Contrary to previous research, not all videogames are linked to aggressive behaviour in kids. Three new studies have concluded that the other side of the coin also holds true: playing prosocial video games promote friendly behaviour.
Prosocial video games involve characters that help and support each other in non-violent ways.
Three separate studies conducted in Singapore, Japan, and the United States found that playing peaceful, cooperative games can make children kinder and more likely to help other people.
"Dozens of studies have documented a relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviours. But this is one of the first that has documented the positive effects of playing prosocial games," said lead author Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State University psychologist.
One study examined the link between video game habits and prosocial behaviour among 727 secondary students in Singapore, with a mean age of 13. Students listed their favourite games and rated how often game characters helped, hurt or killed other characters.
They also answered questions about how likely they were to spend time and money helping people in need, to cooperate with others and share their belongings, and to react aggressively in various situations.
As in numerous other studies, the researchers found a strong correlation between playing violent video games and hurting others. But the study also found a strong correlation between playing prosocial games and helping others.
The second study analyzed the long-term connection between video game habits and prosocial behaviour in nearly 2,000 Japanese children ages 10 to 16. Participants completed a survey about their exposure to prosocial video games, and rated how often they had helped other people in the last month.
Three to four months later, they were surveyed again, and researchers found a significant connection between exposure to prosocial games and helpful behaviour months later.
For the third study, the researchers carried out an experiment with 161 U.S. college students, with a mean age of 19. After playing either a prosocial, violent, or neutral game, participants were asked to assign puzzles to a randomly selected partner.
They could choose from puzzles that were easy, medium or hard to complete. Their partner could win 10 dollars if they solved all the puzzles.
Those who played a prosocial game were considerably more helpful than others, assigning more easy puzzles to their partners. And those who had played violent games were significantly more likely to assign the hardest puzzles.
"Taken together, these findings make it clear that playing video games is not in itself good or bad for children. The type of content in the game has a bigger impact than the overall amount of time spent playing," said Brad Bushman, a University of Michigan co-author of the report, as saying.
The study has been published in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.