Media Violence Academics Seek White House Meeting

Say media must be part of conversation about causes of real-world aggression

Some media violence researchers and scholars say the White House needs to have another conversation about media violence — one that includes them.

President Donald Trump met with industry representatives on March 8 to talk about the impact of violent media, specifically violent video games, on real-world violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But in a letter to the president, almost two dozen academics, from communications professors to psychology professors to child behaviorists both in the U.S. and abroad, praised the beginning of dialogue on the issue but called for more.

"We applaud your efforts to include media violence in the national dialogue necessary to address and solve the various root causes of the tragic and far-too-frequent slaughter of innocent victims," they told the president. “However, we respectfully call on you to hold another meeting on the subject during which the nation’s leading scientists and academic researchers can present to you evidence on which public policy considerations should be based.”

They are concerned that the industry view is one of denying any responsibility whatsoever: "For years, the entertainment industry has asserted that the consumption of violent media has no harmful or negative impact on the viewer."

They said that is not true. While they were quick to say violent media is not the culprit, they also said it is a factor that must be examined.

Trump's meeting was focused on video games, though he has also talked about violent movies, and the academics cited TV in the letter, referring to the scientific linkage of media violence and aggressive behavior, specifically the Surgeon General’s 1972 conclusion of a causal relationship between televised violence and antisocial behavior.

"[D]oes this mean that violent video games are the cause of mass and school shootings?," the researches asked, then offered an answer: "No, and no media violence researcher that we know has ever made such a claim."

What they want Trump to know is what they say is a "moderate" set of conclusions that don't usually make headlines: "(1) Media violence is a known risk factor for aggression, meaning that it predictably can increase the odds of physically aggressive behavior, even violent behavior; (2) Media violence is neither the largest risk factor for aggressive behavior, nor the smallest. It is somewhere in the middle in terms of its size or importance; (3) Media violence is one of the few major risk factors that parents and/or society can influence at little to no monetary cost."

A representative of the Parents Television Council who was at the White House meeting on March 8 has said Trump did not appear to have come with an agenda or a proposed course of action, but characterized it as a listening session. They also said the video game representatives defended violent video game clips shown at the meeting as from games that were for mature audiences and never meant for children.

Among the signatories to the letter are: Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., past president — International Society for Research on Aggression, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University; Bruce D. Bartholow, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Missouri; Paul Boxer, Ph.D., Director of the Center on Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University; and Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D., Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication, School of Communication and Department of Psychology, Ohio State University.