Prof: Video games lead to violence -- period. But...

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  • Dr. Craig Anderson studies effects of video game violence
  • He says there is a proven link between violent media and violent behavior
Prof: Video games lead to violence -- period. But...
Craig Anderson

Editor’s note: Dr. Craig Anderson is the distinguished professor and director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University. He is the co-author of “Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy.”

Counterpoint: Parent: I'm fine with violent video games, but...

Recent shootings in the United States have led people, pundits and politicians to deliberate and comment on the possible causes of such tragedies. There has been much finger-pointing and some rather extreme statements, often by industries and lobbyists who have a vested interest in deflecting any blame from their own products, such as the gun lobby and the video game industry.

First, the hot button question, “Do violent video games cause school shootings?” reflects an overly simple way of thinking about complex human behavior. There is no single cause of behavior as complex as murder. In fact, behavioral researchers have known for decades that extremely violent behavior occurs only when multiple risk factors are present.

Second, perhaps a better question is, “Does violent entertainment media contribute to physically aggressive and violent behavior?” In other words, does exposure to violent media increase the likelihood that a person will behave aggressively, even violently, in some situations? This question has been answered by the research community and by numerous scientific and government-appointed bodies who have reviewed the research.

The answer is yes.

An early U.S. government statement on this topic was by Jesse Steinfeld, surgeon general of the United States, who said to Congress in March, 1972: “… It is clear to me that the causal relationship between [exposure to] televised violence and antisocial behavior is sufficient to warrant appropriate and immediate remedial action…. … there comes a time when the data are sufficient to justify action. That time has come.”

There have been numerous reviews by scientific bodies since then, each coming to the same conclusion.

On July 26, 2000, six major U.S. public health and scientific organizations issued a joint statement to Congress affirming the causal link between media violence (including video games) and the aggression and violence in the real world. Among other things, the statement noted that within the public health community “…There is a strong consensus on many of the effects on children's health, well-being and development.”

The statement went on to say:

“…Viewing violence may lead to real-life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.”

(The organizations were the: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association.)

Most recently, the International Society for Research on Aggression reviewed the media violence research literature and issued a report, which later appeared in the scientific journal Aggressive Behavior. Again, the causal link between media violence and real world aggression and violence was confirmed.

Lastly, it is important to understand the difference between scientific questions (such as, “What are the effects of media violence?”) and public policy questions (such as, “What policies should be adopted or changed to reduce the harm?”). Although the scientific evidence of real-world harmful effects of violent media is overwhelming, it does not mean that the U.S. society should ban such products. Indeed, to my knowledge, no top media violence researcher has taken such an extreme view.

There are other options that would satisfy both types of values that are in conflict here: The need to protect children and adolescents from harm and violence in modern society, as well as the protection of free speech.

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