"I win!" Video Game Play and Aggression Among Adolescents and Young Adults

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By:  Tara Kuther

Over two decades of research has examined the relationships between playing violent video games and aggression in children and adolescents. Experimental research comparing violent and nonviolent, competitive and noncompetitive, video games has shown that, compared with less competitive video games, highly competitive video games produce more aggressive behavior.

In two longitudinal studies, Adachi and Willoughby (2016) examined competitive video game play and aggressive behavior in adolescents and young adults. In the first study, over 1,100 first-year college students were followed annually for 4 four years. Playing competitive violent video games (fighting games), competitive and nonviolent video games (sports or racing games), noncompetitive nonviolent video games (puzzle, building, or quiz games), and aggressive behavior (physical: hitting, shoving; and verbal: berating others, swearing) were assessed annually. Anger and hostility were assessed at Time 2 and 3.
 
A bidirectional longitudinal relation was observed such that playing competitive video games predicted higher levels of aggressive behavior and aggressive behavior predicted higher levels of playing competitive video games.  Anger and hostility were associated with playing competitive video games, which in turn was associated with higher levels of aggressive behavior over time. Adachi and Willoughby explain that experiencing thwarted or threatened goals, as is inherent to competitive video game play, is associated with anger and other aggressive emotions, which may influence aggressive behavior.
 
The goal of the second study was to examine the bidirectional relationships between playing competitive video games and aggressive behavior among adolescents. Nearly 1,500 9th grade students participated and were assessed annually for 4 years, with the measures used in the first study.  Aggressive behavior was measured at all time points and video game play was assessed in grades 11 and 12. Similar to the findings with young adults, aggressive behavior in grades 10 and 11 predicted playing competitive video games in grades 11 and 12, respectively. In turn, playing competitive video games in grade 11 predicted aggressive behavior in grade 12.
 
Adachi and Willoughby concluded that playing competitive video games was related to aggressive behavior both concurrently and longitudinally in adolescents and young adults. Among young adults, playing competitive video games may pose challenges to later emotional and social functioning. However, since anger and hostility were not assessed in the adolescent sample, it is unclear whether this finding is applicable to them; however, it is likely and important next step in understanding associations among video games and development.
 
To learn more:
Adachi, P. J., & Willoughby, T. (2016). The longitudinal association between competitive video game play and aggression among adolescents and young adults. Child Development. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12556