Are We Training Our Children to Kill?
By Dr. Tom Synder, Editor
More American politicians and citizens, including Pres. Trump, are calling for the country’s leaders and people to consider the effects of media violence on mass shootings, in the wake of three recent mass shootings in California and Ohio that left 34 people dead and many more wounded, in the space of only one week.
Thousands of studies have shown that depictions of violence in the mass media can lead to actual violent behavior among consumers of such violence, especially children and teenagers.
Two new double-blind studies, one on movies conducted in 2017 and a follow-up study on video games conducted in 2019, show that watching characters use guns in movies and video games can encourage children to use guns, Dr. Brad Bushman, Professor of Communications and Psychology at Ohio State University, reported in a recent article in Psychology Today.
In the 2017 study, 104 children aged 8-12 were tested in pairs who knew each other. The children were “randomly assigned to watch a 20-minute clip from a PG movie with guns or the same clip with the guns edited out.” After watching the clips, the children were able to play for 20 minutes with toys, with a real disabled 9-mm handgun hidden in a cabinet.
Bushman said 72 percent of the children, 75 children, found the handgun.
“Children who watched the movie clip with guns held the handgun longer (53.1 seconds versus 11.1 seconds),” Bushman writes, “and pulled the trigger more times (2.8 times versus 0.01 times) than those who saw the same movie clip without guns.”
Bushman adds, “One boy pointed the real gun out the laboratory window at people in the street.”
In the 2019 study on video games, 220 children aged 8-12 were also tested in pairs. In this study, however, the children played one of three versions of the same video game, one version where the player could kill monsters with guns, one where they could kill monsters with swords, and one with no weapons or monsters. Also, two handguns were hidden in the toy cabinet.
“Children who played the video game with guns handled the gun longer (91.5 seconds versus 71.7 seconds in the sword condition and 36.1 seconds in the nonviolent condition), pulled the trigger more times (10.1 times versus 3.6 times in the sword condition and 3.09 times in the nonviolent condition), including at themselves or their partner (3.4 times versus 1.5 times in the sword condition and 0.2 times in the nonviolent condition).”
Bushman concludes, “Taken together, these studies suggest that exposure to violence in the media can increase children’s dangerous behavior around real firearms.”
Dr. Bushman reached two other conclusions from his team’s two studies:
“First, gun owners should secure their weapons. Guns are not toys for children. Second, parents should monitor the media their children consume, because children who see media characters use guns may be more likely to use real guns themselves if they have the chance.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, about 19.41 children each day are shot by guns in the United States, with about 3.55 children each day dying from their wounds.
Sources: Dr. Brad Bushman, Psychology Today, 07/31/19, MOVIEGUIDE®, and The Trace, 06/19/17.