Research Article: Friendly fire: Longitudinal effects of exposure to violent video games on aggressive behavior in adolescent friendship dyads

Date Published: January 24, 2018

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Author(s): Geert P. Verheijen, William J. Burk, Sabine E. M. J. Stoltz, Yvonne H. M. van den Berg, Antonius H. N. Cillessen.


Research on gaming effects has focused on adolescence, a developmental period in which peer relationships become increasingly salient. However, the impact of peers on the effects of violent gaming on adolescents has been understudied. This study examined whether adolescents’ exposure to violent video games predicted their own and their friend’s aggression one year later. Among 705 gaming adolescents, 141 dyads were identified based on reciprocated best friend nominations (73.8% male, Mage = 13.98). Actor‐Partner Interdependence Models indicated that adolescent males’ (but not females’) exposure to violent games positively predicted the aggression of their best friend 1 year later. This effect appeared regardless of whether the friends played video games together or not. The study illustrates the importance of peers in the association between violent gaming and aggression.

Partial Text

Video games have become one of youths’ most popular pastimes. Along with their popularity, public concern has grown about the developmental risks of video games. The association between violence in video games and aggression especially has received much attention. In a recent statement, the American Psychological Association confirmed a link between playing violent games and aggression, but also called for more nuanced research on the characteristics of video games (APA, 2015). The current paper contributes to this call by investigating the social context in which violent video games are played.

This longitudinal study examined whether the social context in which video games are played influences the association between exposure to violent games and aggressive behavior in middle adolescence. Dyadic analyses were conducted to investigate peer influence in best friend dyads. Exposure to violent games at T1 increased the aggressive behavior of best friends at T2 (partner effect) in male dyads, but not in female dyads. Thus, there was support for a peer influence effect of playing violent games on aggression for adolescent males.

This study showed that the social context influences the effect of violent video games on aggressive behavior. Adolescents’ exposure to violence in video games positively predicted the aggressive behavior of their best friend one year later. This (partner) effect was only found in male friendships, even when friends did not actually play video games with one another. We argue that violent games enhance deviancy training between peers, which increases their aggressive behavior. At the same time, no support was found for a direct (actor) effect of violent gaming on aggression. This is in contrast with several meta‐analyses that have demonstrated longitudinal effects of violent games on aggression, albeit small (Anderson et al., 2010; Ferguson, 2015; Greitemeyer & Mugge, 2014). The small sample size and controlled analysis might be responsible for the absence of a significant actor effect in the current study. Yet even hard to detect, small effects can still be of major practical significance when accumulated over time, and the prevalence of violent media urges us to better understand its impact on youths’ well‐being. We emphasize that peers play an important role in enhancing the effects of exposure to violent games, in particular for adolescents, and that the social context in which games are played is an important avenue for future research.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.




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