Do Bad Grades + Violent Video Games = Violent Kids?By Anna Jacobi | May 23, 2012 | 1 comment
A recent study suggests boys who do poorly in school are more attracted to violent video games—and violent behavior.
Imagine two adolescent boys, Bobby and Tommy. They are the same age, race, ethnicity, and even go to the same school. There’s just one crucial difference: Tommy does well in school and Bobby does not. And that, according to a new study, predicts which of them will be drawn to violent video games and aggressive behavior.
The study was conducted by researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Amsterdam and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescence. Researchers Marije Nije Bijvank, Elly A. Konijn, and Brad J. Bushmanlower observed more than 800 adolescent boys in the Netherlands. The Dutch middle school system divides students into three groups—lower, medium, and higher academic ability—based on their standardized test scores, and the boys in this study were equally divided across those three groups.
The researchers asked the boys about their video game preferences (only three boys out of 833 reported not playing video games at all), measured their levels of aggressive and risk-taking behavior, and assessed their motivations for playing video games.
The results show that boys at the lower academic level preferred violent games significantly more than the boys at the medium or higher levels (there was no difference between those latter two groups). They also had a higher perception of the game as being “real,” and they “wishfully identified” more with video game characters.
Prior research has found that identifying with violent video game characters can increase kids’ aggression levels in general. So the results of this study suggest that boys at the lower education level are more at risk for the negative effects of violent video games.
The researchers also found that these boys had more aggressive personalities and were more likely to seek out thrills and risky behavior—in fact, the most aggressive boys in the study were the ones who had low test scores and played violent video games.
The researchers note that these boys also came from families of lower socioeconomic status, and that may contribute to why they’re so drawn to violent games. “By playing violent games,” they write, “these boys may come to believe that aggression is an effective way of solving conflicts and getting what you want in life.”
However, it is important to clarify that the researchers don’t argue that video games or low educational performance cause aggression, just that these factors are strongly associated with aggressive behavior, suggesting that low performing kids are the most at-risk for violence.
It’s up to future research to determine whether engaging kids in school during their formative years does indeed prevent future aggression, and to explore how to engage boys like Bobby in school before video games become a favorite (and anti-social) outlet.
The researchers suggest that media literacy programs may be one way to protect these at-risk kids from resorting to violence.
“These programs could help boys with a lower educational ability make the fuzzy border between possibilities in virtual worlds and the real world clearer,” they write, “help them identify with nonviolent and prosocial heroes in video games, and find more constructive ways to solve interpersonal conflicts.”
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About The Author
Anna Jacobi is a graduate student at UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare.