03.10.2022

Most studies on video games and aggression are driven by ideology and politics – but not by the methodological quality and significance of their results. This is the result of a meta-analysis by american psychologists

Is there a link between portrayals of violence in the media and aggressive behavior?? If one looks at some reactions on the political level, the connection seems to be completely clear, decisive action seems to be urgently required. In fact, however, research in this area has so far confirmed everything possible – except the connection between media violence and aggressive behavior on the part of media consumers. Psychologists christopher ferguson and john kilburn of the texas am international university have conducted a meta-analysis of 27 scientific papers published in the last ten years on this topic – their findings are published in the journal of pediatrics.

Twelve of the studies considered by the researchers were of a purely correlational nature, ten were conducted experimentally, and five dealt with longer time periods as longitudinal studies. 16 of the studies dealt with children, the rest with adults. 15 of the studies looked at the effects of videogames alone, while seven looked specifically at the effects of tv consumption – the rest used both media. However, and this is the first criticism of the researchers, only 41 percent of the studies used scientifically validated criteria for actual aggression. These include physical activities of the study participants, whether verbal or physical, or clinical scales with a proven relationship to aggressive behavior. Unsuitable indicators include self-assessed or third-party assessments of the level of aggression made by schoolchildren or teachers – research has long shown that these do not allow valid conclusions to be drawn.

The researchers are also critical of the fact that third variables – such as gender, family background or personality – were too rarely controlled for, namely only in half of the studies. Ferguson and kilburn also found a clear publication bias in many of the studies – a selective publication of certain results. Overall, calculated across all studies, the correlation factor between media violence and aggression was far below the values considered significant in clinical studies.

However, the individual results differ greatly – depending on the methodology used in the studies. The closer the indicators of aggression used came to real aggression, the weaker the measurable effects of media violence became. That is, between rising blood prere and altered skin resistance and genuine physical aggression, there was still a rational process that could have something to do with values and upbringing in most of the study participants. Studies that included the influence of third variables also produced weaker results on average. Experimental studies generally found stronger effects of media violence on children than on adults, but these studies suffer from the use of inappropriate measures of aggression.

Interesting are also the conclusions that the researchers draw from their results. You fear that many studies on media violence and aggression are conducted primarily on the basis of ideological or political views. Coincidentally, here the agendas of conservative and leftist circles united in a "perfect storm" of political opportunism. Scientific dogmatism, ferguson and kilburn argue, has damaged the ability of the science community to look critically at this field of research. If society’s goal is to reduce violence, it would be better and more efficient to address other areas scientifically, politically and economically.

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