Watch out, child – video games may make you violent.

According to a new study, it is possible for children to learn to think and behave aggressively after being exposed to video gaming. This came on the heels of an earlier report which suggested that the games could influence a person’s behaviour, irrespective of their cultural background.

The recent study was conducted at the Iowa State University, in the US. Researchers at the university studied new thought patterns of kids who repeatedly played the games, and discovered that these patterns would influence their behaviour as they grew older. The manner in which the children learned from video games was similar to the method of learning from other aspects.

Researchers studied about 3,000 children in the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th grades for a period of three years. They collected data on the time spent by these children playing video games each year, along with the violent content and an analysis of the child’s behavior. The length and size of the study made it possible for the study to detect and test small effects.

Researchers said that the knowledge retained while playing video games was similar to activities like learning to play the piano. If someone had practiced for a long time, they would know how to play it even if they had not done so for a long time. Similarly, when one plays video games repeatedly, one practices the thinking that one needs to be on the alert for enemies and respond aggressively to any provocation. Thus one acquires desensitization towards any consequences of violence, due to this repeated exposure.

This has serious consequences. Once children start to think in a hostile manner, they will react to provocation anywhere like they do while playing a video game. This will affect the way they deal with negative situations at home, school, or otherwise. A repeated resort to these methods of violence could possibly create a long-term effect.

According to Craig Anderson, professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State, who also co-authored the report, violent video games model physical aggression. These also reward players for being on the lookout for hostile behaviour during gameplay and using violence to solve conflicts. This motivates similar behaviour in real life.

Initially, boys were reportedly said to have demonstrated more physical aggression in their behaviour than girls. This was also attributed to the fact that the former gender spent more time playing these games. However, in the course of this study, the gender aspects were controlled, and then it was noted that the effects on behaviour were the same for both sexes.

The researchers also wanted to test the effect of violent video games on those kids who were already aggressive in nature. They wanted to analyze whether the games had a greater effect on more aggressive kids, so they compared children with varying levels of aggression. In this case too, they did not find any difference.

Hence, the results argued that gender, age or aggressive nature did not affect the relationship between game play as well as aggressive thinking and behaviour, though the former had lasting effects on the latter.

The research on this issue is important especially with the growing number of young children and teenagers who play video games, which more often than not contain some type of violent content.

However, this does not generalize. In fact, prosocial media – those kinds of media that intend to promote social acceptance and cooperative behaviour – is a positive influence on the young irrespective of culture. This was proved in a study that tested the levels of empathy and helpfulness of thousands of children and adolescents in seven countries.

Thus, the combined conclusion of these studies shows that whether the content of the video games is prosocial or antisocial, there is a definite impact on real world behaviour.