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Jon Stewart Shoots Down The Stupidity Surrounding Gun Control!

Jon Stewart spent two segments taking on the problem of gun violence in America. As usual, he lays it out better than anyone and gets to the heart of the matter surrounding this important issue. One of my favorite parts – I laughed out loud for a while – was a clip of Louie Gohmert. He is the poster boy for the modern Republican Party, but you would think he was a plant from The Onion.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Scapegoat Hunter – Gun Control
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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
1/8/12 in :60 Seconds
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Video Games Don’t Kill People, ‘Gamers’ Do

To say that video games don’t create mass murderers is like saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” While both are technically true, each is a hollow and meaningless cliché that serves only to perpetuate ignorance and justify inaction.

The media are always quick to point fingers whenever tragedy strikes. After the Sandy Hook shooting, “gamers” shrieked in synchronized horror at being victimized by such sensationalism. They say the same thing gun owners say, “B-b-b-but I play video games, and I don’t kill people!” as if that in any way gives credibility to the junk science they cite in an attempt to undue decades of correlative analysis on the influences of media violence. Let’s not pretend that we’ve ever taken the media’s word as Gospel—or as scientific fact. The facts should speak for themselves, and what the facts say with regard to violent video game usage is the same thing they say with regard to violent movies and violent television: that such exposure is linked to desensitization, increased aggression, and anti-social behavior. These effects occur on a measurable, neural level, and thirty-plus years of scientific research have confirmed it.

Is that at all surprising?

Common sense says that consuming any media will have a psychological, chemical effect on the brain, and often (but not always) a physiological effect on behavior. We know this because the same holds true for everything we do: regularly viewing pornography can lead to desensitization during actual intimacy, performance anxiety, and low libido; regularly listening to Rush Limbaugh can lead to increased road rage and/or a paranoid fear of feminazis taking over the country; and regularly watching professional wrestling can cause some adolescents to fling themselves across the living room from the couch to the beanbag chairs, body slamming it over and over, until the floor is covered in little Styrofoam balls (I’m not pointing fingers).

Even if we won’t acknowledge it, even if we can’t see the neurological effects of it, and even if we say “Advertising doesn’t affect me” as we sip our Dasani bottled water and send text messages from our iPhone 5s, the truth is we are what we watch, read, and hear.

Common sense says so, but if that weren’t enough the vast majority of science research clears up any doubt about it. Within the scientific community, there is no question about the role of violent media in America.

Who comprises this scientific community? For one, the American Medical Association.

Two, the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Three, the American Psychological Association.

Also, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, all six of whom signed a statement for a congressional health summit that read, in part: “As with any community, there exists a diversity of viewpoints—but as with many matters, there is also a consensus.”

Although a wide variety of viewpoints on the import and impact of entertainment violence on children may exist outside the public health community, within it, there is a strong consensus on many of the effects on children’s health, well-being and development.

These associations argued that violent media viewers “are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts”; that “Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior”; that it can lead to “emotional desensitization towards violence in real life” and “can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs”; that it increases one’s fear of victimization, “with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others;” and that it “may lead to real life violence,” because those exposed at a young age “have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.”

ABLC recently published a column titled, “No, Video Games Don’t Cause Violence,” which argued that the causal link between violent video game usage and actual violence is a myth. I whole-heartedly agree. Even the above-mentioned scientific community agrees that there is no hard evidence saying that video games “cause” violence. That’s not to say there’s no correlative evidence linking the two, or that violent media aren’t one of many factors that contribute to increased aggression and, in some cases, inclinations toward violence. It’s only to say that violent media have a measureable effect on brain chemistry, and while there are some who deny the correlation, the scientific community as a whole continues to warn against these effects.

What I found misleading about this ABLC piece was the citation of research by Patrick Kierkegaard of the University of Essex, England. Kierkegaard believes that playing violent video games actually releases tension and relieves stress.

According to the ABLC piece: “Kids who had ‘aggressive feelings’ before a session of violent gaming would usually experience a decrease in these feelings by the time they were done—lending credence to the idea that fictionalized violence is often a healthy ‘tension release valve’ for anger and rage.”

I won’t deny that Dr. Mr. Kierkegaard did in fact find what he claims he found in the subjects he tested. I will say that kids who already felt “aggressive feelings” might have experienced a decrease in aggression after eating a popsicle. Because I was unable to read the study, I was unable to see for myself the context of the use of the term “usually,” but there are several reasons to doubt the credibility of this researcher and the validity of his findings—reasons that go beyond the ridiculousness of using violence to treat aggression.

For example, by way of defending his pro-video-game stance, Kierkegaard stated that the decrease in crime in the mid-1990s, at a time when video game sales were soaring, could indicate that it was the video games themselves that caused the decrease in crime. “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence. Instead, violence has declined.” It’s ironic that Kierkegaard would argue against a causal relationship between video game violence and actual violence in one context, then argue the possibility for causality in another. In either case, such an argument fails to address dozens of other factors influencing crime rates in the ’90s, such as the 14 percent increase in police officers, the rise in prison population as part of a national crackdown on drug-related offenses, the legalization of abortion, and perhaps even the mass distribution of anti-depressant, hypertension and attention deficit disorder drugs to adolescents.

Kierkegaard’s theory doesn’t take into account the fact that crime has fallen consistently every decade since the colonial era, and he conveniently ignores the 162-percent spike in juvenile crime that occurred between 1984 and 1993; by 1981, “gaming” had already become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

The point is, to connect any two phenomena without citing evidence of a causal relationship is not scientific, nor in any way conclusive, which brings us to the biggest revelation of Kierkegaard’s research: his own admissions.

Kierkegaard himself admitted, with emphasis, that his own research was inconclusive. If that were not discrediting enough, he went on to say that he himself believes what both the scientific community and common sense already tell us: that “It is possible that certain types of video game (sic) could affect emotions, views, behaviour, and attitudes…” But, he adds, “…so can books…”

Once again, this statement is technically true. But let’s provide some context.

The Kaiser foundation found in 2010 that 8- to 18-year-olds spent an average of 7.5 hours per day being entertained by one or another form of media (including multi-tasking, the figure was closer to 11 hours per day). Media, according to this study, included television, movies, music, video games, and the Internet.

With all due respect to Mr. Kierkegaard, does the average American adolescent spend half of his or her waking life reading books? And if so, how many of those books feature revered protagonists committing cold-blooded mass murder in vivid, gory detail? Furthermore, as parents, would you buy enough books for your children to spend hours per day reading if those books made heroes of killers? If parents across the country were encouraging such activity, would we as a society object to a correlative analysis of the effect book-reading has on human behavior? And would we object to its findings if their conclusions were offensive to bookworms?

As yet, doctors haven’t recommended that children put away their soccer balls and bicycles, reconfigure their diets to include high-sugar sodas and candy, and quarantine themselves in their rooms for hours on end playing “Call of Duty,” “Manhunt,” and “Splatterhouse.”

Remember Dylan Klebold?

Or Eric Harris?

Or James Holms?

Or Jeffrey Weise?

Or Jared Loughner?

Or Michael Carneal?

Or Robert Hawkins?

Or Steven Kazmierczak?

We can add Adam Lanza to this list of young men whom friends didn’t describe as “bookworms” and for whom parents didn’t confess to purchasing hours-worth of gory literary entertainment.

Owning a gun does not make you a killer. Having a mental illness does not make you a killer. And feeding violence-saturated media into the still-developing brains of our youth doesn’t turn them into mass murderers. Does the truth of these statements mean we shouldn’t regulate assault rifles, increase accessibility to and funding for mental health programs, and advise parents of the psychological effects of excessive exposure to media violence for fear of offending someone? Because that’s the conversation we need to be having.

It’s common sense. It just needs to be made slightly more common.

 

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Violent Video Game Play Makes More Aggressive Kids, 2010: Study analyzing 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide provides  conclusive evidence that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids.

Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study, 2011: “Greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity seemed to act as risk factors for becoming pathological gamers, whereas depression, anxiety, social phobias, and lower school performance seemed to act as outcomes of pathological gaming. 

Media Violence: The effects are both real and strong, 2008: “Fifty years of research on the effect of TV violence on children leads to the inescapable conclusion that viewing media violence is related to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors.” 

University of Missouri researchers recently “demonstrated experimentally” that people who play video games are desensitized to violence, which “leads to increased human aggression.” 

The American Psychological Association in 2011 found that competitive video games increased aggression

Researchers at Ohio State University and Central Michigan University found that people who play violent video games not only register higher aggression, but may suffer increased aggressive tendencies for up to 24 hours after playing such games.

APA calls for reduction of violence in interactive media used by children and adolescents, 2005: “Based on an examination of the research that shows the negative influences of violence in interactive media on youth, the American Psychological Association (APA) today adopted a resolution recommending that all violence be reduced in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth.” 

Media Violence, 2009: “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” 

Television and video game exposure and the development of attention problems, 2010: “Exposure to television and video games was associated with greater attention problems.” 

Violent Video Games: more playing time equals more aggression, 2012. 

Violent Video Games: myths, facts, and unanswered questions, 2003: “Studies provide converging evidence that exposure to media violence is a significant risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior.”

Related? Prescriptions for attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder increased 46 percent over an eight-year period ending in 2010, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

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No, video games don’t cause violence

In the wake of massacres like the one in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, there are always efforts to identify a discrete cause. And at least since the mass murder in Columbine in 1999, video games are usually brought up in the list of possible culprits.

So here’s the headline: Video games, even violent video games, do not cause violence.

You could really quit reading there. However, there is a relationship between video games and violence – but it’s a nuanced one, and it’s worth exploring.

First, though, the evidence. The University of Essex’s Patrick Kierkegaard found in his 2008 paper for the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry that prior research on links between violent behavior and video gaming was not only inconclusive (despite broad claims to the contrary), it was also in many cases systematically biased toward a positive finding.

Instead, he found that more often than not the evidence points in precisely the opposite direction. Kids who had “aggressive feelings” before a session of violent gaming would usually experience a decrease in these feelings by the time they were done – lending credence to the idea that fictionalized violence is often a healthy “tension release valve” for anger and rage.

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