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Effects of violent games on adolescents’ social skills

26 January 2022
The question of whether playing violent video games is dangerous for teenagers continues to be a topic of scientific research. The most recent research by PhD student Ewa Miedzobrodzka from VU Amsterdam among boys aged between 12 and 17 shows that playing violent video games has no negative effects on two important social skills: emotion recognition and self-regulation.

In two studies, adolescent boys between 12 and 17 years old, with different experiences with playing (violent) video games performed a series of computer tests. The studies examined the extent to which teenagers recognized negative facial expressions and inhibited their responses to such emotional expressions.

The experiment with 161 boys found no short-term effects of violent video games on emotion recognition and control of behaviour over emotional faces. Moreover, the correlational study with 241 boys found that everyday exposure to violent video games was not related to the recognition of negative emotional facial expressions. However, exposure to antisocial content in all types of media (e.g., a violent movie, not just a violent video game) was related to problems in the recognition of negative emotions. In addition, both regular exposure to violent video games and antisocial media content were related to better control of reactions to emotional faces.

Miedzobrodzka: "Our studies show that exposure to violent video games may not have such negative effects on adolescents as previously thought." She stresses that longitudinal studies are needed to say how prolonged playing of violent video games might affect the development of teenagers over time. 

So, no reason to be worried if your son is in his room all day long playing shooting or fighting games? "I would still be very careful about letting teenagers play violent video games; they have 18+ age labels for a good reason," says Miedzobrodzka. She adds, "Besides, they already spend too much time in front of screens because of the pandemic, so some outdoor activities would be probably better for their general wellbeing."