Violent videogames, shooter profiles and aggression

By conducting a literature review of past and current research, Ferguson illustrates the fact that no experiment has yet to prove a causal link between violent videogames and school shootings (Ferguson, “The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Link or Moral Panic?”). While I agree that other factors better predict school shooters, I found myself frowning throughout this article because violent media exposure has been shown to be highly correlated with aggression, a topic that Ferguson never addresses.

            While reading this article I started to rummage through my old social psychology and child development course slides – courses taken at the University of Oregon from professors who are experts in their fields – just to make sure I was not falling into the ‘moral panic’ trap that Ferguson explains can make people latch onto videogames as the sole cause of mass shootings. From the child development course comes the following information:

  • Over 3500 research studies have found correlations between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior in children; 30 studies have found no relationship
  • Kids who play more violent video games tend to be more aggressive
  • fMRI (uses blood flow in the brain to allow brain activity to be seen) of experienced gamers aged 18-26 as they played a violent game (Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror) showed activity in the same parts of the brain that activate when people behave aggressively (anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala)

Why do people display aggression? According to social psychology and more specifically, social learning theory, people engage in acts of aggression because it is learned, modeled, and/or socially sanctioned.[1] This means that just watching popular violent media may increase one’s level of aggression; however, aggression itself is multiply determined- it is not caused by one single factor. 

I bring this all up because Ferguson weakens his position by not addressing the connection between violent videogames and increased levels of aggression. Correlations are not causation, but they do serve as a partial rebuttal against his stance that “The emergence of violent video games appears unlikely to be the cause of any wave of child mental health problems, increased problems with aggression, or violent crimes amongst either youth or adults” because while violent video games may not be causing these problems they certainly aren’t helping them, save for the last one (6).[2] Violent video game playing has proven to be a bad predictor of school shootings and should not be used in profiling potential shooters, but research on aggression and violent media should also not be tossed aside. It is correlational data, but that does not mean it should be discounted.

[1] Albert Bandura’s “Bobo Doll” experiment from the 1960s is a good example of this:

[2] As mentioned on my Turkle post: Overconsumption of TV, video games, and Internet has been found to delay children’s development, hurting both motor skills and one’s attention span (Rowan, “Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behavior With an Alternative Way of Responding Rather Than Evaluation and Drugging,” 2010).

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One Response to Violent videogames, shooter profiles and aggression

  1. cstabile says:

    This is a thought-provoking response and it’s good to hear the view from psychology. And everyone FYI: you should watch the classic Bobo doll video. I hope we get a chance to talk more about experimental research during tomorrow’s class.

    But I find myself coming back to one big contradiction: if there is a link between video game consumption and violent behavior, then why during the very period in which video game consumption has been on the rise have homicides dramatically decreased?

    Of course, I think there’s cause for self-reflection on both sides. Contra Ferguson, it’s hard to measure social violence (homicide being an exception — dead bodies have an undeniable materiality). Contra media effects, why is media effects research so heavily funded and subsidized? Why don’t we have good, reliable research on gun ownership and usage?

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