Other studies have examined the impact of violent media in society, looking at issues such as youth violence or homicide rates. Findings from studies that looked at the immediate effects of popular violent movies or video games indicate that popular violent media are associated with declines in societal violence.15,16 This is usually explained as a facet of Routine Activities Theory—essentially that giving youth something non-criminal to do distracts them from the circumstances that lead to crime. It also essentially invokes the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle; restrictions on violent media could actually have unforeseen, negative consequences. The inverse correlation between violent video game consumption and youth violence is presented in Figure 1.
Is there a consensus?
A frequent claim made by advocates of media regulation/censorship is that a scholarly consensus exists that the effects of violent media are harmful. However, several surveys of scholars have revealed this claim to be false. In fact, particularly for issues related to youth violence or assaults, only a minority of scholars who study media believe that media violence contributes to violence in society. Endorsements are higher for the vaguer concept of “aggression” (particularly when left undefined), but scholars may be considering the mild tasks used in laboratory experiments, not aggression in real life. Figure 2 contrasts the results from several surveys of scholars with those of a survey on climate change. As can be seen, claims for a consensus among scholars on media violence effects are erroneous.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court in the Brown v EMA decision examined the research on violent video games and aggression. The court declared, “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason. . . .”17 The court went on to echo the concerns that many scholars have also voiced. In 2013, a group of 238 scholars asked the APA to retire its various policy statements on media violence, because of the mismatch between these statements and the available, often conflicting data. The era in which clinicians and scholars could confidently tell parents that media violence is harmful is now past.
Consistent with newer theories of media effects, individual experiences may vary considerably. It is less that media have no effect, and more that effects are idiosyncratic and user driven rather than content driven. As such, rather than a one-size-fits-all recommendation for media, clinicians may wish to tailor their recommendations to the needs of individual patients or families.
Dr. Ferguson is Professor of Psychology, Stetson University, DeLand, FL. He reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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