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MMO Family: Video game violence provokes aggression in some kids but not others

Lisa Poisso

MMO Family is your resource for leveling a gaming-specced family ... From tips on balancing gaming with family life to finding age-appropriate niches for every family member, MMO Family offers you advice on MMO gaming of the family, by the family and for the family.

Sensible parents have long recognized that the way kids react to video game violence varies according to their personalities. A recent post at Bitmob illustrated one parent's recognition of the innocence with which his four-year-old son approached an opportunity to play Grand Theft Auto. "I understand not every kid is like mine, so I wouldn't recommend that every parent allow their child to play Grand Theft Auto," he wrote. "But I would recommend that you listen and pay attention to your little ones to determine what they are capable of handling and what they are not ready for yet."

Now, new research tells us how to determine exactly that. A report in the June issue of Review of General Psychology has pinpointed the factors that determine why violent video games provoke hostile behavior in some teens but not in others.

"Much of the attention to video game research has been negative, focusing on potential harm related to addiction, aggression and lowered school performance," said Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., of Texas A&M International University, in an article at Scientific American. "Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests. Violent video games have not created the generation of problem youth so often feared."

Researchers have discovered that kids' personality traits guide their reactions, determining whether violent gaming sessions will foster aggression or simply open up opportunities to learn new skills and practice social networking. The deciding personality traits boil down to a psychological model researchers call the Five-Factor Model: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These personality traits can actually help predict how a child will react to playing violent video games.

Who's at risk?

Want to pinpoint the kid who's likely to blow up after a session of mowing down NPCs? Look no further than the ugly triumvirate of high neuroticism (becomes emotional upset easily -- angry, depressed, etc.), low agreeableness (indifferent to the feelings of others) and low conscientiousness (heedless of rules and promises). In these kids, you'll find post-gaming aggression and hostility galore.

On the other side of the coin, children who didn't possess the three "pre-existing conditions" for negative reactions were unaffected or only slightly negatively affected by violence in video games. "Violent video games are like peanut butter," said Ferguson. "They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems."

From the report:

Although the incidences of violence, particularly school violence, linked to video games are alarming, what should perhaps surprise us more is that there are not more violent video game (VVG) driven violent episodes. Given the number of youths who regularly engage in VVG play and the general concern regarding this media, it would seem likely that resulting violent episodes would be a greater occurence. And yet, daily reports of mass violence are not reported. It appears that the vast majority of individuals exposed to VVGs do not become violent in the "real world."
Score one for common sense and active parenting! We've got more tips for helping you figure out which games may (or may not) be appropriate for your own kids.

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