Do video games cause mass shootings? Experts weigh in

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Robby Soave Reporter
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While many politicians and advocacy groups want to restrict violent video games in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, many studies suggest they do not cause violence.

Vice President Joe Biden met with video game industry leaders on Friday, and is expected to push for more parental control over their kids’ exposure to video games. And National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre spoke out in support of new laws restricting sales of violent media entertainment.

A town near Sandy Hook even sponsored a “violent video game buyback” in response to the shooting.

But the assumption that video games cause violence is strongly denied by several psychologists, including Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Texas A&M International University who has closely studied violent video games.

“There’s really no evidence to support this idea that video games contribute to mass shootings in general, and at least at this point, there’s no evidence to suggest they contributed to Sandy Hook specifically,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Proponents of stricter video game regulation typically make three arguments: Access to increasingly violent games makes kids more prone to violence; U.S. culture has grown more violent because of video games; and the typical mass shooter plays a lot of video games. Each of these arguments are wrong, said Ferguson.

“There is very little to take away from the empirical research in terms of is it able to link video games with aggression or violent behavior,” he said.

Whether or not video games have made the culture more violent, they haven’t caused more actual violence. Over the last few decades, all kinds of violence have decreased across the U.S, according to Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard University and author of the book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”

Ferguson noted that this period of deceased violence coincides with the rise of violent video games.

“As video games in the U.S. become more popular and more violent, youth violence has actually declined, not inclined. Youth violence was at its lowest level in four years,” said Ferguson.

The trend remains the same in countries such as Canada and South Korea, where people play even more video games than in the U.S., despite lower rates of violent crime.

Pinker told The DC News Foundation that there was no causal relationship between video games and violence.

Not all psychologists agree. Brad Bushman, a communications professor at  Ohio State University who also studies video game violence, said that although a link between violent behavior and video games has not yet been demonstrated, video games do promote aggression.

“We can never know if violent video games cause people to commit violent crimes because this requires researchers to use experimental studies, and researchers cannot give their participants guns and knives and see what they will do,” he wrote in an email to The DC News Foundation. “However, 45 experimental studies involving 3,464 participants have shown that violent video games cause people to behave more aggressively.”

Regardless of whether or not video games make the players more aggressive, mass shooters are no more likely to play them than anyone else, said Ferguson.

“There’s never been any evidence to emerge that mass shooters consume more media violence than anybody else,” he said.

Ferguson is suspicious of the timing of the recent national conversation about violent media. He thinks policymakers might be succumbing to “moral panic,” blaming a social problem on a convenient, misunderstood scapegoat.

“It’s not a bad idea to debate the issue of violent game violence, but [the Sandy Hook shooting] was a bad reason to restart the debate all of a sudden,” he said. “There is nothing coming out of Sandy Hook that would necessarily say that now is the time to have this debate.”

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Robby Soave