COMMUNICATIONS/MEDIA: Violent games and entertainment


To reduce the impact of violent video games and media on child and adolescent behavior, Edward Donnerstein, PhD, said that pediatricians must urge parents to limit children's screen time to 2 hours daily.


To reduce the impact of violent video games and media on child and adolescent behavior, Edward Donnerstein, PhD, said that pediatricians must urge parents to limit children's screen time to 2 hours daily.1

To ensure that physicians appreciate the link between violent media and violent behavior, he said, this topic should become part of medical school and continuing medical education curricula. In their presentation “Do Violent Video Games Lead to Aggression and Mass Shootings?” co-presenter Douglas Gentile, PhD, even recommended that the American Academy of Pediatrics standardize and require such education.

Skepticism about the link abounds among parents, representatives from the video game industry, and academic media researchers. The media's reluctance to report its own negative effects explains the persistence of the denial, said Donnerstein.

This is the so-called catharsis theory)-the belief that viewing violent entertainment obviates the need to behave violently.

However, a rigorous meta-analysis of more than 100 studies found that "The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect, and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.”2

Accordingly, said Gentile, media violence acts like any other risk factor, and as such its effects can be measured mathematically. One such model estimates that the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior is nearly as powerful as that between smoking and lung cancer. Major effects he attributed to viewing violent entertainment include:

  • Aggressor effect (increased aggression toward others);

  • Victim effect (increased fear, mistrust);

  • Bystander effect (desensitization); and

  • Appetite effect (seeking out additional violent content).

Fortunately, factors that can mitigate some of these effects include viewing prosocial entertainment and having hands-on parents.

Edward Donnerstein, PhD, is professor and dean emeritus, Department of Communications, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Douglas Gentile, PhD, is associate professor of psychology, Iowa State University, Ames.



1. Strasburger V. Children, adolescents, and media in the U.S.: What are the next steps to take? J Child Adolesc Behav. 2014;2:3.

2. Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, et al. Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull. 2010;136(2):151-173.




Being parents is a tough job. They need all the help they can get, and pediatricians can help. If a pediatrician tells the child that he or she should not be exposed to more than 2 hours of screen time per day, or to any age-inappropriate media, parents can say, "Do you remember what your doctor said? We're going to use this timer to limit your screen time. We're not going to let you watch that mature video."

Although adults can smoke cigarettes, drink beer, go to restricted (R-rated) movies, or play mature-rated games, we don't let kids do those things because it's not good for them.

It's somewhat surprising that some people still deny the link between violent content and violent behavior, but I'm also surprised that some people are skeptical about the effects of global warming. We have lots of data, we've collected it for decades. The problem, as I see it, is that the entertainment industry is marketing a harmful product. It's like asking the tobacco industry if cigarettes are harmful-they don't want their consumers to know.

The rating system in America is seriously flawed. I'm also a professor in the Netherlands in the summer. They have a universal rating system there for all forms of screen media-TV, movies, and video games. It's very easy to understand. They have ratings such as 16+, for ages 16 and older. If there's violence, there's a fist on the label. If there are drugs, there's a picture of a syringe.

Furthermore, ratings are assigned by child-development experts, not by the industry. In America, it's hard to imagine a worse system. First of all, we use different sets of ratings for different types of media-television, movies, and video games. Additionally, many parents in America don't understand what the ratings mean. For example, a survey asked parents what FV (fantasy violence) means. Some parents thought it meant "family viewing." In America, the ratings system is like alphabet soup, with many different letters used for many different ratings.

Brad J. Bushman, PhD, is professor of communication and psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus.


Mr Jesitus is a medical writer based in Colorado. He has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.

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