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Research links violent video games to aggressive behavior

Making school violence prevention programs work
Marianna King is a sociologist and is the author of the forthcoming book, "School Violence – Crisis and Opportunity.” Her email address is marianna.king@csupueblo.edu.
Marianna King is a sociologist and is the author of the forthcoming book, "School Violence – Crisis and Opportunity.” Her email address is marianna.king@csupueblo.edu.

The great majority of school violence prevention programs do not work. This is demonstrated by bullying continuing at unprecedented rates.

Also, rampage school shootings—which the National Research Council calls a “new and unique violence”—continue to periodically shock the nation. It is critically important to address this violence effectively because schools are crucibles of the future. Why do so few school violence prevention programs work? How do we improve them?

As real as gravity

The debate about the influence of violent entertainment and video games is over. Research shows that school violence prevention programs do not work because they do not take these powerful influences into account. Over 50 years of research into the effects of violent entertainment has reached critical mass.

Based on their assessments of the research, highly credible organizations concur that violent entertainment causes increased aggression and violence. The most important finding, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is that exposure to media violence increases aggressive behavior in children.

Arguing against this conclusion is like arguing against gravity, a spokesperson for the APA has commented. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the research overwhelmingly shows a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior.

In addition, emerging research shows that entertainment media engages the right cerebral hemisphere. Long-term involvement in right-hemisphere activities can result in the right hemisphere becoming dominant over time.

But the 3 R’s and the sciences require left cerebral hemisphere involvement—this would help to explain why many students struggle with these academic areas.

Psychologists and neuroscientists have been researching the influence of violent video games. More than 200 studies conclude that exposure to violent video games increases short- and long-term aggression.

Considering this research and the fact that most rampage shooters played first-person shooter combat video games extensively, it is reasonable to conclude that there is a connection.

This research also reveals that long-term involvement with violent video games reduces academic performance and decreases the possibility of future success in relationships and careers.

What superintendents can do

Media literacy is key to preventing school violence. Media literacy is empowering. It can open students’ eyes to the methods the entertainment and game industries use to exert such powerful influence. It also sparks critical thinking, and teaches students to deconstruct images, messages and events.

In the process, it promotes self-understanding, empathy with others and more peaceful interaction. The most effective media literacy programs also steer young people toward constructive and creative leisure-time activities, such as creating their own media.

Superintendents can provide media literacy training for teachers and encourage them to use it into their classroom teaching.

Teachers also can provide media literacy training for parents and Parent Teacher Associations.

Media literacy resources include the Center for Media Literacy, the Media Education Foundation, Media Smarts, and the National Institute on Media and the Family.

Although media literacy is necessary to prevent school violence, it is not sufficient. Legislative change also is necessary. Canada and many European Union countries have passed legislation that restricts children’s access to violent entertainment media and video games.

Germany, in fact, is debating whether to prohibit children from playing violent video games.

Superintendents can advise their school faculty, parents and Parent Teacher Associations about local legislative efforts spearheaded by organizations such as Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Education (TRUCE) and the National Coalition on Television Violence.


Marianna King is a sociologist and is the author of the forthcoming book, "School Violence – Crisis and Opportunity.” Her email address is marianna.king@csupueblo.edu.