Cognitive Daily Gets Violent

Cognitive Daily’s Monthly version, the creatively named Cognitive Monthly, came out (for $2 on Lulu) on June 1. Unfortunately, Sci didn’t really get around to reading it until last night. But it’s well worth the read.
This month’s issue is on video games, and whether or not violent video games can contribute to violence in children and adolescents. Their conclusion: maaaaaaaybe.

Sci will admit that she doesn’t have a lot of exposure to video games. They weren’t allowed in the house when I was a kid, and so, by the time I was old enough to play them with friends, I was woefully behind in the motor skills necessary, and was no kind of competition. Portal made me motion sick (though it was totally cool otherwise). So I’m coming at this entirely on the outside.

The Mungers are in fine form (as always) with their coverage of whether or not video gaming can increase violent behaviors, or whether it also might have educational benefits. This issue of Cognitive Monthly is especially personal, and the Mungers have kids, and those kids, of course, play video games. Their personal experiences with kids and gaming help give them article a personal touch.
People are exposed to many violent sights these days, on TV, in video games, and in the news. Exposure to graphic violence sends our heart rates shooting up, and makes us sweat, indications of the activation of fight-or-flight responses. However, over time, as we are exposed to more and more violent sites, we will grow tolerant, and our physiological responses will decrease. But that doesn’t indicate that we are more likely to go out and commit violence. For most people, the exposure to violence isn’t enough to MAKE them violent.
But for some people, who have genetic or behavioral tendencies toward violence already, exposure to violent media may tip the scales. It’s the same as with other psychological disorders: those who are predisposed toward melancholy may find that exposure to depressing events affects them more intensely than those who are more sunny in disposition.
But this doesn’t mean that exposure to video games is entirely bad, and going to turn all of our children into cold-blooded killers. In fact, educationally designed video games can have a positive effect on learning in young children, and massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) can build camaraderie and friendship among the people playing together, even though they are sitting miles away and staring at screens where they are represented by odd cow-like beasts.
But parents don’t just have the violence in video games to worry about. There’s also the potential for addiction. It’s not yet accepted in the DSM, but many young people report being addicted to video games at the expense of health, sleep, and normal social relationships (not to mention things like work). Most playing is probably ok, but there is the potential for too much. On the other hand, who are we to talk, relentlessly wielding our iPhones and checking our email 50 times an hour? Still, when these things get in the way of the performance of daily activities, it is something to worry about.
So exposure to video games isn’t entirely bad, but it’s not entirely good. Perhaps you want to keep your 6 year old away from Doom 3, but other video games, maybe not so much. The verdict? Maaaaaaaaaybe.

5 Responses

  1. Since you mentioned video game addiction, I’d like to ask: What’s Sci’s take on the relationship between old-fashioned chemical addictions and the various patterns of compulsive behavior that are also (rightly or wrongly) labeled addictions? Are these phenomena very different neurologically, or are they similar?

  2. I have been hearing this since the 1960s. TV was supposed to ruin our society. Now its video games. The TV generation is all grown up now and they didn’t become mass-murdering zombies, and now the first generation of serious gamers has grown up and they haven’t either.
    Seriously, we should have all been shot up by some rabid video-addict by now if what these people are so hysterical about was real.
    I worked in the IT dept of a community college. The kids that were gamers had the folllowing traits:
    1. They were the top students in their programming classes
    2. They understood principles of computer networking and stuff like the TCP-IP stack far better than the other kids.
    3. The other kids always called on them when they needed help navigating or figuring out some computer program
    4. They were the ones forming the weekend computer clubs, and they generally could set up a lab without any teachers needing to be present.
    5. They all had more real-world experience with technology than the other kids when they graduated, and in fact, a much higher percentage of them already had tech-related jobs before they graduated.
    In fact, where I was, some of the gamers formed a friendship with the sysad. They would look for weaknesses in the school network and report them to the sysad. So they probably helped prevent a lot of potential attacks on the network this way, for a lot less than a security consultant would have charged.
    Show me the waves of mass murderers who are a direct result of computer gaming or have a mug of STFU. Which is it?

  3. The DSM IV is such a pile of *blip*
    If they write up every single thing people can get psychologically addicted too the book will end up taking an entire library.

  4. A completely non-scientific, but experience-based opinion:
    I regularly play ‘violent’ video games with my kids. My two daughters are Halo goddesses. They’re amazing kids, but what separates their experience from that of many other kids is the degree of parental involvement. From the time my kids were very young, I have played games with them and talked to them about games and gaming – as well as many other subjects. However, as I’ve heard many times and agree with, the plural of anecdote is not data.
    A big problem in many areas for parents is the tendency either to shoot from the hip or just to not rethink their assumptions. They either want to do things their own way or they want to have somebody tell them what the best way is. In either case, they don’t seem to want to think their way through the problem, but just put the blinders on and turn the autopilot to the max. In this view, a case is made based on philosophical (or religious) principles and evidence is irrelevant unless it supports the philosophical position. It also tends to view children and families as interchangeable. “I did X and *my* kids turned out fine, so this proves that my way is the best.” Nuances like individual differences tend to get lost.

  5. Games are written in order to be as addictive as possible — good games, anyway. We shouldn’t consider this a bad thing.
    The burned hand remembers best. Would you prefer your kids learned about the slippery slope of mental dependence from something they could just turn off when they finally got sick of it (which you do — no game has an infinite amount of content to keep users busy forever), or from methamphetamine?
    Just make sure you make sure those fatties get some real exercise (and that’s YOUR responsibility, why do you let them play for ten hours a day anyway?), and you’re gold.

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