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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Do Violent Media Games Really Contribute to Youth Violence?

APA In his review of two important books on the influence of media games on violence, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do and Media Violence and Aggression: Science and Ideology, Christopher Ferguson is critical of media violence reports by both the American Psychological Association and the American Pediatrics Association, arguing "we have merely replaced the folk-devils of the past with new folk-devils—television and particularly video games in recent decades. As happened generations ago, obliging social scientists who are part of the ‘elder’ establishment produce ‘research’ in support of these panics," and that "the pages and pages of theory, both in discussing antimedia theory and alternative philosophical views, can leave one shaking one's head, ruing psychology's love of theory over substance. Indeed, antimedia theories become simultaneously so complex and illusory that they become impossible to falsify, which is why statements suggesting that the precipitous decline in violence in the United States and other nations is unimportant are treated seriously rather than as the pseudoscience that they are."

Other respected scholars such as Craig Anderson at the Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence disagree, and an APA resolution clearly suggests, "[P]laying violent video games may increase aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors in children, youth, and young adults."

Is the jury still out on the effects of media violence on children, or do the two books reviewed last week put the issue to rest?

Read the Review
ReviewClosing the Door on the Media Violence Hypothesis?
By Christopher Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(35)


Danny Wedding

I have posted this note on the Division 46 (Media Psychology) listserve, and I am eager to get feedback from our D46 colleagues.


Ferguson’s rhetoric is exactly that. An empty argument designed to malign legitimate researchers. For example:

"obliging social scientists who are part of the 'elder' establishment produce 'research' in support of these panics,"

This is an ad hominem argument, attempting to cast scientists as alarmists and their research as faulty. This ignores the truth of the matter, which is that the research evidence is strong and clear. See for example the review by Anderson and colleagues (2003) in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

In contrast, Ferguson's rhetoric is decidedly not in the public interest.

MV Guy

The review by Anderson et al., (2003) is actually just the sort of thing that Grimes, Anderson & Bergen are talking about. The authors distort the facts, fail to cover literature unfavorable to their view, and present a picture of a research field that is "strong and clear" that is not consistent with the facts. Such self-serving "research" is most decidedly not in the public interest, nor in the interest of psychology if it wishes to remain truly scientific.

MV Guy

Actually now that I think on it, weren't Anderson et al., (2003) moved to write that piece after the Surgeon General's report on youth violence didn't buy into their alarmist views? I believe Moeller (2005) also pointed out many of the inaccuracies in the Anderson (2003) piece.

It's ironic to see media researchers complaining about ad-hominem attacks as well, as this has been part of their tool-kit for years. See, for example Huesmann & Taylor (2005), which is little more than ad-hominem attacks on critics. I believe that Anderson et al., (2003) also attempt to cast their critics as thralls to media industry (if not that piece I know that other pieces authored by Anderson have done so such as Gentile, Saleem & Anderson, 2007).

Chris Ferguson

Actually the "elder establishment" ties in to Grimes, Anderson & Bergen's coverage of the sociological context of media violence research. It also is a central component of Gauntlett's (1995)theories of moral panic phenomenon (which he applies to media violence reesearch) and further back to Cohen's (1972) discussion of moral panics and the creation of folk devils. Basically, moral panics are thought to originate from among society's elders, partly in an effort to control the behavior of youth (who elders see as trying to upend society as they know it). The scientific community is generally acknowledged as part of the elder establishment. Grimes, Anderson & Bergen spend some time in their book discussing the development of the media violence research industry and its specific sociological goals (which are not to produce honest research, but rather to promote an ideological message), so my discussion fits within this context.

As for the rest, discussing the faulty aspects of scientists' research and questioning their alarmist claims is far from an ad-hominem attack. Science and claims made by science should be subject to scrutiny. It seems to me that media violence researchers get very angry whenever their claims are put to scrutiny. On one hand this is human nature, of course, but on the other this actually illuminates some of the points that Grimes, Anderson & Bergen specifically make...that media violence research is an ideology to be protected, not a science to be corrected mid-stream. At any rate arguments that my criticisms of the field, the research quality and claims made are "ad-hominem" (without once mentioning a single researcher by name in my review) are specious arguments.

Danny Wedding

"In 1955, the U.S. Senate blasted comic books, deploring their depiction of every horrible thing from murder to cannibalism. The lawmakers heard from a prominent psychiatrist who singled out the Superman comic books as especially "injurious to the ethical development of children" because they "arouse phantasies [sic] of sadistic joy" in our youth. Another witness testified that children had been jumping off high places in attempts to fly like their hero. Shame on that Superman. He ruined the lives of so many children!"

Danny Wedding

"The first national survey of its kind finds that virtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phone games and that the gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement. The survey was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a project of the Pew Research Center, and was supported by the MacArthur Foundation."{CF9B933A-8261-4FE5-B9AD-AD751CDEEFC6}&notoc=1

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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