Playing video games that feature reckless driving and seeing media images of smoking, drinking and unprotected sex makes people more willing to engage in such risky behaviors. That’s the conclusion of a meta-analysis led by Peter Fischer, PhD, of the University of Graz in Austria, and published online in Psychological Bulletin in February.

The effect is stronger on people playing video games where they take the role of a race car driver steering a customized car, compared with passively viewed media such as television shows or films, Fischer says. Street-racing video games may have an especially strong effect on driving behavior, he says. “The closer the stimulus is to the response, the stronger the effect,” he says.

The connection between viewing risk-glorifying media and pursuing risky behavior is also strongest for males age 14 to 29, says Fischer. He and his team conducted the analysis by collecting the results of experiments examining risk-glorifying media and risk-taking inclinations. In the United States alone, an estimated 5,000 people under age 21 die each year in traffic accidents linked to alcohol use and risky driving, and nearly half of new cases of sexually transmitted disease among people age 15 to 24 are due to risky sexual practices.

Parents who want their teens to avoid reckless driving would do best to keep video car racing games out of reach, Fischer says.

—C. Munsey