A new report suggests societal violence is not influenced by violence depicted over media and movies or video games.
The finding is sure to spark controversy as some scholars and politicians have long blamed violence in movies and other media as a contributing factor to rising violence in society since the 1920s.
The new study, published in the Journal of Communication found that there were no associations between media violence consumption in society and societal violence.
Stetson University researcher Christopher Ferguson conducted two studies to investigate whether the incidence of violence in media correlates with actual violence rates in society.
The first study looked at movie violence and homicide rates between 1920 and 2005. The second study looked at video game violence consumption and its relationship to youth violence rates from 1996-2011.
After detailed analysis, Ferguson found that societal consumption of media violence is not predictive of increased violence rates in society.
For the first study, independent raters evaluated the frequency and graphicness of violence in popular movies from 1920-2005. These were correlated to homicide rates for the same years.
Investigators found that overall, movie violence and homicide rates were not correlated. However, during the mid-20th century, movie violence and homicide rates did appear to correlate slightly, which may have led some to believe a larger trend was at play.
That correlation reversed after 1990 so that movie violence became correlated with fewer homicides. Prior to the 1940s, movie violence was similarly related to fewer homicides, not more.
In the second study on video game violence, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings were used to estimate the violent content of the most popular video games for the years 1996-2011.
These estimates of societal video game violence consumption were correlated against federal data on youth violence rates during the same years.
Violent video game consumption was strongly associated with declines in youth violence. However, it was concluded that such a correlation is most likely due to chance and does not indicate video games caused the decline in youth violence.
Previous studies have focused on laboratory experiments and aggression as a response to movie and videogame violence, but this does not match well with real-life exposure.
Other studies have indicated that, in the short term, the release of violent movies or video games is associated with declines in societal violence. However, no one has examined these trends long-term.
Some scholars have argued that movies are becoming more violent, but none have examined whether this phenomenon is a concern for society.
This study is the first to suggest that movie violence and video game violence consumption probably are increasing over time, but that there is little evidence that this has caused a problem for society.
“Society has a limited amount of resources and attention to devote to the problem of reducing crime. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as media violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education and vocational disparities, and mental health,” Ferguson said.
“This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value.”