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Correlation found between action video games and capability for suicide

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A new study has found college students who play action video games like Call of Duty could also be more capable of following through on suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, the study leaves many important questions unanswered.

The research was based on a psychological concept known as acquired capability for suicide (ACS), a measurement of whether a person is physically and mentally prepared to make a suicide attempt.

“The theory suggests that individuals who are experiencing suicide ideation, but have low ACS, will not attempt suicide; however, individuals who are experiencing suicide ideation and have elevated ACS are at the greatest risk for lethal or near-lethal self-harm,” the researchers explained.

Key factors that increase the acquired capability for suicide are reduced fear of death and the tolerance for physical pain.

The study of 228 college students who played video games on a weekly basis failed to find a link between overall hours of video game play and acquired capability for suicide. However, when focusing on the action category of video games, the relationship between hours of game play and the acquired capability for suicide became statistically significant.

The researchers said being exposed to virtual violence could decrease fear of death and increased perceived tolerance for pain, which would increase the capability for suicide. They noted that in some games, such as Grand Theft Auto, “players are able to attempt or die by suicide, which could provide a suicide-specific behavioral representation that leads to increased ACS.”

But the relationship between gaming and the acquired capability for suicide is murky. It is unclear whether increased gaming leads to increased capability for suicide, or whether people with increased capability for suicide are drawn to action video games. The study also did not examine whether there was a relationship between gaming and suicidal thoughts per se.

Since suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students in the United States, the researcher said more research on gaming and suicide is warranted.

The research was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

(If you or someone you know are in a suicide crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)