Consumption of violent video games, movies and television programs is not a significant contributing factor to actual violence, a new study found.
Instead genetic predisposition and upbringing largely determine a person’s propensity for violence, wrote the study’s authors.
The study, published last Friday, was conducted by Christopher Ferguson of the University of Texas A&M, James Ivory of Virginia Polytechnic University and Kevin Beaver of Florida State University. The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and measured whether a variety of factors — including exposure to violent media, upbringing, and genetics — correlated with criminal behavior.
“A history of teen delinquency, lower intelligence, and a history of school problems all predicted adult criminality,” wrote the study’s authors. “Media use was not associated with either increased or decreased risk of adult criminality.”
In the wake of mass shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., some pundits have blamed violent video games and TV for inspiring the perpetrators to commit violence.
Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein explicitly blamed violent video games for contributing to the shooting, and warned the legislators would have to take action if entertainment companies did not regulate themselves.
Violent video games play a “very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that,” she said in a statement last month, according to The Associated Press. “If Sandy Hook doesn’t do it, if the knowledge of these video games this young man played doesn’t, then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future.”
But the research suggests that legislators and pundits who decry violent media are whipping up a moral panic over something that doesn’t inspire real violence, wrote Ferguson.
“Politicians can look like they are ‘doing something’ or (as the NRA and their political allies did) try to distract the public from issues like gun control using a moral panic over media,” wrote Ferguson in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation, noting that the National Rifle Association also blamed mass shootings on violent media.
Social scientists and journalists also have an incentive to distort the threat of violent entertainment, he wrote.
“By arguing there is a pressing social problem, social scientists can get grant funding and headlines for their research (it’s usually harder to get either by saying something isn’t a big problem),” Ferguson wrote. “Given most news readers are older adults who don’t really play video games, or watch as many movies, the news media can, in essence, pander a bit to their audience.”
Identifying violent media as the “bad guy” in crime stories may also be easier for people than examining the complicated intersection of nature-nurture factors that produce violence, he wrote.
“It’s nonsense, but more comforting than to acknowledge that some of these events we really just can’t do much about,” Ferguson added.
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