Mr. Comstock and Ms. Paik also conducted a meta-analysis of studies that looked at the correlation between habitual viewing of violent media and aggressive behavior at a point in time. They found 200 studies showing a moderate, positive relationship between watching television violence and physical aggression against another person.
Other studies have followed consumption of violent media and its behavioral effects throughout a person’s lifetime. In a meta-analysis of 42 studies involving nearly 5,000 participants, the psychologists Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman found a statistically significant small-to-moderate-strength relationship between watching violent media and acts of aggression or violence later in life.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics this year, the researchers Lindsay A. Robertson, Helena M. McAnally and Robert J. Hancox showed that watching excessive amounts of TV as a child or adolescent — in which most of the content contains violence — was causally associated with antisocial behavior in early adulthood. (An excessive amount here means more than two hours per weekday.)
The question of causation, however, remains contested. What’s missing are studies on whether watching violent media directly leads to committing extreme violence. Because of the relative rarity of acts like school shootings and because of the ethical prohibitions on developing studies that definitively prove causation of such events, this is no surprise.
Of course, the absence of evidence of a causative link is not evidence of its absence. Indeed, in 2005, The Lancet published a comprehensive review of the literature on media violence to date. The bottom line: The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children.
In fact the surgeon general, the National Institute of Mental Health and multiple professional organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association — all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence.
To be fair, some question whether the correlations are significant enough to justify considering media violence a substantial public health issue. And violent behavior is a complex issue with a host of other risk factors.
But although exposure to violent media isn’t the only or even the strongest risk factor for violence, it’s more easily modified than other risk factors (like being male or having a low socioeconomic status or low I.Q.).
Certainly, many questions remain and more research needs to be done to determine what specific factors drive a person to commit acts of violence and what role media violence might play.
But first we have to consider how best to address those questions. To prevent and treat public health issues like AIDS, cancer and heart disease, we focus on modifying factors correlated with an increased risk of a bad outcome. Similarly, we should strive to identify risk factors for violence and determine how they interact, who may be particularly affected by such factors and what can be done to reduce modifiable risk factors.
Naturally, debate over media violence stirs up strong emotions because it raises concerns about the balance between public safety and freedom of speech.
Even if violent media are conclusively found to cause real-life violence, we as a society may still decide that we are not willing to regulate violent content. That’s our right. But before we make that decision, we should rely on evidence, not instinct.Continue reading the main story
Ah the rabbit hole..mt @jimhigginson: my essay takes interesting turn when pubmed search for #humanfactors leads to journal of dairy science
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