An Open Letter to the APA Council

News Media, Public Education, and Public Policy Committee

Christopher J. Ferguson (Chair), Malte Elson, Mary Gregerson, Jerri Lynn Hogg, Jimmy Ivory, Dana Klisanin, Patrick Markey, Deborah Nichols, Shahbaz Siddiqui, and June Wilson

Submitted to Council March 2, 2020

Dear APA Council of Representatives:

We are writing in reference to the recent 2019 review of the APA’s 2015 resolution on violence and video games, which will be voted on at the February 2020 Council meeting. We appreciate that the APA has taken the time to review the evidence regarding video games and aggression. However, we are also concerned that the conclusion of this review will leave in place a resolution statement that does not fully inform the public and policy members of the complexities and inconsistencies of this research field. The conclusion that a “small and reliable” relationship between video games and aggression exists is incorrect, given the current mixed and inconsistent state of the evidence. As stated by the public member of the task force review, we believe the resolution should not stand due to “concerns about the quality of the studies, the magnitude of the effect, and the policy implications of a resolution.” Our concerns fall along several lines.

First, we appreciate the clarification to the 2015 resolution suggesting that the resolution not be extended to suggest games cause violent crime. However, we feel that the addition itself may be confusing given its claim other factors may “interact” with games to cause violence. This statement does not seem to be supported by any current evidence elucidating any interaction between games and other factors to cause violence.

Second, there is a small but increasing pool of preregistered studies, experimental, correlational and longitudinal. Out of approximately a dozen studies that now exist, all but one have returned null results regarding video games and aggression-related outcomes (the final study returning mixed results). We suggest that this trend in the preregistered studies should give the APA pause, particularly given the APA’s recent stances suggesting that open science is particularly important.

Third, given that the 2019 review acknowledges debates and inconsistencies in the evidence, we find it concerning that the 2015 APA resolution does not disclose these debates and inconsistencies to the general public but rather suggests to the public that links between games and aggression are consistent. The 2019 review suggests that such debates can’t be concluded empirically, yet the 2015 resolution appears to suggest a conclusion has been reached. To acknowledge these debates yet suggest the 2015 resolution that does not acknowledge these debates, appears to be an inconsistent position.

Fourth, and related, given that meta-analyses largely agree that effect sizes in the research area are very close to zero (i.e., smaller than r = .10), there is good reason to suggest that such small effect sizes are likely due to methodological “noise” rather than true effects. There is also evidence that these effects are primarily due to publication bias (Hilgard et al., 2017) or researcher expectancy effects (Ferguson, 2015).

Fifth, and of particular concern, we note that the APA’s 2015 resolution on this matter has already attracted significant controversy and criticism. We are concerned that a public resolution statement that does not accurately reflect the state of debates and inconsistencies in this field will do damage to public confidence in the validity of APA policy positions specifically and psychological science more generally.

Sixth, the 2015 resolution does little to define aggression for the public or place the research into proper context. For instance, most experimental studies operationally define aggression using abstract measures putting hot sauce into someone’s food or giving people annoying but non-painful bursts of white noise, usually with an authority figure’s (the experimenter) permission. These behaviors likely differ from what the public has in mind when defining the term “aggression.”

We note that, as a division, we do not take a stance on whether violent video games do or do not cause aggression. We believe that there are arguments to be made for and against a number of potential effects of video games. But we do suggest that the APA’s 2015 resolution, even with the clarifying statement, fails to fully inform the public of the nuances of research in this field. By appearing to suggest evidence consistently supports one side of a debate when evidence is not clear the APA puts itself in an untenable, unscientific position. As such, we call upon the APA to retire this policy statement and take a less conclusive position while increasingly stronger studies continue to clarify the degree of the actual relationship between violent video games and aggression.


Society of Media Psychology and Technology (Division 46)

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