But new Dartmouth research finds for the first time that teen-agers who play mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games are more likely subsequently to engage in a wide range of deviant behaviors beyond aggression, including alcohol use, smoking cigarettes, delinquency and risky sex.
More generally, such games - especially character-based games with anti-social protagonists - appear to affect how adolescents think of themselves, with potential consequences for their alter ego in the real world.
The study appears Monday, Aug. 4, in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
. A PDF is available on request. The findings follow a 2012 Dartmouth study that shows such video games may lead teens to drive recklessly and experience increases in automobile accidents, police stops and willingness to drink and drive.
"Up to now, studies of video games have focused primarily on their effects on aggression and violent behaviors," says Professor James Sargent, a pediatrician and co-author. "This study is important because it is the first to suggest that possible effects of violent video games go well beyond violence to apply to substance use, risky driving and risk-taking sexual behavior. "
"With respect to playing deviant video game characters, we feel it best to follow the admonition of Kurt Vonnegut in Mother Night: 'We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,'" says Professor Jay Hull, the studies' lead author and chair of Dartmouth's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
In the new study, researchers conducted a longitudinal nationwide study involving more than 5,000 randomly sampled U.S. teenagers who answered a series of questions over four years in telephone interviews. They looked at a number of factors, including the playing of three violent risk-glorifying video games (Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, Spiderman) and other mature-rated video games. They found that such games are associated with subsequent changes in a wide range of high-risk behaviors and suggest this is due, in part, to changes in the users' personality, attitudes and values, specifically making them more rebellious and thrill seeking. Effects were similar for males and females and were strongest among the heaviest gameplayers and those playing games with anti-social protagonists.