The issue of children’s exposure to violent video games has been a source of considerable debate for several decades. Questions persist whether children with pre-existing mental health problems may be influenced adversely by exposure to violent games, even if other children are not. We explored this issue with 377 children (62 % female, mixed ethnicity, mean age = 12.93) displaying clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive symptoms on the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. Results from our study found no evidence for increased bullying or delinquent behaviors among youth with clinically elevated mental health symptoms who also played violent video games. Our results did not support the hypothesis that children with elevated mental health symptoms constitute a “vulnerable” population for video game violence effects. Implications and suggestions for further research are provided.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
We note the issue that some research reports insinuate links between violent games and aggression, where their data fail to support such insinuations. We note that in Shibuya et al. 2008, in their Table 2, the video game exposure by violence presence variable is associated with a reduction in aggression in boys, but not girls. For Ybarra et al. (2008) the null effect for violent video games is noted in their Figure 2, although they largely ignore their own results to imply links between violent games and youth aggression. These papers highlight the need to closely examine research results when understanding the true implications of a research study. The rhetoric employed by scholars in their abstracts and discussion sections does not always match their data.
Adachi, P. C., & Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of video game competition and violence on aggressive behavior: Which characteristic has the greatest influence? Psychology of Violence, 1(4), 259–274.
Adachi, P. C., & Willoughby, T. (2013). Demolishing the competition: The longitudinal link between competitive video games, competitive gambling, and aggression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-9952-2.
American Psychological Association. (2005). Resolution on violence in video games and interactive media. Retrieved July 3, 2011 from http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/interactive-media.pdf.
Anderson, C. A., Gentile, D. A., & Dill, K. E. (2012). Prosocial, antisocial, and other effects of recreational video games. In D. G. Singer & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of children and the media (2nd ed., pp. 249–272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Anderson, C., Sakamoto, A., Gentile, D., Ihori, N., Shibuya, A., Yukawa, S., et al. (2008). Longitudinal effects of violent video games on aggression in Japan and the United States. Pediatrics, 122(5), e1067–e1072.
Attar, B., Guerra, N., & Tolan, P. (1994). Neighborhood disadvantage, stressful life events, and adjustment in urban elementary-school children. Special issue: Impact of poverty on children, youth, and families. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 23(4), 391–400.
Australian Government, Attorney General’s Department. (2010). Literature review on the impact of playing violent video games on aggression. Commonwealth of Australia.
Bavelier, D., Green, C., Han, D., Renshaw, P. F., Merzenich, M. M., & Gentile, D. A. (2011). Brains on video games. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(12), 763–768.
Brener, N., Kann, L., McManus, T., Kinchen, S., Sundberg, E., & Ross, J. (2002). Reliability of the 1999 Youth Risk Survey Questionnaire. Journal of Adolescent Health, 34, 336–342.
Brown v EMA. (2011). Retrieved July 1, 2011 from http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf.
Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159.
Colwell, J., & Kato, M. (2003). Investigation of the relationship between social isolation, self-esteem, aggression and computer game play in Japanese adolescents. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 6(2), 149–158.
Dahlberg, C., Toal, S., & Behrens, C. (Eds.). (1998). Measuring violence-related attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors among youths: A compendium of assessment tools. Atlanta, GA: Center of Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Elliot, D., Huizinga, D., & Ageton, S. (1985). Explaining delinquency and drug use. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Ferguson, C. J. (2011). Video games and youth violence: A prospective analysis in adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(4), 377–391.
Ferguson, C. J. (2013). Violent video games and the Supreme Court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v EMA. American Psychologist, 68(2), 57–74.
Ferguson, C. J., Coulson, M., & Barnett, J. (2011). Psychological profiles of school shooters: Positive directions and one big wrong turn. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 11(2), 141–158.
Ferguson, C. J., & Dyck, D. (2012). Paradigm change in aggression research: The time has come to retire the General Aggression Model. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17(3), 220–228. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2012.02.007.
Ferguson, C. J., Rueda, S., Cruz, A., Ferguson, D., Fritz, S., & Smith, S. (2008). Violent video games and aggression: Causal relationship or byproduct of family violence and intrinsic violence motivation? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35, 311–332.
Fraser, A. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Coyne, S. M., Nelson, L. J., & Stockdale, L. A. (2012). Associations between violent video gaming, empathic concern, and prosocial behavior toward strangers, friends, and family members. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(5), 636–649.
Gardner, W., Murphy, M., Childs, G., Kelleher, K., Pagano, M., Jellinek, M., et al. (1999). The PSC-17: A brief pediatric symptoms checklist with psychosocial problem subscales. A report of PROS and ASPN. Ambulatory Child Health, 5, 225–236.
Giancola, P. R., & Zeichner, A. (1995). Construct validity of a competitive reaction-time aggression paradigm. Aggressive Behavior, 21, 199–204.
Giumetti, G. W., & Markey, P. M. (2007). Violent video games and anger as predictors of aggression. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(6), 1234–1243.
Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. (2013). It’s time to act: A comprehensive plan that reduces gun violence and respects the 2nd amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Washington, DC: US House of Representatives.
Hall, R., Day, T., & Hall, R. (2011). A plea for caution: Violent video games, the Supreme Court, and the role of science. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 86(4), 315–321.
Henderson, B. (2012). Connecticut school massacre: Adam Lanza ‘spent hours playing Call of Duty.’ The Telegraph. Retrieved April 18, 2013 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9752141/Connecticut-school-massacre-Adam-Lanza-spent-hours-playing-Call-Of-Duty.html.
Krahé, B., Busching, R., & Möller, I. (2012). Media violence use and aggression among German adolescents: Associations and trajectories of change in a three-wave longitudinal study. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(3), 152–166.
Kutner, L., & Olson, C. (2008). Grand theft childhood: The surprising truth about violent video games and what parents can do. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Leffert, N., Benson, L., Scales, P., Sharma, A., Drake, D., & Blyth, D. (1998). Developmental assets: Measurement and prediction of risk behaviors among adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 2, 209–230.
Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., MacGill, A., Evans, C., & Mitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games and civics: Teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved December 29, 2010 from http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/263/report_display.asp.
Lerner, R., Lerner, J., Almerigi, J., Theokas, C., Phelps, E., Gestsdottir, S., et al. (2005). Positive youth development, participation in community youth development programs, and community contributions of fifth-grade adolescents: Findings from the first wave of the 4-H study of positive youth development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25, 17–71.
Lewis, T. (2013). Report links violent media, mental health and guns to mass shootings. Consumer Affairs. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/report-links-violent-media-mental-health-and-guns-to-mass-shootings-021413.html.
Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2010). Vulnerability to violent video games: A review and integration of personality research. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 82–91.
Markey, P. M., & Scherer, K. (2009). An examination of psychoticism and motion capture controls as moderators of the effects of violent video games. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(2), 407–411.
Möller, I., Krahé, B., Busching, R., & Krause, C. (2012). Efficacy of an intervention to reduce the use of media violence and aggression: An experimental evaluation with adolescents in Germany. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(2), 105–120.
Olson, C. K. (2010). Children’s motivations for video game play in the context of normal development. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 180–187.
Olson, C., Kutner, L., Warner, D., Almerigi, J., Baer, L., Nicholi, A., et al. (2007). Factors correlated with violent video game use by adolescent boys and girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 77–83.
Olweus, D. (1996). The Revised Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. Mimeo. Bergen: Research Center for Health Promotion (HEMIL Center), University of Bergen.
Paternoster, R., & Mazerolle, P. (1994). General strain theory and delinquency: A replication and extension. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31(3), 235–263.
Phillips, J., & Springer, F. (1992). Extended National Youth Sports Program 1991-1992 evaluation highlights, part two: Individual Protective Factors Index (IPFI) and risk assessment study. Report prepared for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Sacramento, CA: EMT Associates.
Przybylski, A. K., Rigby, C., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 154–166. doi:10.1037/a0019440.
Puri, K., & Pugliese, R. (2012). Sex, lies, and video games: Moral panics or uses and gratifications. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32(5), 345–352.
Reinecke, L. (2009). Games and recovery: The use of video and computer games to recuperate from stress and strain. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, And Applications, 21(3), 126–142.
Ritter, D., & Eslea, M. (2005). Hot sauce, toy guns and graffiti: A critical account of current laboratory aggression paradigms. Aggressive Behavior, 31, 407–419.
Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and gratifications theory in the 21st century. Mass Communication & Society, 3(1), 3–37.
Russoniello, C. V., O’Brien, K., & Parks, J. M. (2009). The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress. Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation, 2(1), 53–66.
Ryan, R. M., Rigby, C., & Przybylski, A. (2006). The motivational pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion, 30(4), 347–363.
Savage, J. (2008). The role of exposure to media violence in the etiology of violent behavior: A criminologist weighs in. American Behavioral Scientist, 51, 1123–1136.
Savage, J., & Yancey, C. (2008). The effects of media violence exposure on criminal aggression: A meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35, 1123–1136.
Sherry, J. (2007). Violent video games and aggression: Why can’t we find links? In R. Preiss, B. Gayle, N. Burrell, M. Allen, & J. Bryant (Eds.), Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 231–248). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum.
Sherry, J. L., Lucas, K., Greenberg, B. S., & Lachlan, K. (2006). Video game uses and gratifications as predictors of use and game preference. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 213–224). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Shibuya, A., Sakamoto, A., Ihori, N., & Yukawa, S. (2008). The effects of the presence and context of video game violence on children: A longitudinal study in Japan. Simulation and Gaming, 39(4), 528–539.
Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1359–1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632.
Strasburger, V. (2007). Go ahead punk, make my day: It’s time for pediatricians to take action against media violence. Pediatrics, 119, e1398–e1399.
Swedish Media Council. (2011). Våldsamma datorspel och aggression—en översikt av forskningen 2000–2011. Retrieved January 14, 2011 from http://www.statensmedierad.se/Publikationer/Produkter/Valdsamma-datorspel-och-aggression/.
United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education. (2002). The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Retrieved July 2, 2011 from http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf.
Unsworth, G., Devilly, G., & Ward, T. (2007). The effect of playing violent videogames on adolescents: Should parents be quaking in their boots? Psychology, Crime and Law, 13, 383–394.
Von Salisch, M., Oppl, C., & Kristen, A. (2006). What attracts children? In P. Vorderer, J. Bryant, P. Vorderer, & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 147–163). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
von Salisch, M., Vogelgesang, J., Kristen, A., & Oppl, C. (2011). Preference for violent electronic games and aggressive behavior among children: The beginning of the downward spiral? Media Psychology, 14(3), 233–258.
Wallenius, M., & Punamäki, R. (2008). Digital game violence and direct aggression in adolescence: A longitudinal study of the roles of sex, age, and parent–child communication. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29(4), 286–294.
Willoughby, T., Adachi, P. C., & Good, M. (2012). A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 48(4), 1044–1057.
Woolley, J., & Van Reet, J. (2006). Effects of context on judgments concerning the reality status of novel entities. Child Development, 77, 1778–1793.
Wymbs, B., Molina, B., Pelham, W., Cheong, J., Gnagy, E., Belendiuk, K., et al. (2012). Risk of intimate partner violence among young adult males with childhood ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 16(5), 373–383.
Ybarra, M., Diener-West, M., Markow, D., Leaf, P., Hamburger, M., & Boxer, P. (2008). Linkages between internet and other media violence with seriously violent behavior by youth. Pediatrics, 122(5), 929–937.
CJF conducted the main analyses for the paper and wrote the initial draft. CO collected the data an contributed to revising drafts of this paper. Both authors participated equally in conceiving and designing the analyses. Both authors read and approved of the final manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Ferguson, C.J., Olson, C.K. Video Game Violence Use Among “Vulnerable” Populations: The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression or Attention Deficit Symptoms. J Youth Adolescence 43, 127–136 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-9986-5
- Video games
- Mental health