Video games are often portrayed by media and legislators as influencers of bad behavior. But every now and then, research emerges that shows video games aren't so demonic.
New research in the June 2009 issue of the academic journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin concludes
that nonviolent, "prosocial" video games can make children "more likely to help -- not hurt -- other people."
University of Michigan professor of communications and psychology and report co-author Brad Bushman said in a video release, "Parents ask me, 'Are video games good or bad?' But I think that's the wrong question to ask, because video games are a tool. And like any tool, they can be used for good or ill."
The report, conducted by a consortium of researchers from the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia, described prosocial games as ones that "involve characters who help and support each other in nonviolent ways."
One phase of the research studied 727 Singapore children with an average age of 13. These participants listed their favorite games and how often the characters in those games "helped, hurt or killed other characters." Along with those questions, the study also asked the children themselves how likely they were to perform good deeds, such as sharing and cooperating, or in some cases, reacting aggressively to situations.
The study found a "strong correlation between playing prosocial games and helping others." But it also found a strong correlation between violent gaming and negative behavior.
A second Japanese survey of 2,000 kids also found a correlation between nonviolent gaming and positive behavior, albeit over a period of a few months.
A third study using U.S. college students with a mean age of 19 had the participants play either a prosocial, violent, or neutral game. Students then assigned puzzles to a randomly selected partner. If that partner could solve the puzzle, the partner would earn $10. The catch was the person choosing the puzzles could pick easy puzzles or hard puzzles, essentially deciding how easy or difficult it would be for the partner to earn the money.
The research found that "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," Bushman said. "The type of content in the game has a bigger impact than the overall amount of time spent playing."