Following a tragic event, such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, or the Aurora shootings, the public often pursues a scapegoat to pin their misfortunate on. Two popular targets are video games and movies. A pair of studies conducted by Christopher Ferguson, a researcher from Stetson University, has revealed that not only is there no evidence suggesting a link between video game/movie violence and real-world violence, a rise in violent video game use has actually coincided with a drop in youth violence.

The potential link between media violence and real-world violence has become such a hot topic that President Barack Obama granted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention $10 million in 2013 to study the relationship between video games and violence. While other studies have already dismissed the association between video games and violence, Ferguson’s research is the first to do so on a long-term basis and show that even though violent video game and movie consumption is increasing, societal violence is not.

First Study

Ferguson correlated homicide rates between 1920 and 2005 to the frequency and graphicness of violence in popular movies during that same timespan using independent raters. Although a link between violent movies and homicide rates was discovered during the mid-20th century, this connection was diminished in the 1990s when movie violence was associated with fewer homicides. A link between movie violence and a decline in homicides was also discovered before the 1940s.

Second Study

Focusing on video game violence, Ferguson used the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to determine the violent content for the most popular video games between 1996 and 2011. Federal data on youth violence during the same time period was compared to ESRB-estimated violence content. Violent content in the most popular video games during these years was associated with a drop in youth violence. Ferguson stressed that this decline in youth violence was most likely by chance and not directly related to video game violence.

"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 in a statement. "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."

Source:  Ferguson C. Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When. Journal of Communication. 2014.