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Violence In The Media

A shooting at the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" has reopened the debate about the impact of violent images in the media.
Warner Brothers
A shooting at the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" has reopened the debate about the impact of violent images in the media.

Can We Learn Anything From The Recent Shooting In Colorado?

Violence In The Media
GUESTS: Gerard JonesAuthor of "Killing Monsters - Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence" Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D.Professor of Communication and Psychology, The Ohio State University Dr. Joseph E. ScottAttorney and former Ohio State University Professor where he taught psychology, sociology, criminology and criminal justice courses.

CAVANAUGH: Many people watching the midnight screening of the Dark Knight Rises on Friday said they didn't know at first that the map in body armor, if he was part of the picture or not. He opened fire during a violent scene of the movie. Is the violent nature of our entertainment contributing to the outbursts of violence in our society? Brad bushman, withing to the show. Joseph Scott is an attorney is Ohio state university professor. Welcome. CAVANAUGH: Mr. Bushman, what was your first thoughts? BUSHMAN: Just very sad. It's hard to make sense of. CAVANAUGH: Do you feel violent movies, cartoon movies, video game, does that actually influence behavior and prompt incidents like this? BUSHMAN: Well, we know for a fact it influences behavior. They charge millions of dollars for a 30-second ad on the super bowl, and they wouldn't do that if they didn't think that exposure to media could have some effect on the viewers. And hundreds of studies have shown that violence in the media can influence aggressive behavior and hang people numb to the pain and suffering of others. CAVANAUGH: So it can cause aggressive behavior. But it cause someone to do something like what happened in aurora? BUSHMAN: The only way you can determine if something caused a behavior is to do an experimental study. And it's not ethical for researchers to give their participants knives and guns and see who they do in the lab. So we don't know if it causes violent behave. We know that it causes aggressive behavior that are much more severe. And we know there's a correlation between exposure to violence in the media and extreme violent behaviors. But it's impossible what caused the gunman to do what he did. CAVANAUGH: It's my understanding that you do not share that opinion. SCOTT: I do not. There's been numerous studies that indicate watching violence has an influence on some types of people, younger people who have not developed a conscience, who have not developed a standard of living or guidelines to live by. There is low research that it affects adults. We've deputy studies on that over the years and not found that to be the case. In studying people who have committed mass murders, there's types of people, characteristics of those people, but we can't predict the type of people who do it. These people are frustrated, they're disappointed with life, they feel isolated from their families and friends, and they see themselves as victims of society. That's the correlation, and the characteristics we find among people who commit these violent acts. It's not that they have been watching more violent movies. If that were the case, we'd have millions and millions of violence episodes. CAVANAUGH: If we're to believe the reports, a person who identifieded particularly with a character in the Batman series who identified himself as such, who tried to emamulate a scene from the movie. Wouldn't you say there was a link there? SCOTT: How many hundreds of millions of people wohave seen similar scenes and not acted out? CAVANAUGH: Yes, okay . SCOTT: That's the question. If that has an impact, does it affect 100 in 100 million? That seems very strange that that would be the case. CAVANAUGH: Doctor bushman, some people have noted it may not be the violence itself. Insteads the type of violence, violence without consequences. What is your opinion on that? BUSHMAN: Research shows that that is true. I would like to correct some of the things that doctor Scott said. Research is very clear that violent media influences aggressive behavior in viewers of all ages. Young viewers are more susceptible, but nobody is immune to the effects of violent media just like nobody is immune to the effects of smoking. Violence that glorifies violence and seems justified is especially likely to increase aggressive acts. CAVANAUGH: What is the difference between the gruesome violence in, let's say Shakespeare's plays, and violence that people see in a cartoon movie? BUSHMAN: Well, there's a lot of difference. Video games, the player is much more affectively involved rather than a passive observer. And in violent games, players are explicitly rewarded for their violent behaviors. They get points for killing people, or they get to advance to the next level of the game. And in violent game, you're forced to identify with the violent character. If a first-person shooting game, you see the game from the visual perspective of the killer. CAVANAUGH: I'd like to ask you both this question. It regards the actual coverage of an event like this itself. Doctor Scott, what about the news media? How does its coverage of incidents like this factor in? SCOTT: By identifying the shooter in Colorado, it may cause people to have copy cop events as well. By glamorizing, it's almost identifying this person and his background, rather than talking about the crime. It may have some bad side effects. CAVANAUGH: And doctor bushman? BUSHMAN: I would agree. And I would also agree that these situations are very rare, they're extremely hard to predict. Doctor Scott is absolutely correct that if somebody tells you they can predict when such an event can happen, they're just lying. It's not possible. CAVANAUGH: Countries like Japan have equally if not more violent media in their films and their Anime. Yet they have less violent crime do. We know why that might be? BUSHMAN: Well, we actually just did a metaanalysis, a statistical review of all the studies of violent video games, and we included eastern countries such as Japan and China and Korea. And violent video games increase aggression just as much in Japan and China as they do in the United States or Canada. But the overall levels are much lower in Japan. And there are many other factors besides exposure to violent media that influence levels of aggression in society. SCOTT: And probably the biggest one gun control. BUSHMAN: Right. SCOTT: The Japanese people do not have access to guns like Americans do. BUSHMAN: Yes. SCOTT: That would be one of the major reasons why they have lower rates of homicide and suicide. Most of our suicides and homicides are with guns. And we have the most -- well, we have so many guns available, and they're so easily available to anyone in our society. CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, even you who basically do acknowledge that there is a link between heightened aggression and watching a violent movie, do you think that the real problem there for it is access to weapons? BUSHMAN: I think it's very complicated as a problem. And there's no one single answer. But studies have shown that even seeing a gun, just seeing it, not touching it, just seeing it increases aggressive behavior. So there's definitely a link between firearms, access to firearms, and the presence of them and aggressive and violence behavior. CAVANAUGH: I think I have time to squeeze in one call. Ken is on the line from San Diego. Doctor, welcome to the program. NEW SPEAKER: Please consider source credibility. If the person is seen as a hero who's doing the violent acts that are to be emulated, it's a higher chance of being emulated compared to the person being seen as a villain. And the rid ler is obviously a hero, so he was following from what he considereded to be a source of high credibility. That's all my comment is. CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Would you like to comment on that? BUSHMAN: I agree with the caller. SCOTT: Do as well. BUSHMAN: Yeah, people are much more likely to imitate characters they view as cool and 13ingive and heroic than to intimate villains. CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both something about reaction to an event like this. Millions of people have gone to the dark knight movies and not committed an act of violence. And millions of people guns go out every day and they have guns in their homes, some stays, they're allowed to carry them. They don't shoot up anybody else. Is it dangerous to react quickly and strongly to an event like this and say we need to limit violence in the media or make stricter gun laws? Doctor Scott? SCOTT: I think the media has been pretty good themselves rating the movies with their G, PG, and R ratings so as to give us some guidance as to the types of people who should be watching those things. And as to gun control, today neither presidential candidate dares bring that up. The president or -- it's just a topic that's not available. CAVANAUGH: Doctor bushman? I'd like your reaction to that, maybe we need to take a breather and try to figure out what is the answer to finding out the people who are vulnerable to violent and could mimic that violence instead of making really quick decisions about limiting violence in the media or even making stricter gun laws. BUSHMAN: Yes, I think these should be a wake-up call, incidents like this, to help us think about how such events could happen and try to reduce them from happening in the future. And I think doctor Scott's correct in noting that copy cat incidents are more likely after such incidents. CAVANAUGH: Right. Exactly. So-so there are, would you have any suggestions as to how people should approach perhaps going to the movies or dealing with a situation with a lot of people around? Oh, doctor Scott is the one who left us. BUSHMAN: Well, I think violence in the media is not the only factor to collaborate to aggression and violence in society, but it's definitely not a trivial factor, and the point is it's the easiest one to change. For example, we know that poverty is linked to aggression, but it's not sea easy to tell a poor person to become rich. We know that low IQs are linked to aggression, but it's not so easy to tell somebody with a low IQ to become smart. But it's much easier to control the level of violence and aggression people are exposed to. CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. BUSHMAN: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: I was also speaking to doctor Scott, attorney and former Ohio state psychology professor. Thank you both very much.

The recent shooting at the Friday premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, CO has raised questions yet again about the violence we see in our entertainment. Can the violent images readily available in the media influence people to commit violent acts or can the fantasy violence provide a catharsis for some individuals? Does the massacre say more about the violent entertainment we see or about gun control laws?

For Gerard Jones, author of the book "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence," comic books like "The Incredible Hulk" helped him.

Publisher Weekly wrote about Jones' books: "Violent entertainment is good for kids, and demonizing it can do great harm to their emotional development, claims Jones (Honey, I'm Home!) in this provocative and groundbreaking work. Drawing on his experience as a parent and as a creator of children's cartoons, as well as interviews with dozens of psychologists and educators, Jones forcefully argues that violent video games, movies, music and comics provide a safe fantasy world within which children learn to become familiar with and control the frightening emotions of anger, violence and sexuality. He debunks studies linking violent media with violence in society and argues that children clearly understand the difference between pretend and reality. Providing realistic and helpful advice, Jones says parents need to learn to differentiate between what violent games mean to children and what they mean to adults, and to stop imposing their understanding of them on children. Adults may be horrified at the literal meaning of a video game, but children are far more interested in its emotional meaning; "through identifying with a fantasy figure who displays intense sexuality, wields destructive power, and exudes heroism, kids can help themselves feel more control over these forces." Jones speaks to adult fears of the power of popular culture and cautions that "entertainment has its greatest influence when it's speaking to something that isn't otherwise being addressed in a child's life." To lessen the impact, adults should "model nonaggression, empathy, respect, a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, and the integration of aggression and other scary feelings."


Dr. Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, feels differently. He weighed in last year on an analysis of competing videogame violence reports submitted to the Supreme Court, and was interviewed for Wired Science.

More recently Bushman was interviewed for NPR: "What we found is for people who were exposed to a lot of violent video games, their brains did not respond to the violent images. They were numb, if you will...Everybody was more aggressive if they'd played a violent game than if they'd played a nonviolent game, and the more numb they were, the more aggressive they were in terms of blasting their opponent with loud noise through headphones,"

At the very least, Bushman concludes that violent video games desensitize young people.

Dr. Joseph Scott suggests that the recent shooting says more about the need for better gun control laws than it does about the impact of violence in the media on people.

(NOTE: Gerard Jones was scheduled to be on the show but was traveling in Idaho and hit a no-cell phone zone just before the show.)


More On The Topic

American Psychological Association: Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study

Longitudinal Relations Between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977–1992

Research On Effects Of The Media

Violent Media Is Good For Kids

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked