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Brad Bushman, Psychology, (515) 294-1472
Craig Anderson, Psychology, (515) 294-0283
Steve Sullivan, News Service, (515) 294-3720


AMES, Iowa -- Despite mounting scientific evidence, news media continue to downplay the negative influences of violence in film, television and video games, according to new research by two Iowa State University psychology professors.

The new study by Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson tracks media violence research and news coverage of the issue. It will be published in the June issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

"News reports have a substantial impact on public opinion and public policy, and it's important that they accurately reflect ongoing changes in knowledge about an issue," said Bushman. "Unfortunately, the press has been less than aggressive in reporting on what science is consistently discovering about violence in television, movies and video games."

For their study, Bushman and Anderson looked at 636 news reports on the effect of violent media on aggression published between 1890 and 2000. On average, the mass media acknowledges that media violence is positively related to aggression, although they tend to claim that the relation is not very strong, said Bushman. ( See editor's note.)

Of the 636 articles, only 5.7 percent stated that media violence was a cause of societal violence. Almost half of the articles didn't advise parents to discourage their children from consuming violent media, said Bushman.

The study also indicated that between 1950 and 2000, news media generally reported that media violence was only weakly related to aggression, said Anderson.

"There has been some systematic fluctuation, with the strongest statements about this effect occurring in late 1970s and early 1980s," said Anderson. "Mass media news reports in recent years have edged away from the already weak message being given to the public in earlier years."

Bushman and Anderson also looked at the increase in research on violent media and aggression. Prior to 1970, there were fewer than 30 published studies on the issue. By 1975, however, 80 studies had been published. Even at this early date, the scientific evidence was clear that exposure to media violence causes increases in aggression.

"By 2000 there were 202 published studies of media violence involving over 43,000 participants," said Bushman. "Overall, these data provide overwhelming evidence that media violence increases aggression in the real world as well as in the scientific laboratory."

"The biggest disappointment is that while the scientific evidence of significant media violence effects on aggression grew stronger from 1975 to the present, the news reports on media violence effects have actually been getting weaker and weaker," said Anderson.

To determine how large media violence effects are, Bushman and Anderson also compared media violence research to research on issues. They found that the correlation between media violence and aggression is stronger that the correlation between second hand smoke and lung cancer and condom use and HIV prevention.

"Many people assume that violent media effects are trivial in size. I think one reason they assume this is they get their information about how big media effects are from the mass media, and the mass media portrays violent media effects as trivial," said Bushman.

So why does the news media seem to ignore the growing scientific evidence that media violence leads to violent behavior? Bushman and Anderson point to three possible explanations. First, the news industry has a vested interest in denying a strong link between exposure to media violence and aggression. Media companies are often owned by conglomerates that produce, sell and profit from violent media.

Secondly, the researchers point to "misapplied fairness," on the part of media that may give opposing points of view emphasis over scientific findings.

"Let's face it, the mass media industry has the money and the expertise to hire top guns to create such obfuscations and to deliver them in a convincing fashion, much as the tobacco industry successfully did for several decades," said Bushman.

As for the third explanation, the scientists point to the failure of the research community to effectively argue its case.

"Research scientists typically do not see themselves as public policy advocates. It is not normally considered a part of our jobs. We often don't have the time or financial support to take on advocacy roles," said Anderson.

In their journal article, Bushman and Anderson argue that scientists should take on stronger public education roles and that professional organizations, like the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, should help provide financial support for these efforts.

Bushman and Anderson are two of the leading researchers on media violence and aggression. Anderson has testified before the U.S. Congress on video game violence. Both are widely published in psychology journals. Their work also has received considerable media attention.


Editor's Note: Professors Bushman and Anderson reviewed 636 articles for their study. Each article was rated on a point scale. For example, an article was given a rating of -10 if it said that viewing violent media causes a decrease in aggression. An article was given a +10 rating if it said that viewing violent media causes an increase in aggression and violence in society. The average rating for the 636 articles was 4.15.

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