9th Jan 2016

Video games and violent behaviour

Video games and violent behaviour



Before I started writing this article I decided to look up the most recent statistics on visual media usage in young Australian children. To be honest, I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that:


  1. 63% of 4 month old babies are exposed to an average of 44 minutes of television a day. 
  2. 79% of babies aged 12 months old were watching television for 1 hour a day.
  3. 97% of children by the age of 2 and a half were passively watching 1.5 hours of television a day. 


The Problem


But why is watching so much television an issue? Well, as long as we are sticking to recommended screen time for children it should be okay right?


Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The content that children are watching or engaging in is of grave importance in regards to a child’s behaviour. 


There is an abundance of literature supporting the view that violent media increases aggressive behaviour, creates children that are fearful (i.e overestimate violent occurrences) and result in emotional desensitisation. 


These seeds are planted in children at a young age and can unfortunately carry on into adolescence and adulthood as the newly perceived norm. 




Let’s consider the increases in aggressive behaviour. Literature has found that the effects of the violent media on aggressive behaviour only last 4-5 minutes. However, the effects are cumulative meaning the more they play, the longer and more intense the aggression becomes. 


Violent media is breeding more fearful children. Why is this occurring? Children who have been exposed to violence begin to see it as a normal response. Regardless of good parenting and modelling of good conflict resolution, a child may attribute hostile intent to those around them. Johnny will see Susie look and smile at him in the playground and instead of smiling in response he will think to himself “Susie is looking at me and smiling. She is trying to trick me so that she can steal my things and hit me when no one is looking”. 


And how is it that children become emotionally desensitised? Interestingly, our brain is unable to separate reality and what we see on tv/play on our devices. Therefore, when we watch a violent movie, our brain will respond as if this violence is occurring in real life even though our actions may not follow. When watching violent media, the right hemisphere in our brain is activated (responsible for negative emotions such as anger and jealousy). Areas responsible for our fight and flight responses and trauma memories are activated. The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for decision making and behavioural inhibition, is partly turned off when a person is exposed to violent media. 


Putting it all together


So what does this all mean? It means that, when confronted by the threat of violence (even though it is only on media and not in reality) our brain responds. The more and more we expose our brain to this violence, the more we are desensitised to it leading to a subsequent increase in aggressive behaviour. 


I speak with utmost passion when I stress how important it is that we limit our children’s exposure to violent media. There are a number of fantastic alternatives to violent movies and games that children love to watch and play that have educational value. Dora the Explorer, Shauna Sheep, Play School, The Wiggles, Postman Pat, Barney, Banana’s in Pyjamas, and the list goes on. With such an extensive list of great programs that children can watch I challenge every parent to ask themselves “does my child really need to watch/play these violent shows/games?”. 


Thanks for reading!




Some references that were used for this article are listed below. 


Bartholow, B. D., Bushman, B. J., & Sestir, M. A. (2006). Chronic violent video game exposure and desensitization to violence: Behavioral and event-related brain potential data. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42(4), 532-539.


Engelhardt, C. R., Bartholow, B. D., Kerr, G. T., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). This is your brain on violent video games: Neural desensitization to violence predicts increased aggression following violent video game exposure. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(5), 1033-1036.


Griffiths, M. (1997). Video games and aggression. PSYCHOLOGIST-LEICESTER-, 10, 397-402.


Sherry, J. L. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression. Human communication research, 27(3), 409-431.