FAQs on Violent Video Games and Other Media Violence (page 3)

By — Video Game Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

9. But haven't other media violence experts also claimed that there is no valid scientific evidence linking media violence to aggression?

Yes, and no. The media industries seek out, promote, and support "experts" who will make such claims. There are several such "experts" who have made their careers by bashing legitimate research. Examining their credentials is quite revealing. Many do not have any research training in an appropriate discipline. Of those who do have advanced degrees in an appropriate discipline (for example, social psychology), almost none of them have ever conducted and published original media violence research in a top-quality peer-reviewed scientific journal.4 That is, they have never designed, carried out, and published a study in which they gathered new data to test scientific hypotheses about potential media violence effects. In other words, they are not truly experts on media violence research. Again, to get at the truth, one must distinguish between actual vs. self-proclaimed (and often industry-backed) experts.

10. Are there any evaluations of the media violence research literature done by groups who have the appropriate expertise but who are not themselves media violence researchers?

Interestingly, a number of professional organizations have asked their own experts to evaluate the media violence research literature. One of the most recent products of such an evaluation was a "Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children," issued by six medical and public health professional organizations at a Congressional Public Health Summit on July 26, 2000. This statement noted that "...entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behavior, particularly in children." The statement also noted that the research points "...overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children." The six signatory organizations were: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association. Along the same line, several reports by the U.S. Surgeon General have concluded that exposure to media violence is a significant risk factor for later aggression and violence. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have specifically addressed the violent video game issue; both concluded that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for later aggression against others, and called for a reduction in exposure of youth to this risk factor.

11. The claim has been made that in terms of the general public's beliefs about media violence effects, we are currently in a situation that is very similar to where the public was some 30 years ago in the tobacco/lung cancer issue. In what ways are these two cases similar? Dissimilar?

The medical research community knew that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer long before the general public came to hold such beliefs. In fact, there are still sizable numbers of smokers who don't really believe this to be true. The tobacco industry was quite effective keeping the public confused regarding the true causal effect of tobacco on lung cancer. Among other tactics, they promoted "experts" who claimed that the research was badly done, or was inconsistent, or was largely irrelevant to lung cancer in humans. The media industries have been doing much the same thing, seeking out, promoting, and supporting "experts" willing to bash media violence research

The tobacco industry successfully defended itself against lawsuits for many years. There have been several lawsuits filed in the U.S. against various video game companies in recent years. As far as I know, none have been successful yet.One big difference between the tobacco industry case and the violent media case is that the main sources of information to the public (e.g., TV news shows, newspapers, magazines) are now largely owned by conglomerates that have a vested interest in denying the validity of any research suggesting that there might be harmful effects of repeated exposure to media violence

The tobacco industry certainly had some influence on the media, because of their advertising revenues, but the violent media industries are essentially a part of the same companies that own and control the news media. Thus, it is likely to be much more difficult for the general public to get an accurate portrayal of the scientific state of knowledge about media violence effects than it was to get an accurate portrayal of the tobacco/lung cancer state of scientific knowledge. Given that it took 30-some years for the public to learn and accept the tobacco/lung cancer findings, it seems unlikely that we'll see a major shift in the public's understanding of media violence effects. Indeed, a study that my colleague Brad Bushman and I published in 2001 suggests that the media violence/aggression link was firmly established scientifically by 1975, and that news reports on this research have gotten less accurate over time.5 Another big difference is in the proportion of people who were hooked on these risk factors as children. The vast majority of youth repeatedly consume violent media, well before they turn 18; this was never true of tobacco products. This is important in part because of the “third person effect,” a psychological phenomenon in which people tend to that they personally are immune to risk factors that can affect others.

12. The U.S. Senate invited you to deliver an expert's opinion on violent video games in March, 2000. Has anything changed in the video game research literature since then?

Yes, since that time a large number of new video game studies have been published. One of the most important developments is that now there have been several major longitudinal studies of violent video game effects on youth. In such studies, the research gathers information about a child’s video game habits and their typical level of aggressiveness at two separate points in time. The two time points may be separated by months or years. Sophisticated statistical techniques are used to answer a simple question: Do those who played lots of violent video games at the first measurement time show larger increases in aggression over time than those who played few violent video games? Such longitudinal studies from North America, Europe, and Japan have all found the same answer: Yes.

In addition, my colleagues and I have done several meta-analyses of all of the video game studies. It is even clearer today than it was at that earlier date that violent video games should be of concern to the general public. That is, even stronger statements can now be made on the basis of the scientific literature.

13. What is your advice concerning public policy towards violent entertainment media, particularly violent video games violence managing?

My colleagues and I try very hard to restrict our role in public policy debate to that of an expert media violence researcher. After all, that's what our training is in, and what we have

devoted our careers to doing. So, when the U.S. Senate (or anyone else) asks what the current scientific research literature shows, I tell them as plainly and clearly as possible. There is a "correct" answer to such a question, and I do my best to convey that answer. When asked what society should do about it, well, that's a political question that should (in my view) be publicly debated. There is no single "correct" answer to this public policy question because a host of personal values are relevant to the debate, in addition to the relevant scientific facts. In addition, there are legal issues that differ for different countries.

Nonetheless, I am willing to give a vague answer to the public policy question. Given the scientific evidence that exposure to media violence (and video game violence) increases aggression in both the short-term and the long-term, and given my belief that the level of aggression in modern society could and should be reduced, I believe that we need to reduce the exposure of youth to media violence. My preference for action is to somehow convince parents to do a better job of screening inappropriate materials from their children. It is not always an easy task for parents—in part because of poor ratings systems—and perhaps there are appropriate steps that legislative bodies as well as the media industries could take to make it easier for parents to control their children's media diet. But of course, as long as the media industries persist in denying the scientific facts and persist in keeping the general public confused about those facts, many parents won't see a need to screen some violent materials from their children. Ironically, the industry's success in keeping parents confused and in making parental control difficult is precisely what makes many citizens and legislators willing to consider legislation designed to reign in what they perceive to be an industry totally lacking in ethical values. My colleagues and I recently published several pieces on the complexity of the public policy issues.

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