Violent Video Games May Inhibit Moral Development in Teens

young man playing video gameThough many tout the educational, stress-relieving, and entertainment value of video games as proof of their usefulness, others argue that the violent nature of some games leads to aggressive, immoral behavior in those who play them.

This concern is particularly heightened with regard to children and adolescents, as they are going through crucial phases of development and are especially impressionable.

Several studies have sought a deeper understanding of how video games impact social and emotional behavior. Recently, a researcher in Ontario, Canada, examined the effects of video game usage in over 100 teenagers (boys and girls) between the ages of 13 and 14 (Bajovic, 2013). Of those surveyed, 45 were identified as “violent video game players” who preferred and regularly played video games involving murder, torture, dismemberment, and the like.

Mirjana Bajovic, the author of the study, was specifically interested in the teens who spent more than three hours a day playing violent video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Using The Sociomoral Reflection Measure, she assessed their ability to empathize with those around them in real life.

Upon reviewing the responses, Bajovic found “a significant negative relationship” between time spent engaged in violent video games and “sociomoral maturity” (2013). Basically, the results reveal a potential delay in emotional development for these teens.

It is important to note, however, that not all adolescents who reported playing violent video games showed stunted moral and emotional awareness. No correlation was discovered between those who played nonviolent games and sociomoral development. The main factor influencing empathic behavior and tendencies appears to be the amount of time spent playing the games; not surprisingly, spending several hours glued to the screen and partaking in repetitive virtual violence was identified as the primary culprit in inhibiting sociomoral maturity (Bajovic, 2013).

In another study, a lack of self-control was observed in high school students who played one of the Grand Theft Auto games, along with an increase in cheating (in a game) and aggressive behavior (Gabbiadini, Riva, Andrighetto, Volpato, and Bushman, 2013).

Bajovic suggests that since preventing students from playing video games is most likely not an option, parents and teachers should instead encourage teens to engage in other, more positive social activities. Devoting time to cultivating compassion and tolerance at home and in school may also help to counteract the potentially negative effects of too many hours spent in violent video game territory.

Virtual Villains Serve Spicy Chili Sauce to Strangers

Another recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that assuming the identity of either a heroic or a villainous avatar may have a significant impact on behavior in the real world. In an interesting experiment involving chocolate and chili sauce, the researchers observed the levels of sensitivity and consideration displayed by nearly 200 undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign following a short period of time immersed in video game role-play.

“Our results indicate that just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or a villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers,” said Gunwoo Yoon, lead author of the study.

The reward, in this case, was choosing to serve chocolate sauce to a stranger rather than spicy chili sauce. The punishment, of course, was the chili sauce. Apparently, the participants were told to pour a lot or a little of one or the other in a plastic dish with the understanding that someone was going to have to come along and eat it.

Those who played the hero (Superman) in the video game “poured nearly twice as much” chocolate, while those who played the villain (Voldemort) “poured nearly twice as much” of the spicy chili sauce.

The new information and conclusions we can draw are certainly food for thought.


  1. Association for Psychological Science (APS). (2014, February 10). Virtual avatars may impact real-world behavior. Press Release. Retrieved from
  2. Bajovic, M. (2013). Violent video gaming and moral reasoning in adolescents: is there an association? Educational Media International, Vol. 50, Issue 3, 177-191. doi: 10.1080/09523987.2013.836367. Retrieved from
  3. Gabbiadini, A., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C., and Bushman, B. J. (2013, November 8). Interactive effect of moral disengagement and violent video games on self-control, cheating, and aggression. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi: 10.1177/1948550613509286. Abstract retrieved from

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  • diana poole

    diana poole

    February 12th, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    I have read about both the pros and cons of video games in adolescents and I have to say that I still believe that it depends on the individual child, and that perhaps this is just the way that a kid is and sometimes video games can bring out a trait in them that would have already been there anyway. All of my boys played these games and I know that some of them were more violent than what I would have liked but they did it and I never witnessed any kind of adverse behavior in them as a result. They were good kids to begin with though, so I think that it would have taken a whole lot more than this kind of violence in fun as a way to turn them to the dark side.

  • Allie


    February 12th, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    I grew up with a gamer brother and joined in with he and his friends from time but I never noticed anything any different about how we bahved before we played the games or afterwards.

    It was just something to do to pass the time, and of course they were mean and aggressive toward oe another but they were adolescent boys so that’s kind of the norm to me.

    I know that a lot of these games have gotten a bad rap and I do think that some of them should be for adults only. But I think that we are trying to take away some of the responsibility for this when we try to pin the blame on a game. There could have been other things going on these kids lives to cause them to make the choices and have the reactions that they did, and I don’t know how you would go about separating those things out so that you could show that the only thing responsible for the behavior was the playing of that video game.

  • Harriet


    February 13th, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    There are so many more positive things available for teens- why would I want to as a parent allow them to spend so much time doing something that is potentially harmful to them and to others? I think that as parents we need to think long and hard about the things that we allow our kids to do on a daily basis and ask ourselves if this is the really the best use of their time or if there is something else that they could be doing that would be more beneficial to everyone?
    Look, I know that the peer pressure is going to be there and there will never be a way to shield them from everything but I am going to do what I can to make life the best for them that it can be. That might lead to a lot of unpopular decisions right now but I think that in the end it will all work out.

  • jakob


    February 17th, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    I think that this is seriously screwed up. You are blaming this game for the actions that people choose. There is something wrong with that and wrong with these people who act out this kind of behavior in real life. Just because I shoot up stuff in my games doesn’t mean that I then think that it’s okay to go out and do this in real life. The people that think that way? There is something far deeper wrong with them than just playing video games.

  • Melissa d

    Melissa d

    February 19th, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    This says that it MAY inhibit moral development, nothing for sure

  • Cathern P

    Cathern P

    January 17th, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Another issue is really that video gaming has become one of the all-time biggest forms of excitement for people of various age groups. Kids play video games, and adults do, too. Your XBox 360 has become the favorite video games systems for people who love to have a lot of video games available to them, as well as who like to relax and play live with others all over the world. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

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