Violent Video Game Play Leads to Aggressive Behavior

Many studies have examined the effect of violent video game play on adolescents’ behavior. But few have looked at how violent video games influence aggression in these children long-term. Because almost all of American teens play some sort of video game, this trend warrants further investigation. “What is concerning, however, is that over half of the adolescents surveyed reported playing violent video games, and five of the 10 most frequently played games were assessed as violent,” said Teena Willoughby of the Department of Psychology at Brock University in Canada. “Similarly, it has been demonstrated in experimental research that playing violent video games temporarily increases aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and physiological arousal.”

To determine the long-term relationship between behavior and video game play, Willoughby and her colleagues evaluated teens’ attitudes toward violence and aggression as a result of the violence they experience during play. “For example, violent video game play may encourage a hostile attributional bias, such as when a person consistently interprets ambiguous situations as hostile,” said Willoughby. “Thus, long-term violent video game players may become more likely to react aggressively to unintentional provocations, such as when someone accidentally bumps into them.”

The researchers surveyed Canadian students in grades 9 through 12 who reported playing violent video games regularly. They found that those who played the most throughout the four years had the highest increases in aggressive and violent behavior. Additionally, they found that more violent game play in grade 11 directly forecasted increased violent and aggressive behavior in grade 12. They did not find violent behavior led to game play. “Overall, the results offer support for the suggestion that violent video game play may be linked to greater aggression over time.” Willoughby added, “The fact that many adolescents play violent video games for several hours every day underscores the need for a greater understanding of the long-term relation between violent video games and aggression, as well as the game characteristics (e.g., violent content, level of competition, pace of action) that may be responsible for that association.”

Willoughby, T., Adachi, P. J. C., & Good, M. (2011, October 31). A Longitudinal Study of the Association Between Violent Video Game Play and Aggression Among Adolescents. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026046

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Madison


    November 8th, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    The thing I would like to know is why do parents continue to let their kids be involved in this kind of violence when there are obviously tons and tons of evidence available that points to the fact that these are simply bad for the kids. I know that if I had kids I would personally view anything that I bought for them. I know that they are going to see things at others houses, but I can tell you that I would have my finger on the pulse of the things that I allowed them to see and do under my roof.

  • Matthew Dale

    Matthew Dale

    November 8th, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    There is a distinct link between violent games and a reduction in violent crime. A HUGE link in fact-look up the rates of crime since the early 90’s and you will see that it has fallen like a rock to a fraction of what it used to be. Those kids are just violent brats and that’s it.

  • Linda Terry

    Linda Terry

    November 8th, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    @Matthew Dale–I looked up violent video games crime and you’re right surprisingly. The very first result on the images was a graph that showed the release dates of the most controversial games in history alongside a gradually-falling crime rate. Who’s going to argue with federal statistics which come from superior sources than some kids with behavior problems?

  • T. Salmon

    T. Salmon

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    Personally I don’t care what charts say. I care about the anger and aggressiveness I see from my normally sedate 5 year old grandson’s face when he’s playing these video games. That’s plenty evidence for me that they are not a good thing to have in your home! He often takes it out on his younger sister too by shouting at her. I have zero tolerance for such behavior.

  • Billie Sexton

    Billie Sexton

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    I’m with you on that, Grandma T! And children today haven’t the faintest idea how to play the simplest board games like checkers or snakes and ladders, or easy card games that I learned when I was very young. In a power outage, they have no idea how to amuse themselves once the batteries run out and they can’t recharge their consoles. It’s sad really they become so addicted!

  • Sylvia Bullock

    Sylvia Bullock

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    @T. Salmon: is it not possible your grandson needs to learn to control his temper when things don’t go his way? Don’t blame the game for his misbehavior!

    This study has been done numerous times in the past and every single time they have reached zero conclusions on what effect violence in games have on youths. Zero. She is spreading a baseless urban myth that gives all gamers a bad name.

  • Patrick Little

    Patrick Little

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    While everyone is busy defending violent games, I will say something that has been observed, and that is a link between competition and aggression. Males by their nature are competitive, and online games are highly competitive. Were these games single player or multi-player I wonder? Multi-player gamers behave like animals sometimes.

  • Trina


    November 9th, 2011 at 5:20 AM

    Personally I think that this is pointing the blame at the wrong thing. These are just games people. Maybe you should look at the homes these kids are growing up in. Maybe you will find a link to the violence there, and if there is then a correlation between the violence and the homelife then I think that you have an issue. I do not see that one thing alone can cause this.

  • Cathy.L


    November 9th, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Video games make kids violent or not is a question that will not have an answer that everybody would agree with. But can we not understand as parents that exposing our kids to blood and gore is not a good thing even otherwise? Okay, it may not make my young son aggressive or violent but is it a good thing? If the purpose is entertainment then why can’t we have more games of other kinds? I don’t mind if my son has been playing FIFA Soccer on the PC for a couple of hours but I would not want to see him playing a game in which his character is running around shooting other people in their heads!

  • Chelsea


    November 9th, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    Children are vulnerable and impressionable- we all know that.
    So why we would think that the violence in the video games that they play and the movies that they watch would not affect them startles me.
    I know that my own kids puck up every single little thing that they see and hear.
    You just have to be so careful with the imagery and the actions and activities that you allow the child to take place in.
    There are a number of times that I think being too lenient with this material has really come back to harm families.
    And I think that if you asked them now if they would let their kids be invlved with all of this I think that you will hear them emphatically tell you no.

  • h.j.


    November 9th, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    @Patrick Little-Aggression is an understatement. Go onto any online game with player vs. player and start pressing their buttons. They will fly into a complete frenzy and think that their actions are acceptable. You will never see that outside of multiplayer games where people are only playing against a non-sentient thing in a single-player game.

  • lesley bryce

    lesley bryce

    November 15th, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    So what is it? Are violent games causing aggressive behavior or not? I hear one thing from talking heads on the news, another from gamers, another from psychologists and am totally confused about who does or does not has irrefutable evidence on this. Does any party? Can any of them categorically prove whether it causes aggression or not?

  • BrendanGardner


    November 18th, 2011 at 12:17 AM

    @lesley bryce-It’s not the games per say; it’s the whole competitive aspect of games like League of Legends which has the most aggressive players I have ever seen. Competition brings out the worst in players to where they will lie, cheat, steal, and riot in those virtual worlds.

    Does it spill over into real life aggression? Who knows. I think the study needs to be done with the groups divided into players of competitive and non-competitive games for a more accurate assessment.

  • An Anonymous Gamer

    An Anonymous Gamer

    April 4th, 2014 at 5:20 AM

    I play some of these games, though I have never gotten into the First-Person Shooter genre, like Halo and Modern Warfare, etc. If your children want to play violent games, try introducing them into the MOBA genre, with free games for the computer like League of Legends and Dota 2. I will warn you, these games are EXTREMELY addicting, but only so because of how strategically focused and in-depth they are. These games may be violent, but they aren’t violent just to be violent, each character and position your child plays on a team has very in-depth theories and strategies behind them. Maybe they make others more aggressive, but personally I find them a lot less sickening and desensitizing to real-world violence.

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