Illustration for article titled A Video Game, Violence, And Depression Study That Looks At The Big Picture

Over the past decade countless studies have arisen supposedly proving a causal link between video games, violent behavior, and depression. A new study conducted by Christopher J. Ferguson pinpoints why all of the others may have gotten it wrong.

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Video games cause violent behavior. Video games don't cause violent behavior. Video games cause depression. Video games combat depression. In the past year alone we've seen studies attempting to prove all of these points, but none of them have done what the new study from Texas A&M's Christopher J. Ferguson and colleagues' has done.

Using a sample of young men and women from three separate cultures - Mexican-American, English, and Croatian - Ferguson and his team examined not only the effects violent video games and television programs had on violence and behavior, but the effects the subjects' personality traits had on their behaviors as well.

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Is violent media influencing young people negatively, or is it just their personality?

Ferguson's paper "Personality and media influences on violence and depression in a cross-national
sample of young adults: Data from Mexican Americans, English and Croatians", published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, begins by questioning the findings of studies that have come before it. If violent media causes youth violence, why has youth violence been on the decline over the past decade in most industrialized nations?

It's a question we've heard before, and one that pretty much remains unanswered, mainly because the only acceptable answer is that someone, somewhere, got something wrong.

Perhaps a study that finds playing violent video games increase aggressive behavior is simply measuring the male gender's tendency towards aggression reflected in video game play. There's the possibility that, as some studies have suggested, that personality guides media preferences, and young adults with a personality tending towards trait aggressiveness will seek out entertainment that coincides with their personality. Perhaps choosing entertainment is an active process, and not a passive one.

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Whatever the case, the full picture wasn't being taken into consideration, so that's what this new study did. The study sampled 232 Mexican-American young adults, 150 young people attending a London University, and 455 young Croatians, with each sample around 43 percent male.

Each subject was tested on the five-factor personality traits, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, trait aggression, media violence exposure, tendency towards violent crime, and depression.

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Initially the findings did indicate that video game and television violence exposure was a positive predictor of violent crime among the Mexican American group, a small-yet-significant number not present in the English or Croatian groups. No relationship was discovered between violent media and depression.

Once personality features were factored into the equation, however, the correlation disappeared. Violent media did not predict violent acts any of the three samples, with the exception of the Croatians sample, in which video game violence exposure was related with reduced violence, and television violence indicated an increase.

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Personality seems to be the best indicator of violence and depression overall. In Mexican Americans and Croatians trait aggression indicated violent acts, while in the English sample low agreeableness indicated the same. Neurotic personality traits were the best predictor of depression.

The strongest message to take from this study is this:

Although even the bivariate correlations between media violence and violent acts in our samples were very small, our results suggest that such small correlations can be understood through underlying personality variables such as trait aggressiveness, neuroticism and Agreeableness. As such, assuming a clear linear relationship, particularly of a causal nature, between media violence and violent acts may be mistaken. Unfortunately most prior research on media violence has failed to adequately consider intervening personality variables.

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It all comes down to knowing the subjects of your study. It's easy to point to a teen getting into fights or shooting up a school and blame it on their video game habit, but until you truly know the person behind the behavior you're simply jumping to conclusions to support the argument you stand behind.

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DISCUSSION

My personal experience: I am diagnosed with having depression, but I also believe that EVERYONE will experience depression in their life. I just happen to grapple with it on a more frequent basis than most. I was taking medication for it, and I had been for years.

So awhile back I was talking with my doctor about wanting to get off the anti-depressants and mood stabilizers and he agreed that it could be beneficial to wane off of them for awhile, so long as I was seeing a therapist on a frequent basis during the change in dosages. So after dropping my increments down over the course of about a year i've been off of them for 2 months, and have found video games to be helpful in helping me cope with depression.

For example, a few weeks ago I hit a rut, and was feeling like garbage. I thought, "I should play Mass effect, I haven't played through that game in all the years I've had it. Maybe it will cheer me up."

Suddenly, I escaped into another world where I wasn't me, I was a better version of myself. Off saving the galaxy, exploring worlds- and when I came out of the game, i some how felt more confident, and happy in real life.

It took me a week to beat Mass Effect 1. Within an hour of beating it, I imported my character and started to play through Mass effect 2. Beat that also, in a week. Now i'm replaying through some of the Elder Scrolls games, currently Morrowind, then off to Oblivion- my goal is to beat both games before Skyrim! For some reason these "Immersive" RPG's are more helpful than other games, and I don't really call myself an "RPG gamer".

Of course I have no idea if "playing video games to escape" is healthy, so I planned on bringing that up to my therapist when i go on on the 7th, and evaluate if this behavior is good, or if i should get back on the medications.