Monday, September 24, 2012

Correlation is not Causation?

In math class, we learn that correlation is not causation, but for this topic, I think it definitely could be. Berkowitz's "Film Violence and Subsequent Aggressive Tendencies" was a really interesting read. I had read about possible correlation between observing violent acts or habits and its possible effects but had never considered it from Feshbach's symbolic catharsis perspective. It certainly is a more optimistic point of view in my opinion. Even though the reading focused on watching violent films, for this blog post, I'm going to extend that media source to video games. Video games are fairly similar to films but I feel like their interactive qualities creates a stronger correlation between observing/participating in play violence to actually displaying characteristics of violence.

This reading reminded me of a project I was doing for a statistics class in high school (way back when). My project focused on the possible correlation between watching/playing violent video games and displaying aggressive behavior, which was for the most part influenced by the  recent Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 where they found the shooter to be an avid video game player. If you don't remember the incident, here's an article explaining what happened and then the MSNBC report on the possible correlation between violent video games and violent behavior. At the time, there were speculations that it could be due to his participation in these violent video games but there was no set correlation and I was interested to see what other people thought about it. Unfortunately,I wasn't able to carry out my project because my teacher felt that it was too sensitive of a topic. The whole story around the Virginia Tech Shooting is somewhat evident in the Berkowitz reading. After all, to go from watching something violent to play-fighting in a violent scenario through a video game to actually performing violent acts seem like baby steps towards a more violent society in my opinion.

The Berkowitz study did have many limitations but I think for the most part it was a good foundation to studies of violence through media sources. Though focusing on primarily on film, I think there is a distinct correlation between these two factors. We learn from our observation and so when we see violence occurring in a situation where it seems okay, *ahem: Hollywood movies, we come to accept it as being okay a bit more than we did before.


  1. We'll definitely try to extend Berkowitz to video games in section tomorrow, pulling in some more Henry Jenkins and Michael Moore and a few others to help extend the range of conversation. I think you're onto something with your argument that games' "interactive qualities creates a stronger correlation between observing/participating in play violence to actually displaying characteristics of violence."

  2. Although there have been several cases, such as the Virginia Tech shooting, where people have been influenced to act violently by violent video games or violent films, I think it is important to factor in the person’s mental health, behavior, personality, and background before making the assumption that violence in video games and films directly causes violent behavior in those who consume them. Many psychologically stable people are able to play violent video games and watch horror films simply for the thrill it gives them and are not influenced to act out violently. However when people who are unstable or have a history of mental health are exposed to violence in the media, they may not be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
    When filmmakers and video game creators display violence in their medium, they do not have the intent of causing children to grow up to become mass murderers. It is a shame that many people who have had a difficult childhood, for example, take these mediums out of context and make them a reality by acting violently. Instead of solely blaming the media, parents should monitor what they expose their children to and limit the amount of exposure time as well as the age in which they allow their children to be exposed to these types of media. We should be more focused on limiting how easy it is for people to obtain weapons by performing more than just background checks to make sure that a person is psychologically stable to own a weapon and owns a weapon for the intent of their own personal safety or for recreational uses such as hunting.

    1. A nicely written response, Leily, much in line with more nuanced thinking about the "violence in media" question.