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Child playing violent video game

Published February 5, 2019

Studying the relationship between video games and violence

Developing computational models to explain the origins of violence

Richard Lamb, associate professor from the Department of Learning and Instruction, wants to measure the potential causal relationships between violent/aggressive behavior and video game play because these relationships are still under debate and not clearly understood. Lamb and his research team in the UB Neurocognition Science Laboratory are developing computational models to identify the underlying social health factors related to playing video games.

“More than 211 million Americans play video games, and worldwide 2.7 billion people play video games regularly,” Lamb said. “This makes video games one of the largest media platforms used across all age groups, as 49 percent of the most played video games feature some form of violence and aggression as a critical component.”

Lamb and his research team developed three computational models to try to explain the origins of violence and aggression. A computational model is a mathematical process used to study real-time, nonlinear relationships to assess the likelihood that one factor, in a context of many, causes a particular outcome. Using each model, the research team combined data from multiple studies of over 1,000 gamers in grades 9 through 12.

The research team found that the models of aggression that focused on social or biological factors do not adequately predict or explain violent and aggressive behaviors from video game play. Results from the model that looked at interactions between biological and social factors were more compelling in that they illustrated socioemotional, cognitive and biological vulnerabilities that interact to influence violent actions among video gamers.

Lamb concluded that video games do not, in and of themselves, create aggressive behavior. Rather, the video game may act as a primer for violence/aggression when specific biological and social conditions are present.

“We need to move past the question of whether or not there is a relationship between aggression and video games, and instead focus on the how and why video games cause aggressive behavior,” Lamb said. “Once we understand how, why and for whom video games increase aggressive behavior, we can more easily develop interventions and policies, and work with public health professionals to begin to mitigate the negative effects of this relationship.”

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