One of the most persistent fears among parents, whenever their children play violent video games is how it might alter their behaviour in real life. As game engines get newer and a games evolve to look more realistic, the debate on their behaviourial impacts continues.

But a new study by researchers from New Zealand’s Massey University, University of Tasmania and Stetson University in the US, says that video games do not, in fact, lead to aggression or violent behaviour. Using a method known as meta-analysis, which involves examining data from a number of existing independent studies to determine overall trends, the researchers said that the existing literature on gaming suffers from publication bias.

“Experimental studies are unable to demonstrate compelling short-term effects of aggressive game content on aggression,” says the study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal on 22 July. “The current meta-analysis included 28 independent samples, including approximately 21,000 youth,” the study added. Some of these global samples date back to 2008.

The researchers assessed the sample studies further on whether or not they included “relevant control variables in their analyses” such as gender, family environment, mental health and peer influence.

The study makes the case that despite almost four decades of research, no consensus has been reached among scholars on the impact of violent video games on aggressive behaviour amongst the youth. The authors of the study contend that investigations of the short-term effects of aggressive game content on player aggression have produced inconsistent results. While some of the past literature showed a negative correlation between aggressive video games and violent behaviour, others “conflated” or combined video game violence with media violence in general to arrive at a conclusion.

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While interpreting the data, the researchers found that the overall effect of aggressive game content on behaviourial aggression was too low to be meaningful. They also found no evidence for the assertion that small effects might accumulate over time, dispelling the common notion that such “small effects” could incrementally change a gamer’s nature in the long term. “We observe that meta-analytic studies now routinely find that the long-term impacts of violent games on youth aggression are near zero… Thus, current research is unable to support the hypothesis that violent video games have a meaningful long-term predictive impact on youth aggression,” the researchers explained in the study.

They have also called for greater clarity and transparency when it comes to making sweeping generalizations on gaming and aggression on the basis of inconclusive data. “We call on both individual scholars as well as professional guilds such as the American Psychological Association to be more forthcoming about the extremely small observed relationship in longitudinal studies between violent games and youth aggression.”

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