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Expert: Correlation Between Violent Video Games, Mass Shootings Has Yet to be Proven

by Hugh McQuaid | Feb 14, 2013 11:35pm
(9) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Media Matters, Public Safety, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid photo

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, testifies on his legislation

A well-regarded expert on video game violence told the legislature’s Children’s Committee that there is no correlation between violent video games and mass shootings.

The expert was Christopher J. Ferguson, an associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. Ferguson participated in Vice President Joe Biden’s gun task force discussions this past January and on Thursday told the Children’s Committee that “focusing on video games is the wrong path.”

Sen. Scott Frantz of Greenwich introduced legislation in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that would “create a task force to explore and identify any links between violent video games and violent behavior in youths.” According to news reports, the gunman involved in the Newtown shooting was known to play violent video games.

But Ferguson said the state shouldn’t waste its time or money on such an endeavor.

“During the years in which video games have become vastly more popular, not to mention graphic, youth violence has plummeted cross-nationally to 40-year lows,” Ferguson said in his written testimony to the committee. “There is no evidence for a correlation between societal violence and the media culture consumed by that society.”

In a recent article published in Time magazine, Ferguson said, “There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth.”

Frantz said it’s tough to believe that violence in video games doesn’t have an impact on aggressive tendencies among young people.

“Your gut tells you these things absolutely do affect behavior,” he said. “Maybe not for the rest of your life, but certainly for a period of time.”

Sen. Frantz, however, cited a 2010 study by Iowa University that found that exposure to violent video games increased the risk of aggressive behavior and decreased empathy.

“They’ve proven at least to a certain degree — what degree we don’t know — but it does have that effect,” Frantz said.

However, in his testimony, Ferguson said an aggregate of studies have failed to demonstrate a correlation between violent behavior and video games. He said studies have been inconsistent. Some suggest game violence increases mildly aggressive behaviors, some suggest they have no impact, others suggest video games may reduce those behaviors, he said.

“I’m aware that some activists, politicians and even, unfortunately, some parts of the scholarly community have tried to sell this research as consistent, but it is not. Thus, this pool of research doesn’t help us much,” he said.

Frantz said the task force his bill proposes to create would quickly compile existing research and recommend a legislative response.

“I’d like to see it fast-tracked because a lot of that information is out there and a lot of the research can be done by [the Office of Legislative Research] in, say, two weeks time,” he said.

With video games being a national industry, Frantz acknowledged there was little the state legislature could do to force the hand of the gaming industry. However, he hoped to educate parents with the task force’s findings.

He said the country will be looking to Connecticut for responses to the Newtown shooting, and people will want to see whether the state enacted stricter gun control laws or if the state also looked at other areas like mental health, school safety, and any other cultural factors that may have had something to do with the shooting.

“You could extend it to paintball games . . . and movies as well,” he said.

Frantz seemed confident there was some connection between mass shooters and video games. He said both the shooters who perpetrated the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School were avid gamers. He said some of the shooters in other incidents were as well.

“There are some interesting similarities here — overlaps. Video game players, 75 percent of them have been bullied, and they’re kind of social outcasts,” he said.

However, in his testimony Ferguson cautioned against a tendency to blame certain aspects of media for societal violence. He said that over the course of history, things like comic books, different genres of music, cartoons, movies, and even religious books have been blamed for violence.

“It is a normal human response to need something to blame that we could, theoretically, do away with, as this helps us to assert a sense of control over the uncontrollable and give ourselves the feeling that we are ‘doing something.’ These moral panics, as they are known, are well documented and often ridiculed retrospectively,” he said.

Frantz said it couldn’t hurt to educate parents about the violent nature of some games. However, he seemed reluctant to support a proposal introduced by Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, which would place a tax on video games rated for mature audiences and use the revenue to educate parents.

“I like the part of the idea of educating parents. Parents have so much to worry about these days . . . I like that component of it, whether taxation is the right way to get that funded I don’t know,” he said, and suggested charitable funding may be possible.

Frantz said he thought the task force’s findings could be a valuable resource for parents.

“I think a lot of people would pay attention to it because no one’s really come out with a headline banner saying ‘It’s been proven that at least for a temporary period of time, these violent video games affect kids,’” he said.

Ferguson said the legislature could find more productive ways to spend its time and resources.

“Indulging in this moral panic may actually do more damage than good, to the extent it distracts society from real causes of violence. I hope that the Connecticut General Assembly will remain focused on issues we know are important if we are serious in tackling societal violence, namely our mental health care system, poverty, and educational disparities,” he said.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.

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(9) Comments

posted by: dea | February 15, 2013  10:17am

Okay let’s waste more time and money on another study, since the results of previous studies don’t fit the beliefs of the person proposing the study.

posted by: lebron | February 15, 2013  10:44am

Fun how that doesn’t seem to matter to the Gun Control crowd. Not a single thing being proposed to limit or ban a fire arm or magazine will have any effect in protecting our children, but that hasn’t stopped our duly elected representatives from proposing 90, that’s ninety bills to limit my rights as an American Citizen. How is it that a Senator can honestly say and I’m quoting here! “We have to do something” Are you kidding me… That’s your answer…
We have to do something. Great job, can’t wait for November 2014, it can’t get here quick enough.

posted by: ALD | February 15, 2013  10:49am

‘Ferguson said the legislature could find more productive ways to spend its time and resources”

Maybe they can get to this after they finish working on the unisex road signs.

posted by: lkulmann | February 15, 2013  1:55pm

Here’s a thought, if we invest in mental healthcare for kids and adults we can identify children that are negatively affected by video games and let the parents, education and medical community handle the problem…

posted by: Reasonable | February 15, 2013  8:47pm

Why target only video games.
“Why not consider to deny youngsters from playing cops and robbers with toy guns?”  Habits start at a very early age, even in kid games.

posted by: sofaman | February 20, 2013  2:44pm

Adam Lanza played World of Warcraft. It’s my son’s, his cousin’s and friends favorite game. Those trying to pin the massacre in Newtown on video games are like those who tried to pin Columbine on Marilyn Manson. Sadly misinformed is a mild understatement. To avoid the real danger of casual gun ownership is to invite the next tragedy.

posted by: ASTANVET | February 20, 2013  2:52pm

So apparently, spending hours killing life like people in a gruesome manner has no effect.  So what is cutting edge in experimental psychology for treating phobias like fear of heights?  Virtual reality… so, if it can help cure phobias, we don’t think it can have an effect on desensitizing people with regards to violence and mass shootings.  Not to mention the isolation, and smack talking that is part of the ‘online play’ of those games.  Just anonymous name calling and lack of respect towards your opponents.  Yeah, I don’t have a PhD, but it would seem that at very least it will affect how you perceive the world around you… Isn’t this the same crowd that says watching too much Fox news will brain wash you… maybe you should rent “A clockwork Orange” a few more times.

posted by: ASTANVET | February 20, 2013  2:55pm

To be clear, I do not think in any way this requires legislative action, I’m merely saying that violence emersion will have a psychological effect, especially on people with certain personality traits… the issue is lack of good parenting, lack of good monitoring by parents, and a constant look to the government to ‘fix’ our problems.

posted by: ALD | February 20, 2013  9:27pm

“Isn’t this the same crowd that says watching too much Fox news will brain wash you”…

Or as someone else said,  “would companies spend millions of dollars a minute on Super Bowl adds if their marketing research didn’t make it clear they do leave a lasting impression. 

Fine, limit clip sizes, do background checks, all of which I agree with, but until we start to address the culture of violence we have become so desensitized to in this country we will be just scratching the surface of what needs to be done.

I am sure 99.99% of normal users of violent video games don’t go out and kill kids in schools.  Just like 99.99% of normal gun owners don’t either.  But since clearly Lanza was not normal, and did use both, why would we want to assume using one didn’t lead him to using the other?

You don’t solve big problems by only looking at part of what’s wrong.