Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The unspeakable slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut fundamentally altered our public debate regarding gun regulations. This welcome change is long overdue.  But other contributing factors must also be identified and changed before we will see a decline in the frequency and ferocity of mass killings subside.  While guns are the instruments of these violent acts, they are not the source of deadly rage.  To understand what might push people on the fringe of society to commit such terrible acts of violence we need to identify the social factors influencing them.

On important contributing factor to consider is what role media violence might play in increasing the propensity for violent in our society.  Of particularly interest here is the role of violent video games in the social development of children and young adults. 

A number of scientific studies over the past several decades have identified a link between aggressive behavior or anti-social behavior in subjects following brief exposure to violent video's and video games.  These studies, however, can't really speak to the impact that violent media might have on broader patterns of social aggression.  Longer range studies involving more sustained exposure to violent media have been less consistent in finding direct correlations to subsequent acts of aggressive or anti-social behaviors.  Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia that highlights some studies that have failed to find a correlation:

"Other studies reach the conclusion that violence in video games is not causally linked with aggressive tendencies. This was the conclusion of a 1999 study by the U.S. government, prompting Surgeon General David Satcher to say, "We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior. But the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that’s where the science is."[31] A meta-analysis by psychologist Jonathan Freedman, who reviewed over 200 published studies and found that the "vast and overwhelming majority" did not find a causal link, also reached this conclusion.[32] A US Secret Service study of 41 individuals involved in school shootings found that only 12% were attracted to violent video games, while 24% read violent books and 27% were attracted to violent films.[33] An Australian study found that only children already predisposed to violence were affected by violent games.[34] A long-term outcome study of youth published in 2010 found no long-term relationship between playing violent video game and youth violence or bullying."

Part of this failure to find a correlation may be due to the way these studies are designed, but part of it may be due to the

    Figure 1. Conservative Scientific (Lower Boundary of 99.9% Confidence Interval) vs. News Reports of the Effect of Media Violence on Aggression (Anderson & Bushman, 2002b)

gunman attacks has kept debate the gun regulation policy debate open  for decades to no real effect.  

Before Newtown, the political will to tighten gun laws was thwarted by a well organized and well funded opposition lead in part by the National Rifle Association.  As seemingly effective as NRA lobbying efforts have been to blunt passage of sensible gun laws, zealous Second Amendment advocates wouldn't have been successful if gun ownership and mass killings were directly related.  They are not.  The relationship between America's attitude about guns and the actions of these mass killings in indirect and but no less real.

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