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Original Investigation |

Mediators and Moderators of Long-term Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior:  Practice, Thinking, and Action

Douglas A. Gentile, PhD1; Dongdong Li, PhD2; Angeline Khoo, PhD2; Sara Prot, MA1; Craig A. Anderson, PhD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, Ames
2National Institute of Education, Singapore
JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):450-457. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.63.
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Importance  Although several longitudinal studies have demonstrated an effect of violent video game play on later aggressive behavior, little is known about the psychological mediators and moderators of the effect.

Objective  To determine whether cognitive and/or emotional variables mediate the effect of violent video game play on aggression and whether the effect is moderated by age, sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Three-year longitudinal panel study. A total of 3034 children and adolescents from 6 primary and 6 secondary schools in Singapore (73% male) were surveyed annually. Children were eligible for inclusion if they attended one of the 12 selected schools, 3 of which were boys’ schools. At the beginning of the study, participants were in third, fourth, seventh, and eighth grades, with a mean (SD) age of 11.2 (2.1) years (range, 8-17 years). Study participation was 99% in year 1.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The final outcome measure was aggressive behavior, with aggressive cognitions (normative beliefs about aggression, hostile attribution bias, aggressive fantasizing) and empathy as potential mediators.

Results  Longitudinal latent growth curve modeling demonstrated that the effects of violent video game play are mediated primarily by aggressive cognitions. This effect is not moderated by sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring and is only slightly moderated by age, as younger children had a larger increase in initial aggressive cognition related to initial violent game play at the beginning of the study than older children. Model fit was excellent for all models.

Conclusions and Relevance  Given that more than 90% of youths play video games, understanding the psychological mechanisms by which they can influence behaviors is important for parents and pediatricians and for designing interventions to enhance or mitigate the effects.

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Figure 1.
Test of Basic Mediation Model

Wave 1 violent game play predicts wave 2 aggressive cognitions, which in turn predict wave 2 aggressive behavior. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation.aP < .001.

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Figure 2.
Simple Latent Longitudinal Growth Curve Model, With Violent Video Game Play Across 3 Years Predicting Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior

Model controls for sex and age. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .001.

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Figure 3.
Mediated Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model, With Violent Video Game Play Predicting Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior, Mediated by Aggressive Cognitions

Model controls for sex and age. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IAC, intercept of aggressive cognition; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SAC, slope of aggressive cognition; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .001.bP < .01.

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Figure 4.
Mediated Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model, With Violent Video Game Play Predicting Wave 2 and Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior, Mediated by Aggressive Cognitions

Model controls for sex and age, and wave 2 aggressive behavior is controlled for when predicting wave 3 aggressive behavior. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IAC, intercept of aggressive cognition; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SAC, slope of aggressive cognition; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .001.bP < .05.

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Figure 5.
Comparing the Mediated Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model for Children With Low and High Aggression, With Violent Video Game Play Predicting Wave 2 and Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior, Mediated by Aggressive Cognitions

Italicized values indicate those for children with high aggression. Model controls for sex and age, and wave 2 aggressive behavior is controlled for when predicting wave 3 aggressive behavior. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. Only the pair of coefficients in the dashed box are significantly different from each other. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IAC, intercept of aggressive cognition; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SAC, slope of aggressive cognition; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .05.bP < .001.

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Figure 6.
Comparing Low and High Violent Game Play (VGP) on Year 3 Physically Aggressive Behavior, Split by Low and High Year 2 Aggressive Behavior
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Figure 7.
Mediated Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model, With Violent Video Game Play Predicting Wave 2 and Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior, Mediated by Empathy

Model controls for sex and age, and wave 2 aggressive behavior is controlled for when predicting wave 3 aggressive behavior. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IEMP, intercept of empathy; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; NS, nonsignificant; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SEMP, slope of empathy; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .001.

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Figure 8.
Mediated Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model, With Violent Video Game Play Predicting Wave 2 and Wave 3 Aggressive Behavior, Mediated by Empathy and Aggressive Cognitions

Model controls for sex and age, and wave 2 aggressive behavior is controlled for when predicting wave 3 aggressive behavior. Values adjacent to arrows indicate standardized regression coefficients. CFI indicates confirmatory fit index; IAC, intercept of aggressive cognition; IEMP, intercept of empathy; IVGP, intercept of violent game play; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SAC, slope of aggressive cognition; SEMP, slope of empathy; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; and SVGP, slope of violent game play.aP < .001.bP < .05.

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