Longitudinal examination of adolescents and violent videogames on dating violence (Ferguson et al., 2012)

It is nearly Valentine ’s Day and people are off on their annual ritual of reasserting their eternal love to their one true love. The bright side of a romantic relationship is fine and dandy, but I could not find anything scholarly and recent between videogames and interpersonal romance aside for some quite interesting stories of people celebrating Valentine’s Day with their virtual loved ones. The other side of romance is dating violence and February is the National Teen Dating Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. The closest piece of knowledge regarding dating violence and videogames is from Christopher J. Ferguson and colleagues (Texas A & M University), which is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.


Background: In 2011 the field of video game violence experienced serious reversals with repudiations of the current research by the US Supreme Court and the Australian Government as non-compelling and fundamentally flawed. Scholars too have been calling for higher quality research on this issue. The current study seeks to answer this call by providing longitudinal data on youth aggression and dating violence as potential consequences of violent video game exposure using well-validated clinical outcome measures and controlling for other relevant predictors of youth aggression.

Method: A sample of 165, mainly Hispanic youth, were tested at 3 intervals, an initial interview, and 1- year and 3-year intervals.

Results: Results indicated that exposure to video game violence was not related to any of the negative outcomes. Depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer influences were the best predictors of aggression-related outcomes.

Interpretation: The current study supports a growing body of evidence pointing away from video game violence use as a predictor of youth aggression. Public policy efforts, including funding, would best be served by redirecting them toward other prevention programs for youth violence.

The Jennifer Ann’s group is a great resource on dating violence including videogames helping you to identify signs of dating abuse.


Participants: 165 Hispanic youths and their families were involved in three-year longitudinal study. Gender ratio is equal; age range is from 10-14 years when they first entered into the study at Time 1. The participants were surveyed annually (Time 1, Time 2, and Time 3) and were conducted by phone interviews.


Video-game violence questionnaire: children were asked to list their three favourite videogames and how often they play them. This is surveyed across all time periods. The game titles were coded according the ESRB rating system giving a general violence rating. The overall violence exposure variable was calculated by multiplying the ESRB rating with the frequency of play. This was assessed at all time periods.

This sounds fine, but I must note that using a general violence rating is an imprecise measure because it does not indicate whether there is any sexual violence, themes, content, or nudity. If we supplement the general rating with a specific rating related to dating violence, I think these ratings would clarify the relationship. However, I must point myself out that sexual content is not something flaunted gratuitously in videogames and especially when their parents buy their videogames. Even if it is not a concern for some parents, I’d be hard-pressed to find a videogame that explicitly objectify women, or encourage violence against women specifically and beyond wrestling, although there is not a problem for finding hyper-sexualized ones. Actually I don’t think there are that many female videogame characters encountered in the daily lives of Hispanic youths, maybe their most exposure is from the satirical crime series Grand Theft Auto (see Williams et al., 2009).

Negative Life Events: a measure used in criminological research and surveyed at Time 1. There are three subscales with responses on likert-scales: Antisocial personality, family attachment and delinquent peers.

Family Violence: The Conflict Tactics Scale was surveyed at Time 1 that assesses for conflict and aggression happening between the youths’ parents or romantic partners. Subscales include physical assaults, and psychological aggression.

Depression: The Child Behavior Checklist Youth Self-Report. Its depression subscale was used and surveyed across all time periods. I remember the CBCL, I think the response range was on a three-point scale I think it was like never = 0, sometimes = 1, often = 2.

Serious Aggression: Parents filled out the caregiver version of the CBCL whereas the youths filled the youth version of the CBCL that assesses for pathological aggressiveness. This was surveyed across all time periods.

Dating Violence: The Conflicts Tactics Scale was administered to youths who reported to have been or is currently in a dating relationship in the past six months, but only at Time 3 because they are about at dating age. There were 60 participants (36% of sample) who reported to have a dating relationship.


Correlational results revealed the usual associations: violent videogame exposure is consistently associated with boys and remained consistent across all time periods. None of the aggression measures from the CBCL were associated with violent videogame exposure, that’s something to speak of in terms of cross-cultural research. Aggression was consistent across all time periods. At Time 3, dating violence was positively correlated with parent and youth-rated aggression measures, the weird part is that dating violence is negatively correlated to violent videogame exposure across all time periods. However, this relationship becomes insignificant when other variables were factored in, although physical violence in the family was the only significant predictor in their multiple regression analysis. The authors cautioned that the lack of significant relations of dating violence with other variables is due to the low number of participants who reported being in a relationship.

The multiple regression analysis revealed that youth reported pathological aggressiveness was predicted by physical violence in the family at Time 1, depression scores at Time 3, and aggression at Time 1. None of the negative life events subscales were significant. Path analysis revealed a poor fit to the data, which is to say little evidence for the long-term impact of videogame violence on aggression.


The authors went on in their discussion section criticizing the media and videogame violence effects literature ascribing it as slipping into moral panic and becoming into a cargo cult science, which is quite interesting to watch on youtube (see Richard Feynman, Cargo cults).

From my library on dating violence: a longitudinal study of Canadian youths’ general media use, including videogames, was indirectly related to dating violence. The more one consume media, especially if it is aggressive, their attitudes are more tolerant towards dating violence, which in turn predict later dating aggressive behaviours (Connolly et al., 2010). But IMO looking elsewhere, this is conditional on whether the media cultural themes conveyed to youth is sexually objectifying towards women, such as women in music videos (Aubrey et al, 2011). Are female characters in videogame objectified? In a sense yes that they are hyper-sexualized, but there are so few female videogame characters that when I looked at my participants’ videogames list, so few titles featured any female characters. Usually, it is from the Assassin’s Creed series, GTA, DOTA games, or fighting games. The matter on sexual objectification is hotly debated in gamer culture that I am still trying to get my head around the current media effects literature and what are the dominant opinions in gamer culture. Although, I think my impression of sexism is that of sexual exclusion on the part of the predominantly male audience (go play an online FPS game) and perhaps it is cycled back to videogame like the absence of women in contemporary FPS videogames like MW3 or how female characters are perceived in Gears of War 3. Second and quite a shaky thought is the sprialling mainstreaming (I apologize profusely to Gerber and Slater) of videogames that they are becoming more and more like traditional content through this spiralling cycle of mainstream customers (or heavy users of traditional media) who compose a growing segment and their purchasing influence on videogames’ later content that would later resemble traditional media supporting the dominant status quo (go ask Noam Chomsky). This would probably explain partially or not, the extent of the lack of proper treatment of minority videogame characters.

The authors listed their limitations. First, the sample consisted of Hispanic youths, although I think that’s a huge insight for cross-cultural research. Second, many risk and protective factors in the study were not considered, such as socioeconomic status or academic performance. Third, there were 60 youths who were in a relationship, so that reduced the statistical power of getting some significant associations. The authors noted that because violent videogame exposure was in the opposite direction (i.e. less dating aggression), it seems unlikely for a Type II error. Fourth, the participants named only three videogames and the authors argued that in their own experience, not many play more than three videogames at a time. Wait… did they asked for favourite videogames of all time or favourite videogames in a certain temporal range? The latter would make sense. And finally, it’s still a correlation since dating violence was measured at Time 3.

The future directions for this type of research is dating violence and media use in college setting that I think I can do that here since I think one or two of my grad colleagues have some scholarly knowledge in the dating violence literature. The authors cautioned other researchers looking at social media to employ gold standard approaches to avoid spurious results and avoiding some shocking realizations.

Ferguson, C. J., San Miguel, C., Garza, A., & Jerabeck, J. M. (2012). A longitudinal test of video game violence influences on dating and aggression: A 3-year longitudinal study of adolescents. Journal of Psychiatric Research , 46 (2), 141-146. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.10.014


3 thoughts on “Longitudinal examination of adolescents and violent videogames on dating violence (Ferguson et al., 2012)

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