A new study into the effect of violent video games on children's moral reasoning finds a limited correlation between the level of violent game play and certain viewpoints on real-world violence.
In a study to be published in the spring/summer edition of the Journal of Children and Media -- a copy of which was obtained by Gamasutra -- Simmons University professor Edward Vieira and Wake Forest professor Marina Krcmar surveyed 166 children aged 7 to 15 from 29 Boston-area schools.
The researchers estimated the students' exposure to video game violence using a "dangerous play score," determined by multiplying a student's weekly gameplay hours by a multiplier based on the ESRB rating for the favorite games -- from no multiplier for EC-rated titles to a five-times multiplier for M-rated games. The study itself notes "some concern" regarding this measurement method.
Students were also given a series of questionnaires designed to measure the development of their moral reasoning, including the ability to have sympathy for others and to take others' perspectives.
The results found a higher dangerous play score had "a small significant positive effect" on the students' acceptance of "justified violence" -- for example, a man attacking a person that stole his sister's purse. But violent game exposure had no negative relationship to the participants' reaction to "unjustified violence" -- for example, beating someone up for parking too close to their car.
More violent game play was also "associated with a decreasing ability to sympathize with others," which in turn correlated with a greater tendency to see unjustified violence as acceptable. Violent game play did not have the predicted negative effect on the students' abilities to take on the perspective of others, however.
While the study authors acknowledge problems caused by the study's small sample size and the low reliability of some of the used moral reasoning models, they still claim the model generated by the results "explained 35 percent of the variance in moral reasoning about unjustified violence and 40 percent of the variance in reasoning about justified violence."
Unsurprisingly, boys and older children we shown as more likely to be playing more, higher-rated games.