Movie Violence, and Violence in Our Society

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Causes of violence in the US

As the nation again (Dec. 2012) tries to understand what is causing the extreme violent events in our society, from mass killings in schools and theaters, to lone terrorists, a number of things are being pointed to as possible problems. There are calls for bans on assault rifles, violence in movies, and violence in video games. Do these things really have anything to do with this type of violence? Limiting the size of clips in weapons may have a mitigating effect. When it comes to entertainment, the simple facts are: Don't expose young children (under age 12) to violent movies and violent video games - this is a definite no-no. Violence in entertainment probably has minimal effect on everyone else, if any effect at all. If there was a problem, I would be one of the first calling for an end to this type of entertainment.

Studies, and direct causes of violence

We hear a lot of misinformation from studies done by people who want to prove, for good reasons, that there is a relationship between violence in society, and violent movies and video games. They are mostly inadequately designed studies, and this is because it isn't ethical to do real world experiments, and secondly because tracking over long periods of time doesn't fit well into university lab experiments, where a great deal of this research is done. These are correlations at best, and do not show causal relationships. Researchers and the press often extrapolate results, to unstudied people, that aren't indicated by the study. It makes sensational press.

There are no direct causes of violence. There is nothing about our overall society that leads people to do violent things.

There are predispositions in some individuals toward violence that include body chemistry problems and mental problems. For example, violent criminals often share genetic and other biochemical traits. These traits don't make them criminals, but make some of them more likely to be influenced toward criminal behavior than others.

It is very unfortunate that studies go to the press without the results first being reviewed by unbiased experts. There are many sources of studies which are notorious for putting out biased points of view, which is obvious both in their research methodolgy and in the interpretation of their results. Many other studies suffer from the constraints of college environments.

Indirect influences that make violence more acceptable to some

There are indirect influences that make violence more acceptable to some:

The biggest influence is the predominance of violence in an individual's life. For example, after wars, those who return from war are more inclined toward violence for a while, and there is a general increase in violence in society for a while. This influence fades over time.

Those who live with violence in their family or neighborhood, are much more inclined to do violent things. This is likely because they do not learn more appropriate ways to handle stress, anger, frustration, and relationships, but instead they do learn violent methods.

Those who live in violent neighborhoods, are more likely to accept violence as a solution.

Violence is much more common among those under 25, who haven't yet adjusted to society and non-violent ways of doing things, and for whom consequences don't yet have full weight in their minds and attitudes (is fully developed around age 28), and who lack risk-taking restraint.

Gun violence happens typically where there is a culture of violence. "Culture of violence" is misinterpreted to mean all of the US. This happens because there is no clear definition that we all use, and people use the term to mean things like depictions of violence on TV and in video games. A culture of violence comes from living in direct contact with violence. This is most often in the inner cities in areas of major poverty, is further represented by males in their late teens and early twenties, and is further represented by convicts. This is from the statistics. The rate of violent acts outside those areas is much smaller.

Drugs and alcohol are typically a very strong influence in violent acts.

There are many other factors, such as demographics (like poverty and jobless areas), that are of lesser influence.

Next: Likely influences, and the influence on young children

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Likely influences, and the influence on young children

More recently we are seeing that the inability of individuals to resolve problems, and obsessing about it, helps drive them to relieve their extreme frustration through violent methods. We're seeing this in lone terrorists who obsess about perceived injustice presented to them on Web sites and other venues. They are unable to resolve the injustice, so they eventually resort to violence. We're seeing it in lone shooters who obsess over perceived injustice to them, and are isolated from others and unable to find a resolution, and so kill in schools and other settings to leave a permanent mark on the world, as attested to by the news and other's pain.

An integral part of the problem is the glorification of violent people in the media. Such figures as the outlaw Jesse James, and Bonnie and Clyde, are made into movie heroes. The nightly local news is saturated with long lists of who killed who. Police chases become spectacles with second by second by helicopter video until someone wrecks, dies, or gets caught. Even O.J. Simpson was given celebrity status in the media during his pursuit by police and in his trial. Violent people are paraded before the court on TV and in the media, and during mass killings they immediately become infamous celebrities who get months of attention as everyone gasps and mourns at the tragedy, and for the next several months tries to figure out why. We also have a major military presence that has to use violent means to resolve problems in other areas of the world. While society is not violent, there is a glamour side of violence, and it is very opportunistic. Kill someone - make a big splash in the media. TV stations continue to do this to improve ratings.

In contrast, we don't glorify non-violent means of resolving the inevitable conflicts that come in life. Anger management is laughed at and made the butt of jokes. Overpowering others is preferred to conflict resolution in a dog eat dog world. Polarization, control, and demanding what you want is preferred to compromise. What we are currently insisting on in society, especially in politics and social positions, is our own way at any cost to others. Yet non-violent methods and negotiating for win-win outcomes works.

Movies and video games are not an influence over people's behavior. This has been very well studied for many decades, and no causal link has been found. A man may walk out of a James Bond movie and feel that he is James Bond for a moment, but that feeling quickly fades as epinephrine levels go back down. Young adults may play violent video games for three days straight, and make temporary "aggressive expectation" responses in lab surveys. The studies that have shown a short term link to somewhat more aggressive responses, are not able to show a lasting link - nothing that would cause a significant rise in violence in society.

Both young adults and adults, realize the difference between fiction and real life. Violence in these media have no resemblance to violence in real life. One is entertaining, the other is very traumatic. Study after study has shown that movies have no impact. Some studies even show that violent movies decrease violence ( for a short period. This may be because they act to release frustration and anger (cathartic, satisfying vicarious experience), but researchers theorize it may be due to drawing the person away from other violent activities and atmospheres for that night. Violent movies and video games may be a reflection of our culture - although they are more likely simply harmless escapism. But they don't directly or indirectly cause anything.

The exception to this is young children

Violent movies and video games are a significant influence when introduced to children at a young age ( Studies of children ages 6 to 10, who were followed over a period of 15 years, showed that those children were significantly more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as young adults.

Young children should not watch scripted wresting. Wrestlers do all kinds of actions against their opponents, such as hitting them with chairs or jumping on them from high places, which would badly harm or kill someone if this was actually done to them. Children have mimicked these moves and killed other children. Children do not have the life experience to know that these things are harmful, and don't know that this stuff is scripted. It's fiction, but it looks real. Some violent movies are likely to have the same influence over young children because they don't have the life experience to discern what is real and what is fiction.

The problem of guns

Does this mean the same thing for guns? The short answer is yes, and the long answer is no. Guns do not influence people to kill other people, except for the fact that the presence of a gun in a situation is likely to cause a fatal result, and the higher the capacity, the larger the result. If you remove certain types of weapons, then those can't be used to cause mass murder. It's like asking, should we pass out nuclear weapons to every home because they are fun to play with? No, someone will use them to kill... everyone. The more people a weapon is able to kill at one time, the larger the number of people will be killed in these incidents.

Next: The influence of movies, and the influence of real violence.





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The influence of movies, and of real violence

Movies are not totally without influence. Alfred Hitchcock's movie Psycho, has kept women afraid of showers in hotel rooms for decades, to the point that some won't take a shower in hotels. But the ability of a movie to influence people even in a small way toward more violent activity is very doubtful. Why?

First, consider hypnosis. Hypnosis can be used to help people overcome behaviors that they want to stop. But hypnosis can't be used to make people do things they don't want to do. You don't change people's core values easily. If you ever try to work with attitude change, you discover how deeply ingrained attitudes are and how difficult they are to change. People don't easily go against their core values. Movies don't change core values.

Violence is very traumatic. For many people to even be able to do violence to another person, it is necessary for them to suppress their self-restraint through drugs or alcohol. Even in domestic violence, alcohol is a major contributor. People make very poor decisions and have very little self-restraint under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

In real life, the threat of violence triggers the fight or flight syndrome, the stress response, which includes the release of glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex and catecholamines from the adrenal medulla and sympathetic nerves. These are powerful neurotransmitters and often cement unwanted traumatic memories into our brains. Imagine a soldier in war settings 24 hours a day, or a person who lives with the threat of violent abuse from a spouse or other family member 24 hours a day, or a person who lives in a neighborhood where violence on the street is common and the threat of violence to loved ones and neighbors is constant and often occurs. These are people who often learn violent responses to situations. Yet we know that when these people are removed from violent situations, their rate of violent acts goes down over time and they cease to live in fear or to respond violently to stress.

Now consider people who love to watch horror movies, which are very violent and designed to scare, and consider people who play violent video games, and people who shoot at targets. People love the raised adrenaline levels from some of these activities. But does it make them choose violent responses in real life? There is a huge difference between real life danger and pretend. Risk takers generally go jump off mountains, or do rescue work, not go shoot people. People who love to be scared go watch scary movies. People who want these things find appropriate outlets.

Now compare: We do see increased violence among some of those who live with the stress of real violence for long periods of time. We have no indication that those who experience pretend violence for fun are more prone to violence. We are not even looking at the same things.

To show that there is an increase in violence among those young adults who play violent video games and watch violent movies, we would need long term (several year) longitudinal studies that compare the rates of violence among those young adults who begin with these activities after the age of 12, and those who don't, while controlling for other factors that are known to increase rates of violence in this age group, such as living in violent situations and genetic factors. These are still correlational studies, but when suspect variables are controlled, the results should indicate if there does appear to be a positive correlation and where further studies are needed.

The following articles confirm much of what I said in the preceding, and tells more about violence prevention:

Wikipedia article, Violence.

NIH article, The influence of stress hormones on fear circuitry.

Just Facts - a resource for independent thinkers (research results held to a higher standard).

- Dorian


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