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VIEWPOINT: No good evidence links video games to violence

LAREDO, Texas -- On Aug. 3, anti-game activist David Grossman spoke to educators in Fargo about the alleged dangers of violent video games, claiming that these are linked to school shootings and other youth violence. I am a licensed psychologist ...

LAREDO, Texas -- On Aug. 3, anti-game activist David Grossman spoke to educators in Fargo about the alleged dangers of violent video games, claiming that these are linked to school shootings and other youth violence. I am a licensed psychologist and video game researcher. In reading an account of Grossman's speech in the Herald, I was struck by the enormous amount of misinformation that Grossman appears to have instilled in his audience. In fact, there is no good evidence linking violent video games to school shootings or other forms of youth violence. To set the record straight:

1. Grossman claims that the FBI found that most school shooters played violent video games. That's true. So have about 95 percent of other young males. It's like saying all school shooters wear sneakers. Do sneakers cause unspeakable acts of violence? Apparently unmentioned was a Secret Service report that indicated school shooters consume, if anything, less violent media than other youth. Similarly several recent school shooters, particularly the Virginia Tech shooter, have not been found to be avid game players.

2. Far from "skyrocketing," youth violence and violent crimes in the U.S., U.K., Canada and most other industrialized nations have plummeted to their lowest levels since the 1960s. So, as video games have become more violent and more popular, youth violence has shrunk.

3. The research on video games and youth violence does not offer much support for the view that the two are linked. I am aware some activists and even some scholars make such claims, but these are based on distortions of the research, particularly ignoring a wealth of research that challenges this view. The brain scans Grossman refers to merely show that youth use different parts of their brains while playing video games than during other tasks. My own research, and that of other scholars, has found little link between violent video games and youth violence. Family environment, peers and mental health problems appear to be far better predictors.

Grossman's speech appears to be a classic example of fear-mongering -- high on hyperbole and low on facts. Economy aside, our society is probably better off than it has been in decades. Almost all indicators on the psychological health of youth: violence, drug and alcohol use, smoking, educational achievement, suicide rates, pregnancy, are the best they have been in several decades.

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Of course, hysterical alarm about media is nothing new. Looking into history we can see that even translating the Bible into English sent authorities into fits, resulting in executions of those, it was feared, who would lead society into sin. Just within the 20th century, moral panics have erupted over the supposed negative influence of movies, jazz music, comic books, Elvis Presley, Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, rap music and television, none of which led society down the road of violence and mayhem.

Perhaps, the economy in North Dakota is faring better than the rest of the U.S. Otherwise, I cannot fathom how eager school districts in North Dakota appear to be to throw taxpayer money at functionless programs to fix a nonexistent problem.

We need to examine real risk factors for youth aggression. If we must spend money, it would be better spent helping youth with pre-existing mental health problems or dysfunctional families. We must also remember that school shootings are incredibly rare, though dramatic, events. Whipping up hysteria and moral panic does more harm than good.

Ferguson is a professor in the Department of Behavioral, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice at Texas A&M International University.

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