By Linda Carroll
(Reuters Health) – Children who either played or watched a videogame that included gun violence were more likely afterward to handle a gun and pull the trigger, a new study finds.
More than 200 children were randomly assigned to play either a non-violent videogame or a game with firearm violence. Soon after, more than 60% of kids who played the violent game touched a gun, compared to about 44% of those who played a non-violent game, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.
The lessons from the new findings are that: “gun owners should secure their guns,” and “parents should protect their children from violent media, including video games,” said study coauthor Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University.
“Each day in the United States, nearly 50 children and teenagers are shot with a firearm, often as a result of a child finding one loaded and unsecured,” Bushman and his coauthor Justin Chang, a former graduate student at Ohio State, wrote. “Among firearm-owning households with children, approximately 20% keep at least one firearm loaded and unsecured.”
Bushman and Chang recruited 242 kids, ages 8 to 12, to look at the impact of violent videogames. The children were partnered up and then randomly assigned to one of three groups: a version of Minecraft that included violence with guns, a version that included violence with swords and a non-violent version. No matter which game a pair of children was assigned to, one would play the game and the other would watch.
After playing the games for 20 minutes, the children were moved to another room that contained toys for them to play with as well as two disabled guns with trigger counters that had been tucked away in a cabinet.
Out of the 242 children recruited, 220 eventually found the guns and those kids were included in the study.
Among the 76 children who played videogames that included guns, 61.8% handled the weapon, as compared 56.8% of the 74 who played a game including sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 who played a non-violent game.
Children who played violent videogames were also more likely to pull the trigger, researchers found.
How many times children pulled the trigger depended on the videogame they watched.
It was a median of “10.1 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with guns, 3.6 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with swords and 3.0 times if they played the version of Minecraft without weapons and monsters,” Bushman said in an email.
“The more important outcome, though, is pulling the trigger of a gun while pointing that gun at oneself or one’s partner (children were tested in pairs),” Bushman said. There, the median was 3.4 times for the game with gun violence, 1.5 times for the game with swords and 0.2 times for non-violent games.
The new study “is the most rigorous design that can be conducted,” said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
While “it’s important to recognize certain types of entertainment can be violent, when it comes to firearms, the solution is to store guns safely so that children can’t gain access,” Crifasi said. “That doesn’t mean children won’t engage in other violent play. But we can cut off guns as a source of potential harm.”
Dr. Shari Platt agreed that the best way to protect kids is proper gun storage.
“The study is interesting and I think they are touching on some very real fears parents have around graphically violent videogames,” said Platt, chief of pediatric medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. But in the end, “education and prevention are always the answers.”