Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

The Evidence Against Media Violence

Another response to The Evidence Against Media Violence:

A discussion of the following quote from the page above:

The Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence. The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations after television made its appearance as compared to nations and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only one variable is different: the presence of television. In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three- to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age." That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.

Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction of television in the 1950's caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the United States, or approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went on to say that ". . . if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).

>> I am curious about a number of things in the study, starting with whether it's a doubling of the murder rate percentage-wise within the population (that is, there become 200 murders for every 50,000 people vs. 100 murders per the same number 15 years ago) or whether the murder rates are going up because the population rate is *also* going up <<

These studies are done by responsible social scientists. They're reviewed by peers before they're published. It's fairly safe to assume that peer-reviewed research would take those kinds of questions into account.

We approve many things—i.e., new drugs or bans on tobacco—based on the same kind of peer-reviewed research. If you're going to doubt all scientific research, you might as well say you believe in ghosts and goblins. Unless you're willing to do the science yourself, you have to trust what the experts say. Otherwise you're taking faith-based positions like George W. Bush.

>> I am also curious as to which cultures they were comparing to one another, since most cultures seem to have TV. <<

I believe the island of Fiji in the 1950s or '60s was one. Presumably the scientists compared it to another South Seas island where TV had already been introduced.

I'm curious whether any study could meet your requirement of proof. Unless the scientists literally explain every facet of their methodology, are you going to question the research? And are you willing to study the studies to that degree of specificity?

I don't think so. It's clear to me it doesn't matter to you how rigorous the research is. You'll always find some real or imagined flaw in it.

Why don't you simply state what you're obvious implying: that you won't believe any research that disagrees with your foregone conclusions?

>> England, I believe, has a far lower murder rate the the U.S. and it's not because their TV and films are less violent than our TV and films. (I watch an awful lot of UK product and a lot of it is as violent as anything made here.) It's because they have gun control, so it's not as easy to commit murder. <<

No one has said that media violence is the only factor in increasing real-world violence. They have said it's one of many factors in increasing actual violence. The availability of guns is another.

>> Also, is the study comparing three-year-olds where the *only* difference in the home environment is that they're allowed to watch violent TV? It doesn't say. <<

Go ahead and dig into the study, find out what it really said, if that's your objection to it. But no, I think you've made up your mind whether the study addresses your concern or not.

>> a friend of mine did take her then-seven-year-old to see "Braveheart," with no apparent ill effects — he's grown up to be a pretty bright, empathetic 13-year-old from what I can tell <<

Studies have shown that children in the United States see 200,000 violent acts on television by the time they turn 18 (LA Times, 1/18/01). I suspect that seeing your first or second murder on screen is less likely to trigger violence than your thousandth or ten-thousandth. Take the kid to a thousand viewings of Natural Born Killers, which might be akin to what most kids see on TV. Then tell me if his attitude changes.

>> At the risk of repeating myself, the study on the correlation between televised violence and actual violence that you cite above doesn't actually give enough information for me to figure out what their statistics are — is a larger percentage of the population engaged in violence, or is there just more violence because the population has expanded, so *all* activity has expanded? <<

Questioning one study is a waste of time, since the evidence goes far beyond any one study. Not only have social scientists conducted studies, they've conducted meta-studies, or studies of studies. They shown that there's an overwhelming connection between media violence and real violence across ALL the studies.

From my The Evidence Against Media Violence:

* Since television started around 1000 studies, reports, etc. concerning the impact of TV violence have been published.

* The National Institute of Mental Health and 7 more national organizations say there is overwhelming evidence that violent entertainment causes violent behavior.

How many studies would you need to review before you came to the same conclusion as the leading social scientists have? 10,000? 100,000? If the overwhelming majority of 1,000 peer-reviewed studies come to one conclusion, I'm willing to accept that conclusion as proved. So is anyone who believes in the scientific method.

>> Spousal rape, rape of prostitues and date rape are now all considered to *be* rape, which wasn't culturally true until relatively recently. Does the study take this into account? This is not a rhetorical question. <<

I don't know the answer, but since I'm not relying on any one study, it's not relevant to my point. I'm relying on all the conclusions reached after thousands of studies done on the subject. Unless you have a criticism that applies to all these thousands of studies, you're wasting time. Just admit you've come to your conclusion regardless of the evidence.

>> I *do* know a lot of people who go out of their way to watch violent product who are not violent people. <<

The first point is that the studies usually link media violence to violence or aggression. For instance:

In 1994, Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders said "By portraying violence as the normal means of conflict resolution, the media gives youth the message that violence is socially acceptable and the best way to solve problems. After 10 years of research, we know that a correlation exists between violence on television and aggressive behavior in children."

The second point is that this is a society-wide problem, so any examination of individuals probably will be fruitless. If you're 10% aggressive, media violence may encourage you to be 20% aggressive, but you'll still fall within society's norms. It's only at the edges, where someone who's 90% aggressive is pushed to be 100% aggressive—i.e., to do something violent—that you'll see a dramatic effect.

A third and larger point is that social scientists have addressed your rejoinder at length. That you think your argument is an original or telling one shows your naivete on the subject. Read the research, or at least summaries of it, first. Then you may develop more sophisticated objections.

In short, it's clear you aren't trying to understand the research. You're throwing up the same lame objections other naysayers throw up when they hear results they don't like.

>> Of the four people I have known reasonably well who *are* violent <<

You're questioning studies on thousands of subjects by professional researchers, but you're offering anecdotal stories of four friends as contrapuntal evidence? I could pick your four anecdotes apart a lot more easily than you can pick thousands of studies apart. What matters is the weight of the evidence, which favors my position.

>> (he couldn't have gotten *that* from the movies or TV — it wasn't depicted at the time). <<

Wrong. No one's saying there's a one-to-one correspondence between fictional murder and real murder or fiction molestation and real molestation. If that's what you thought they were saying, you were mistaken.

What researchers are saying is that all forms of media violence in aggregate increase all forms of violence and aggression in aggregate. Again, that you'd make the statement above shows how uninformed your position is. Read the bare bones of the evidence, at least, before you make such claims.

>> Most of the people I know find violent entertainment cathartic — it doesn't reflect in their behavior and (for most of them) doesn't reflect in their politics, either. <<

Researchers have done volumes of studies on that point too. It's inherent in their hypothesis. Does media violence increase real-world violence, decrease it, or have some more complex effect? The studies have come down resoundingly on the side of "increase."

>> It's possible — anything's possible — that my personal experience in this area is at odds with what's going on in the larger world, but (as I think would be true of many people) my gut reaction is to believe my experiences rather than a study that, as quoted, is vague on causality. <<

People's guts told them the world was flat, women and minorities were inferior, and humans would never fly. Guts aren't much to go on compared to science.

And again, the question is what 1,000-plus studies say, not one study. I quoted one study because it was representative of the whole body of research, not because it wasn't representative. Now that you know what the totality of the research says, you can form a more educated opinion. Or you can continue with your uneducated gut reaction.

>> Although there have been hate crimes in the wake of the events, I believe percentage-wise (and although I do not have statistics in front of me, perhaps even simply numerically), it sounds as though there are far fewer than in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing. <<

We've launched two wars and killed tens of thousands of civilians in response to 9/11. The matter isn't exactly one of media violence, but the initial attack triggered more attacks, not fewer. That's consistent with the media-violence findings—which say, in their most basic form, that violence begets violence.

Not surprisingly, this position is also the one held by thinkers throughout the ages. That's probably because they've seen a million feuds like Achilles vs. Hector or the Hatfields vs. McCoys and know how human nature operates. In contrast, the thinkers who have said violence has a cathartic effect and leads to less violence are few and far between.

>> The population is larger, but it seems less xenophobic than it was 60 years ago. <<

Our society may feel xenophobia less widely or deeply now. But it's still prevalent in the US population, as 9/11 demonstrated. Reported hate crimes were only the tip of the iceberg. More common were everyday words and acts of racism.

For instance, Michael Ramirez's cartoon in the LA Times, in which he labeled Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan "vermin." Not the terrorists in those countries, or some subset of those countries, but those countries, period. The implication of this cartoon, published in one the nation's leading newspapers, was that a huge swath of the world's Muslims are subhuman beasts. (Which is exactly what Europeans said about Indians 500 years ago.)

If 80% of the population was 80% xenophobic then, maybe 40% or 60% of the population is 40% or 60% xenophobic now. If my estimate is correct, that's still a major problem, not a minor one.


* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.