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How social context influences violence-aggression relationship

kat · 1 · 12415

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Offline kat

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A new study from the University of Amsterdam "A different(ial) perspective: How social context influences the media violence-aggression relationship among early adolescents" looks at the problem of violence in media from a slightly different perspective. Rather than trying to say whether games cause violence, a non-falsifiable supposition[1], they instead look to see what type of person is likely to be more influenced by violent media consumption. The thesis is interesting in this regard because it takes a less inflammatory approach to the problem, one highlighted by the opening page;
Parent: My stepson (12) has been playing Call of Duty Black Ops [...]. We wanted to limit it, but then he would just play at his friend’s house. Since we’ve had the game, he gets angry or aggressive over nothing at all. At school, they’re also having problems with his behavior. I’m not sure if it’s the game, but it’s certainly remarkable.

Child: Well, sorry, but this is just ridiculous. I am 17 years old now and have been playing Call of Duty since I was 13, and it didn’t make me violent. Games like that don’t harm us, especially because they’re not realistic.

This raises a lot of questions in terms of the differing levels of concern Individuals have over the consumption of violent media, which given the boys response, seem largely unfounded; does this mean the father was a good Dad able to steer his son away from an expected outcome over the intervening years. Or was the boy just a good Son able to filter virtual violence and avoid becoming the murderous monster his father feared. Why did the father even equate the game as the cause of sons apparent behavioural issues rather than perhaps turning that gaze inwards towards the home, or just the 'growing pains' of adolescence. The Amsterdam Thesis attempts to address this by taking into account participants backgrounds and disposition to see what, if any, correlation there is to aggression in teens.

In a nutshell the Authors conclude that individuals poorly situated societally are far more likely to be drawn to violent media, and that for them, it has greater potential for more profound negative effect than it does for those in better circumstances. With that said however, the study goes to great length to make clear correlation does not equal causation, that some, not all, from such backgrounds may be predisposed, but that in of itself does not mean they will be aggressive or violent. In other words, poverty or poor social status is a predictor of potential, not confirmation of fact.

As even-handed as the thesis is though, its still prone to the same shortfalls, namely not recognising that "aggression" and "violence" typically mean something entirely different to academics than they do to the media narrative; for academicians "violence" is highly conditional and temporal, to the media its an explosive evil to be sensationalised and exploited. The two interpretations of the word are so vastly different they might as well be polar opposites. In this regard the Amsterdam study fails, like so many others, so it's results will yet again be used as proof of the media narrative, that now individuals from socially deprived environments playing violent games will be killers, despite that not being what the study actually concludes.

[1] To definitively answer the question it would be nessariy to test the theory in ways that an actual killer or at least violent person was the outcome.