American Academy Of Pediatrics Claims Broad Consensus On Violent Media Effect That Doesn't Remotely Exist

from the fake-it-until-you-make-it dept

Search through all of our stories about the supposed link between violent movies and games and real world violence by those that enjoy them, and you should come away with the impression that, at the very least, the science isn’t settled on the issue. The more specific impression you should get is that violent media might — might — have a short-term impact on behavior, but that there isn’t anything like a general agreement on the long term effects, which is obviously the vastly more important question.

Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics just released a policy statement on “virtual violence” that recommends legislative action due to a “broad scientific consensus” that violent media increases aggression in children.

Although there is broad scientific consensus that virtual violence increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, there has been little public action to help mitigate children’s exposure to it.

As a policy position, the statement goes on to recommend federal control over media ratings and a policy of reduced screen time to be prescribed to parents by pediatricians. We could spend all kinds of time arguing over whether those recommendations are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Instead, let’s go ahead and expose the whopper of a false premise that is the so-called broad consensus on the effects of violent media.

Christopher Ferguson, a Psychology professor, wrote at HuffPo about how silly the claim is.

First, the AAP presents the results on media violence as if they were consistent. They argue that “hundreds” of studies show that “…the linkage between virtual violence and aggression has been well supported and is robust.” But this claim is easily contradictedby a whole host of studies that find no effect for media violence on aggression. Other studies have examined links between media violence consumption and societalviolence and found that media violence is, if anything, associated with reduced societal violence. This is not to say evidence is consistent against effects either. Some studiesdo find some evidence for media effects (although typically small and usually for minor behaviors) yet others do not. Claiming consistency in either directly merely discredits the claimant as a credible source of information.   

This claim also ignores increasing controversies about media effects’ role in psychology’s replication crisis. Scholars have identified “questionable researcher practices” in this realm, and have had difficulty replicating old studies, and studies using preregistered designs (where scholars publish their methodology in advance of collecting data, making it harder for them to monkey with analyses to get the results they want), generally found little evidence for effects.

He goes on to note that, despite the AAP’s claim of broad consensus on the topic, the policy paper cited very few studies to back this claim. Those it did cite, of course, agreed with its position. But ignoring the multitude of studies that don’t is. in itself, a form of citation bias, particularly given that the paper’s two chief cited sources cited are generally considered controversial on the topic of media violence. Included in the post is a wonderful graph going back twenty years showing that as violent media consumption by youths has gone up, youth violence reports have gone in the opposite direction. It would be hard to square that graph with the AAP’s claim, never mind with its claim of broad consensus on the topic.

But this is more than a mistake. The AAP should know better than this, and does.

The AAP claims the presence of a consensus of scholars and practitioners regarding media effects. However, most surveys of scholars and clinicians reveals this to be false. Depending on how questions are asked, surveys indicate that only 10% to 58% of scholars agree some kind of links may exist. Higher numbers are found when undefined “aggression” is used in queries (which could involve fairly minor laboratory tasks like filling in the missing letters of words…”kill” being more aggressive than “kiss” for instance in response to ki__), and drop significantly once questions ask about youth assaults or other significant behaviors. All surveys indicate significant disagreements among experts, with only a minority worried about media effects on violent behavior. Indeed, past claims of consensus have been thoroughly discredited.

Further, a group of 230 scholars, back in 2013, wrote an open letter advising against policy statements on media effects just like this one. That letter was written to the American Psychological Association (APA), but the same principle holds here. How does the AAP pretend this large group of 230 scholars don’t exist?

Combined with a later section of the paper, which laughably misreads a Supreme Court decision from 2011 as rejecting federal oversight on violent media consumption by children on First Amendment grounds when the court actually stated that lower courts have found the claim of a link between media and violence to be meritless, one wonders exactly what the motive is for all of this by the AAP. You have to blink before believing the AAP’s recommendation that journalists not talk to “contrarian researchers” who don’t see things its way. It’s hard to think of a less scientific recommendation than censoring contradictory studies.

But more worrisome, the AAP appear to pressure journalists not to speak to anyone, including “contrarian scholars” who disagrees with their position. This arguably puts the AAP in the bizarre and aggressive position of, in effect, arguing for scientific censorship (whether or not this was their intent). They chide news media for presenting “both sides” of the debate (despite the presence of scientific evidence for both sides and the fact that most researchers do not agree violent media poses a serious risk to society) and offer as a recommendation “The news and information media should acknowledge the proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real-world aggression…”

The point of all of this isn’t to fight over the link the AAP suggests. The point is that a policy paper built on a demonstrably false premise that then attempts to silence the work of opposing research isn’t a prescription for good scientific output.

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Comments on “American Academy Of Pediatrics Claims Broad Consensus On Violent Media Effect That Doesn't Remotely Exist”

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47 Comments
scatman says:

Have you considered marketing? If marketing/advertising affects purchasing behavior (which it does), then it also stands to reason that violent programming affects behavior also. The problem I have with these studies, though, is that they don’t place enough emphasis on personal responsibility and self will/control.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ah, the ambiguities of the English language. Just because you can use the word behaviour across two separate subjects doesn’t mean they are connected.

When marketing affects “purchasing behaviour”, it means people who are already predisposed to purchasing certain things will stray towards the marketed product. If I want, say, a drink, marketing may push me toward a certain product through recognition. Food commercials can trigger cravings for the product, but only if I’m a person who already enjoys that product. Marketing that is viral or relies on trends only works if you’re a person predisposed to peer pressure and matching your peers.

If you want to get into the semantics, there is actually no change to behaviour taking place here. It’s just abusing existing behaviours.

If you want to compare this to affecting “violent behaviour”, then sure, aggressive people playing violent video games will be aggressive while playing those games.

But video games are no less magical brainwashing tools than marketing. You can’t market a frugal person to become an overconsumer, and you can’t game a non-violent person to become violent.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Which Definition of Violence?

Agreed.
With TV shows and movies, kids can be told that it’s not real: look, there’s no one really named James Bond and those are actors and stuntmen that he’s “shooting” with blanks.
But the news is real: yes, that gas station that got robbed at gunpoint is the same one that Daddy stops to get coffee.

Now which is more harmful to kids?

Anon says:

Huh?

My generation, growing up in the late 50’s and the 1960’s -was inundated with westerns where everyone shot each other (logical solution to any dispute); not to mention war movies, GI Joe toys, Kennedy/King/Kennedy assassination, riots and Vietnam live on TV… Toy guns were a staple of any boy’s childhood – not to mention BB guns. If anything, we should be the most violent generation.

Doesn’t seem any different than children before or after.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Huh?

With record low crime rates on countries that generate most of these ‘disturbing’ materials it’s hard to defend that toy guns, fantasy games and movies made people more violent.

I was actually surprised when I went to my school to talk about things related to my field of work and the kids didn’t keep whispering while I was at it like most of the kids in my time (including me) would do. Too well behaved!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Huh?

That left/right stereotypical thinking does not provide any real benefit and it may lead to a reduction in one’s cognitive abilities. Sure, it makes things easy at the moment because you need not worry about whether your unsubstantiated pigeon holing has any real credence because .. reasons.

Why bother evaluating actual statements when you can simply point the fickle finger of right/left thinking – so much easier and fun too – everyone is either a right wing nut job or a lefty pinko fag.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Huh?

if there was a gun violence problem it would be extremely clear.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013, firearms were used in 73,505 nonfatal injuries and 11,208 deaths by homicide, 21,175 by suicide with a firearm…”

How many deaths are necessary before the problem is “clear”?

Chuck says:

Speak for yourself

Personally, I’ve always found that a match of Overwatch or Dirty Bomb or, going way back and showing my age, Unreal Tournament 99, takes me from more stressed to less stressed. When I was in 8th grade and my dog died, it was UT2004 that literally saved my life. I had a letter opener, was crying profusely, and nearly took my life. Instead, I fired up UT2004, started a TDM with bots, set the kill count to 999 and turned on god mode and just killed Skaarj until I stopped crying. I was still sad, but I wasn’t suicidal any more.

I’ve never been in a place that dark since, but video games have never once made me want to kill or hurt any real person. (ok, except that one 13 year old dickhead with an Aimbot a couple years ago, but he was 7 states away so that was never gonna happen…)

If anyone is incited to commit a violent crime by a video game, TV show, or movie, then they’re already so close to the edge that they’ll do it without any of those influences anyway, it’ll just take them a little longer to get there. In that case, the problem isn’t the media, it’s their mental health.

Yanno, mental HEALTH. Something you’d THINK that a bunch of DOCTORS would understand…

Anonymous Coward says:

Violent video games are one factor (just one) and I think, not for the violence but for the reset on death or injury. There are much more prominent factors that are causing the increasing lack of care and increasing violence in our societies.

The first I’ll mention is the “must have it now” attitude that occurs everywhere – from politics, advertising, etc.

The second is of “my rights above all else”, this appears in everything from government, law enforcement, social interactions, social policy, etc.

The third is “others are to blame for the problems around me”, and this manifests in the lack of responsibility for ones own decisions, whether it be accidents one is involved with, or climate change or political change or social change, etc.

There are still more that others can add.

As societies, there is a general losing of the way forward. This is not new and will keep on occurring because every man, woman and child wants to do what “is right in their own sight” and damn the consequences for anyone else.

So my question is – what do we as societies and individuals need to do to bring about changes for the better? To actually improve life of everybody.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Had to look up what this drug is. Ye good ole paracetamol, ay. If it is a factor (and I am not saying it is not) then it just adds to the factors not replaces them. For those of us who don’t use it, it is a non-factor.

It takes a great deal of hard work internally and externally to have empathy with others.

When societies focus on personal gain and personal rights to the detriment of personal responsibility, we have a problem. When societies focus on making laws to stop bad things happening, we have a problem. When societies focus on fear, we have a problem.

Throughout the millennia past, we can see these effects in play and it never ends well for the common man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Violence occurs in many different forms, from simple shouting angrily to beating the living daylights out of someone to sending armies or weapons of war against others. Since your police appear to be in love with military scale weaponry and just want to use it, we see an increasing number of incidents involving them. Road rage, domestic disputes, workplace bullying, bank foreclosures, sackings, union actions, protests, shootings, muggings, political rallies, FBI and DOJ actions against foreign nationals, CIA and NSA actions are just some of the very many ways in which violence is increasing.

The US is a prime example of a society that has lost its way. Through all the various channels that I receive news reports, I rarely hear anything of good coming out of the US, I hear more good coming out of areas like IndoChina, Central Asia and Africa than I do of the US.

So if you are using official statistics for your information, remember that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Don’t forget that your have a fast growing incarceration situation in the US (your many and increasing number of private penal institutions) which is another area of increasing violence. Just look at the phone monopoly violence being committed against the inmates and their families.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So if you are using official statistics for your information, remember that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

What do you prefer, your intuition about violence?

Through all the various channels that I receive news reports…

Those are a reliable indicator of levels of violence, but official statistics are not?

I rarely hear anything of good coming out of the US

You started out talking about violence, now are you switching to “good” (and presumably “not good”)?

Just look at the phone monopoly violence being committed against the inmates and their families.

If you’re going to freely redefine “violence” to mean whatever suits your argument, then what’s the point of even discussing it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If you’re going to freely redefine “violence” to mean whatever suits your argument, then what’s the point of even discussing it?

What would you like to limit violence to, be very specific and we’ll discuss within the limitations you put on it. I’m happy to do that as well.

So if you are using official statistics for your information, remember that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

What do you prefer, your intuition about violence?

You really miss the point don’t you? Statistics are always tailored to the agenda of the ones creating the statistics. This is Basic Statistics 101. Statistics are in many ways meaningless without knowing the population testes and its relationship to the entire population, the questions asked, the results obtained, how the results are combined, etc. Statistics can give an indicator of the actual situation, but they can also be completely misleading.

You usage of the word intuition is itself misleading. It may be intuition but it also can be observation. You have already made up your mind as to what you will consider as significant and if anyone claims differently to your opinion then they (as far as you are concerned) are wrong and to be considered less than reliable.

That is your freedom of choice but it does not make your argument or position valid. Your position may be valid, it may also be invalid.

Through all the various channels that I receive news reports…

Those are a reliable indicator of levels of violence, but official statistics are not?

As I said above about statistics, the official line does not ensure reliability without knowing all details, which they will never give out.

I rarely hear anything of good coming out of the US

You started out talking about violence, now are you switching to “good” (and presumably “not good”)

Let’s see – Florida, Police shoots autistic man’s carer – Man charged in fatal shooting of Kansas police officer – are just two of the stories for today. At any rate, would you define these two actions as good?

I have personally met various USA citizens over the years and I have found most to be pleasant. I have current interactions with various US citizens (whom I have not yet personally met) and they too are pleasant, helpful and humble. There have been those in the past (and others currently) who portray the arrogance that is often associated with the USA. As a nation, you come across as ignorant, superficial, arrogant and all round dangerous buffoons. This is a pity, since there are indications that there are many in your nation who would be considered reasonable people in any company.

As a nation you have something no other nation has and you just fritter it away.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

What would you like to limit violence to, be very specific and we’ll discuss within the limitations you put on it.

How about “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something”? Just the first definition I found.

You have already made up your mind as to what you will consider as significant and if anyone claims differently to your opinion then they (as far as you are concerned) are wrong and to be considered less than reliable.

No, it’s just that you haven’t offered anything at all to support your assertion that society is getting more violent, and instead set up avenues whereby you can dismiss any contrary evidence presented.

Let’s see – Florida, Police shoots autistic man’s carer – Man charged in fatal shooting of Kansas police officer – are just two of the stories for today.

Which demonstrate nothing about any trends.

As a nation you have something no other nation has and you just fritter it away.

I agree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

What would you like to limit violence to, be very specific and we’ll discuss within the limitations you put on it.

How about “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something”? Just the first definition I found.

So do you include shouting at people? This involves physical force. Do you include pushing your way through crowds carelessly? Do you include barging in front of someone with no regard to anyone but yourself? These activities can and do fit the definition of violence in some measure. You may not consider them such. As such the definition you have supplied is not that specific. There are many things that you might include that I might not and vice verse. I would like you to actually specify the limits of what you include or do not include in your definition.

No, it’s just that you haven’t offered anything at all to support your assertion that society is getting more violent

my exact words were

There are much more prominent factors that are causing the increasing lack of care and increasing violence in our societies.

You left out the care part, which is just as important and relevant.

Let’s see – Florida, Police shoots autistic man’s carer – Man charged in fatal shooting of Kansas police officer – are just two of the stories for today.

Which demonstrate nothing about any trends.

Let’s put context on that. It was a response to

I rarely hear anything of good coming out of the US

You started out talking about violence, now are you switching to “good” (and presumably “not good”)

and not about trends. It was about specific events.

No, it’s just that you haven’t offered anything at all to support your assertion that society is getting more violent, and instead set up avenues whereby you can dismiss any contrary evidence presented.

I pointed out that your evidence (or lack thereof) was inadequate to support your assertions. If you look around you, what do you see? What evidence is presented to you or can you present that says societies are becoming less violent by any specific definition of violence?

I live in an area where Ice (crystal methamphetamine) is a scourge. It is being consumed by many different groups and age groups with the health consequences including violent behaviour is ever mounting. If you talk to the right people, you will find spousal/partner abuse and child abuse increasing. Gang related violence is being seen more and more, and I live in a majority rural region. It doesn’t matter where you are, we see the increasing effects of increasing lack of care and increasing violence.

This site as do many other sites document incidences of violence by the law enforcement organisations to the general populous.

So present your arguments and evidence that say violence in societies in decreasing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I honestly can’t tell if you’re engaging pedantry or reductio ad absurdum here. On careful reading, I think it’s a bit of both.

Either way, you’re clearly not trying to engage in an honest debate. You’re using absurdly vague and broad definitions of “violence” in order to try to define your stance into correctness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Absurdly vague about violence definition – you need to get out more and see the those whose lives are destroyed by others without having been physically hit or touched. Violence is not just physical damage and the sooner people recognise this, then we may actually get some action to curtail this.

Trying to get people back on their feet when they have been beaten down by non-physical violence is a long and sometimes heart rending process.

John, get out there and actually be involved in stopping every kind or form of violence.

Yes, I use a very broad definition of violence and as far as I am concerned, it is well justified. Nasch wants to use a very limited definition, so I am challenging him to be specific, what he includes and what he doesn’t.

If that is pedantic then so be it.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

…those whose lives are destroyed by others without having been physically hit or touched.

My generation was raised with the axiom “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. We were also taught that your own feelings were your own responsibility and no one could make you feel something with words unless you allowed it.

I think there are a lot of “fragile snowflakes” out there nowadays who need to pull up their big-boy pants and grow a backbone. Just my 2 cents.

Yes, I use a very broad definition of violence and as far as I am concerned, it is well justified.

Not really. Stretching definitions of words to suit your agenda only makes you look ignorant. Intelligent people converse using common, accepted definitions of words so others can actually figure out what the fuck you are talking about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Always take any data, opinion, research and evidence from a group with an agenda with a healthy dose of salt. Any group that claims consensus where there is none, and that discourages even listening to any dissenting opinion clearly has an agenda and a narrative.

It’s the “listen and believe” non-argument that we see coming from the social justice movement and from modern feminism. It would be my guess that the AAP contains a lot of feminists and social justice warriors, and with pediatrics being heavily dominated by women (cursory Google search suggests 75% women, and about 85% of new graduates), it’s perhaps not an entirely unfounded suspicion that the identity politics and the social justice is moving from the campuses and into the workplace.

Am I surprised to see the council on communications and media of the AAP start pushing this narrative, at this time? Not even a little. Sad, yes, but not surprised.

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