Kids who play video games like “Manhunt” and “Grand Theft Auto III” are more likely to drive recklessly, according to a new study published in the academic journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
Research has long shown that kids who play violent video games are more likely to have risky thoughts. But the new study went a step further, asking teenagers to admit whether or not they had actually performed the dangerous driving acts.
The researchers, of Dartmouth College, conducted a series of phone interviews over a four-year period with thousands of youths, starting when the subjects were not yet old enough to drive. This allowed them to determine whether the kids’ video game play preceded any risky driving.
In later stages of the study, once the participants were driving regularly, the scientists asked kids questions such as whether they had ever been pulled over by the police and whether they had been in an accident in the previous year. The researchers found a significant correlation between violent video game play and reckless driving: People who played violent video games were more likely to also drive recklessly. The researchers did not, however, report how much more likely such behaviors were when kids played violent video games, only that the two were strongly related. Participants who played such games were also more likely to admit a willingness to drink and drive, researchers said.
The findings were consistent even when the researchers controlled for a number of variables, including parenting style in the kids’ households, and held even when the kids reported playing violent games that had nothing to do with driving, like the game “Spider-Man.”
So if the games don’t directly teach kids poor driving habits, what gives? The authors of the study propose that violent video games change a young player’s self-perception, so that they see themselves as someone who does risky things.
In other words, the researchers suggest, the players become more like the characters they are controlling on screen.
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