased carjacking skills.
The book is currently listed on Amazon.com here.