adolescent neocortical synapses

This week’s Forum focuses on the question, “Are Violent Video Games Harmful to Children and Adolescents?” debated in our course textbook, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Psychological Issues (Gantt & Slife, 2015).

I had the YES perspective and I have to respond to the 3 perspectives below.  250 word minimum.

Perspective 1:  Are Violent Video Games Harmful to Children and Adolescents? This week I was tasked with providing evidence which validates the premise.  From the Columbine devastation to the Aurora tragedy, the headlines have been rife with accounts of shooting sprees by young adults known to be heavy video gamers.  In 2005 the APA issued a Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media indicating the possible role video game violence played in youths displaying aggressive behavior.  A task force was set up in 2013 which analyzed data regarding a link between violent game exposure and aggression conducted over twenty years utilizing several different quantitative methodologies. The resolution was subsequently revised in 2015 when the APA confirmed there was a definite link between the two (Copenhaver and Ferguson, 2018). Between the ages of 7-16, adolescent neocortical synapses are lost and current theories hold this is the reason cognitive functioning becomes more efficient and improves in later years (Kirsh, 2002). This is further substantiated by the pronounced limbic system involvement in early adolescence. The limbic system, the emotion center of the brain, plays a prominent role at this age and accounts for the increased aggression evidenced (Kirsh, 2002).   Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of video game violence and studies over the last two decades have found a correlation between violent video gaming and aggression as reported by teachers and the adolescents themselves (Kirsh, 2002). Studies have found the highest rate of game playtime in the younger age groups (8-13); this rate however, decreased with age. Gender was not an issue in the studies; both boys and girls preferred games with a violent component. Not surprisingly, violence was evident in 80% of the most popular video games at the time of the studies (Kirsh, 2002). One of the most popular games, America’s Army, was released in 2002 by the U.S. Army. Based on the first-person shooter (where the player experiences the action through the eyes of the character they are playing), the game targets young adolescents with its “T” for teen rating (suitable for ages 13 and up). It has been utilized as a recruiting tool by the Army for teens by communicating messages regarding warcraft and desensitization to violent wartime scenarios (Susca, 2012). Games such as this should carry disclaimers and be regulated. The government’s role in this deception is particularly disconcerting as they could have changed the rating to “M” for mature but chose not to as younger teens are the target audience. More research is needed on the correlation and/or causality of violent video games and aggression and its impact on our youth.

Perspective 2:  Are violent video games harmful to children and adolescents? No, they are not. While, intuitively, it may seem to make sense, this is likely due to bias, heuristics, and mental shortcuts that activate when we think about kids engaging in violent activities along with what we think might cause children or adolescents to act violently. Although there are many studies that have found a loose correlation between violent video games and aggression, we have to keep in mind that correlation and causation are not the same. For example, while there is a correlation between warm weather and drowning, drowning is not caused by warm weather. Additionally, there seems to be a broad definition of harm in many of these studies. We can define harm from the perspectives of physical, psychological, legal, economic, or social. Accordingly, we should consider our initial reactions, associations, and biases when we contemplate what harm we initially thought video games might cause when we first read the question. My initial impression from the question was that violent video games make children and adolescents more violent. With that in mind, we should consider the two aspects separately, violent games and increased violence from children.  Since 2010, sales of video games have increased by about two-thirds, from $17.5 billion to $29.1 billion in 2017 (Entertainment Software Association, 2017). Violent crime, however, is down in general, and juvenile violent crime is down significantly, nearly two-thirds fewer arrests since 1996 (Department of Justice, 2017). On its face, there seems to be an inverse relationship between juvenile crime and video game use since as sales increase violence decreases by almost the same amount. According to Ferguson and Rueda (2010), “long-term exposure to violent video games was associated with reduced hostile feelings and depression,” potentially because playing violent video games allows adolescents to express their feelings in a way that is not harmful to others but still relieves stress (p. 105). Moreover, an empirical analysis of U.S. arrest data of child murderers by Sellers and Heide (2012), suggested that violence in the home was a far better predictor to violent behavior in children. As I studied the question, I found it to be more of a political football than a pressing psychological question. There was little information on how youth involvement in aggressive contact sports, like football, or game hunting, which is not simulated killing but actually killing a living thing, affects children and adolescents. In fact, a quick Google search provides a wide body of suggestions on how to make children more aggressive when playing sports. Thus, it seems inconsistent to suggest that a loose correlation to violent video games and aggression in children is bad, when sports coaches and parents are intentionally attempting to make children more aggressive to play better football.

Perspective 3:  Violent Video Games, the idea it could potentially manipulates youth in become aggressive is both fascinating and absurd. This week the question is “Are violent video games harmful to our youth?”, well my position is no. When you think of violent video games you automatically think death, practice shooting, not having the reality of perception of death or maybe you just think of no control over your mind, right? Wrong, a video game does not have the power to manipulate one’s mind into reflecting violent behavior. What influences the youth, child and adolescents, into completing violent action is the physical abuse, the interaction with physical abuse which is reality not fantasy. The reading indicated something quite interesting, it mentions that there is no actual physical evidence or research that will have a slight indication there would be a negative effect towards children or adolescents (Gantt, 2016).  If there was no studies that actually show the intensity of what violent video games can do to children while playing video games then the question becomes how much time could it take to actually affect the child? Which boils down to the main issue to how much time does it affect + parent interactions = aggressive behavior or positive/neutral behavior. It is not about what the game does to the child that promotes the violent behavior it is about the household behavior, the environment of the child. If the environment of the household includes a positive, loving with emotional support than the fantasy of aggressive video games will not affect the child. What will affect the child if there is physical abuse at home, let’s say the father is abusive to the mother or reverse physical abuse. What if the child is receiving this physical abuse from the parents, this is a learned behavior that I believe Albert Bandura (1977) said it best on behaviorism. Albert Bandura had a theory in which behavior is learned though observational learning in the environment (Mcleod, 2014). Many children tend to look towards others as role models and are easily influenced.  For example, in my house I have a beautiful four-year-old that I constantly remind him that I did not give birth to a parrot. Everything I do, he copies, it is a learned behavior. Thus, I have to be careful of the actions of emotions and aggression I do (fighting with spouse in front of him, yelling on the phone, or frustration), because everything I do, I know he will copy.  This would make behavior in kids learned by a social environment versus an environment that is initially controlled but fantasy. Violence is an act that one takes when they have no knowledge of morals or an environment full of violence in society.