Many people claim that violent video games make children more aggressive, but is this claim really true? According to recent research, there is a relationship between the consumption of fast-paced, violent media and increased aggression. A series of three studies lead by Craig Anderson, Director of the Center of the Study of Violence at Iowa State University, are the first to link gaming with both positive and negative effects.

In the first study, the researchers evaluated participants who were not frequent gamers. The participants played either a fast-paced game (Unreal Tournament), a slow game (Sims 2), or nothing for 10 50-minute sessions over the course of 11 weeks. The researchers tested the subjects’ proactive cognitive control and visual attention before and after gameplay. The action-game players showed a marked decrease in proactive cognitive control compared to the Sims 2 gamers. However, the action-game players also showed an increase in their visual attention abilities.

The second study evaluated the television-viewing and video gaming habits of 422 individuals. This study found that both total media exposure and violent media exposure directly contributed to problems with attention. Violent media exposure was found to be associated with aggression, anger, and hostility, but total media exposure was not.

The researchers also found a connection between aggression (both premeditated and impulsive) and attention problems. There was a weaker link between premeditated aggression and attention problems than that with impulsive aggression and attention problems, but there was still a significant connection. According to Anderson, “This is theoretically consistent with the idea that attention problems interfere with people’s ability to inhibit inappropriate and impulsive behavior.”

Anderson also explained that fast-past media essentially train users to respond quickly; this type of media does not reward impulse regulation. He points out that violent games especially encourage a rapid response from the player, which is “why attention problems are more strongly related to impulsive aggression than to premeditated aggression.”

This research will be presented at the symposium at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Honolulu. It is not yet published.

Previous news in attention and media: