Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Ferguson: People have debated whether media violence contributes to societal violence for centuries. A lot of individual laboratory experiments have tried to answer this question, but results have always tended to be inconsistent. Not too much data had yet looked at concordance between media violence and societal violence. In the current study I examined levels of movie violence across the 20th century, and video game violence in the latter part of the 20th, into the 21st century. Results generally indicted that it was not possible to demonstrate that media violence consumption correlated with increased crime in society.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Ferguson: I think we have to be much more cautious about trying to link media and societal violence. The data just aren’t there for there to be clear links. That’s not to say people aren’t influenced by media at all, of course, but how we respond to media may be much more complex than simply “monkey see, monkey do.” Different people may respond to the same media very differently. A violent movie might calm one person down, yet agitate another…yet you may see the same response for different people from a non-violent movie. We need to be a lot more sophisticated with the research.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Ferguson: It would be really interesting to investigate the interrelationships between how social narratives about media are formed (i.e. video games are bad) and how these social narratives fuel the statements and findings of politicians, advocates and scientists. We really need to understand better the mechanisms by which moral panics form and ultimately decline.
Ferguson, C. J. (2014), Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When. Journal of Communication. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12129