Media Violence and Violent Behavior

The NRA’s Wayne LePierrer made numerous empirically questionable statements. One of them is that media (television, music, film, and video game) violence is in part to blame for mass shootings.

I briefly want to address the empirical evidence for the role of media violence on violent behavior because on the right and left alike, and among gun control opponents and advocates, there seems to be a taken for granted notion that media violence and violent behavior are linked.

As of 2012, the research on violent media and violent behavior has not shown a consistent effect of violent media on violent behavior (Ferguson, Rueda, Cruz, Ferguson, Fritz, and Smith 2009; Valdez and Ferguson 2012; Trend 2007). When effects have been shown, they are typically in the 1-4% range of explaining variance  in violent behavior (e.g. Anderson and Bushman 2001)  and meta-analysis generally bring the positive and negative effects down to statistically insignificant levels or simply 0%.

Interacting factors such as exposure to family violence, street violence, and violence in schools (i.e. living in a world of danger and everyday violence) on the one hand and dispositional factors such as being male, genetic predisposition, less lead in the water (Nevin 2000), and even diet (e.g. Sanchez-Jankowski 1991) better predicts and explains violence than media (Paulle 2005; Ferguson 2007; Ferguson et al 2009; Pinker 2002).

There may be a role for media effects in how those that are likely to engage in violent behavior “stylize” their violence. For example, in gang violence, media may not cause gun violence but it may be relevant to the peculiar fascination that some gang members have had with shooting their guns sideways (not only a stylistic effect but one that greatly decreases their accuracy).

The other significant problem is that youth violence has declined steadily (van Dijk, van Kersteren, and Smith 2007) even as there has been a proliferation of violent media.

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