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Instead of blaming media violence for kids who kill, demand more nonviolent video games

A new study shows how children display more empathy if given pro-social media to watch or play. Parents can be encouraged to demand video games and other media that teach social skills.

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A PlayStation 3 nonviolent video game, Journey, won a Grammy nomination for its score. The game guides remote players through a trek that provides them emotional connections.

Sony Computer Entertainment America/AP

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To cool off a hot argument, sometimes it needs to be turned upside down. That may well happen in the national dispute over media violence if enough Americans heed a new study that reverses the terms of that debate.

The study, by researchers in Seattle and published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, found that young children who are encouraged to watch TV programs that depict kindness, respect, and cooperation are more likely to express those traits than kids who watch everyday TV fare that includes fictional violence.

Two other surprising results of the study are worth noting: Low-income boys, who tend to watch the most television, benefited the most in displaying empathy after watching nonviolent shows. And many of the parents who were guided on what kind of pro-social content to watch and how to avoid violent shows asked that such advice continue even after the study.

Since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, President Obama has sought to boost research on possible links between gun violence and media such as video games. Dozens of violent video games were found in the home of Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people in the Newtown, Conn. mass shooting. And the National Rifle Association, perhaps to deflect attention away from concern over gun regulations, placed part of the blame for gun violence on video game companies.

Yet restricting such video games was always going to be difficult. In 2011, the Supreme Court overturned a California law that aimed to do just that. The justices, citing a lack of evidence that playing video games leads to violent behavior, were reluctant to curb a First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

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