Thursday, May 3, 2018

Strange bedfellows

This was a post from a pro-NRA Twitter user. Most of us understand that the problem of gun violence in the US is unlikely related in any way, shape, or form to time spent playing violent video games, nor is it entirely clear that such games, or media violence more generally, harm children. There is a lesson here. We as a scientific community have only so much control of the narrative. We collect data - sometimes well, sometimes poorly - and we report our findings. How the data get used or misused by the general public is partially outside of our control. This is a wonderful example. I seriously doubt Bushman would endorse the NRA position on practically any issue. And yet work that he has authored or coauthored is being used to bolster a claim by the NRA meant to distract us from some of the more likely causes of gun violence (such as the fact that we have a lot of firearms circulating within the US). Here is a time when I think that we really need to give the skeptics their due. There is a legitimate claim that we can make that violent video games specifically and violent media more generally increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors. Those effects are not negligible, but are quite mild - a point that I think even Bushman will admit. In other words, I suspect that the effects we can measure in the lab are relatively mild to begin with, and at least as far as aggressive behavior (broadly defined) we can note that there is some effect, but not one that would amount to more than a gamer dropping an occasional F-bomb. Interpersonal violence, which is at the extreme end of the set of behaviors we cover under research on aggression, is unlikely to be predicted by violent video game play or by consumption of violent media. I consider any claim that there is a link between media violence and real-life violence as laughable, at best. There is a link to some very mild aggressive responses, but those responses generally don't have serious social consequences, at least as far as aggressive behavioral responses are concerned. There may be other concerns, but real-life violence is furthest from my mind. Talk sense about media violence, be responsible about what the data tell us, and we can minimize how much our research will be misused. If we fail to do so, we will end up with activists and special interest groups misusing and abusing our findings for their own nefarious purposes, seemingly without limitations.To me, the choice is clear.

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