President Recommends Yet More Research on Video Games, Violence

January 18, 2013
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Obama signs gun control recommendations

Obama issues gun control recommendations

Yesterday, President Obama issued his list of recommendations for Congress and executive actions he plans to take in order to address gun violence in the United States. As anticipated, video games received only a minor mention in the 13-page document, even though Vice President Biden devoted an entire day to meetings with entertainment industry representatives last week. Among the recommendations for concrete actions such as banning high-capacity clips, closing the “gun show loophole” for background checks, and ensuring access to mental health care for all, is a call for yet another study to find out if playing video games leads to violent behavior:

The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence…. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.

Assuming Congress approves the additional CDC funding, their research will likely find what has already been determined by other studies: there is no clear link between video games and gun violence. At The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Suzy Khimm has a summary of the existing wisdom on the subject. First, there’s the 2011 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court — not exactly known for being a tech-savvy bunch — which struck down a California law restricting sales and rentals of violent video games in Brown v. EMA (in a majority decision that cited CBLDF’s amicus brief):

Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.

Just last year, Texas A&M University researcher Chris Ferguson and some colleagues released a three-year study of 165 youths that found no link between video games and aggression or dating violence. Rather, the authors found that the best predictors of violent behavior were “‘depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer influences.’”

Ferguson also cites a 2011 study from the American Psychological Association which conceded that individuals with aggressive tendencies may be particularly drawn to video games (which is quite different from the games causing the aggression, anyway)–but for the competition, not the violence. Of course, a competitive streak can just as easily be stoked by a game of Monopoly or badminton. In the few studies that do purport to show a direct link between video games and violent behavior, the results are highly subjective and have not been replicated outside of laboratory conditions.

In light of the abundance of existing research on this topic, the proposed CDC study would likely be nothing more than a waste of $10 million.

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Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.