Screen violence effects

Following the recent upsurge in attention by the national media into the effects of violence from screen media, in particular the computer and video games industry, it may be helpful to you to be aware that there is a bibliography of most recent research studies, commissioned by the Video Standards Council, on this particular important issue for the industry. For your information and use, a complete copy is available from the Video Standards Council. (0208 387 4020). Meanwhile, here is an outline of the conclusions.

Over the years, there have been over 3,500 research studies into the effects of screen violence, encompassing film, TV, video and more recently, computer and video games. This is according to a report commissioned by the Video Standards Council and undertaken by Dr Guy Cumberbatch, Chartered Psychologist and Director of the Communications Research Group, based in Birmingham, who has specialised in the study of media violence for over 25 years.

His Report, published in 2001, has concentrated on the more recent epidemic of research, referring to 52 studies, the vast majority of which are within the last two decades, with strong concentration on the most recent, in which computer and video games featuring strongly as the subject matter.

He states in his Conclusions to the Report, “The real puzzle is that anyone looking for research evidence could draw any conclusions about the pattern let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on TV, in film/video and in video games. While tests of statistical significance are a vital tool of the social sciences, they seem to have been more often used in this field as instruments of torture on the data until it confesses something that could justify a publication in a scientific journal. If one conclusion is possible, it is that the jury is still not out. It’s never been in. Media violence has been subjected to a lynch mob mentality with almost any evidence used to prove guilt”.

Particular reference to computer and video games is made in an oft-quoted USA study by Anderson & Dill (2000), following the Columbine High School massacre. Indeed, in the Independent newspaper, just previous to Dr Howells outburst on January 13th, it was heavily quoted. On this infamous study, Dr Cumberbatch concludes; “Anderson & Dill (2000) suggest that violent video games were probably a factor in the massacre at Columbine High School. However, as social scientists, they should be ashamed of themselves in offering only second hand hearsay support for this assertion. Such claims are very common, perhaps often made in good faith and sound very plausible but they have never stood up to scrutiny”.

Dr Cumberbatch states that in 1988, Kate Adie researched for BBC’s Panorama, what seemed to be the best evidenced cases where a crime had been clearly linked to the mass media. None were supported by the evidence, to a level that would be acceptable to a serious investigative journalist. Every case turned out to be mere speculation – often by reckless journalists.

Finally, Cumberbatch concludes: “As Goldstein (1998) shows, the relationship that audiences enjoy with violence in entertainment is a rich and multi-layered one, which studies of video violence effects choose to completely ignore. To suggest that these studies are misleading would be too kind. Many appear simply deceitful. However, the absence of convincing research evidence that media violence causes harm does not mean that we should necessarily then celebrate it and encourage more. There may be moral, aesthetic, philosophical, religious or humanistic grounds in which we might consider that excessive representations of violence are a matter of some public interest (Gadow and Sprafkin 1989). But that is another story”.