As a feminist and a “sensitive viewer,” it wasn’t what Professor Joanne Savage wanted to find: a lack of evidence to suggest that violent media led to violent crime.
But as a criminologist, she had to face the facts. Conducting a meta-analysis of 26 studies involving 13,661 participants, Savage and colleague Christina Yancey found no reliable evidence between watching violence and committing it.
In the wake of recent high-profile rampage shootings, there is a revived public interest in the question that Joanne Savage has dedicated her career to answering: “Why does one person turn to violence and not another?”
This year, the National Science Foundation’s Subcommittee on Youth Violence published a report laying out those key factors, prominently citing Savage and Yancey’s meta-analysis. To Savage’s surprise, however, the report’s authors used her research to support the opposite of her conclusions, stating that “violent media exposure is…significantly linked to violent behavior.”
“Overall the report points out many important causes of violence and does a nice job articulating them,” said Savage, who is a board member of The American Society of Criminology’s new division on development and life-course criminology.
“But it’s incomprehensible why in a report attempting to address gun violence the first cause of violence discussed is media violence, a constant refrain since the December school shooting in Connecticut.”
Savage has had an uphill battle persuading her peers on the issue. While fellow researchers have claimed “thousands of studies” support the violent media-violent crime connection, Savage says that far fewer studies had been done than claimed, and most had serious methodological flaws. The researcher also points out that despite an “explosive growth in exposure to media violence” since the mid 1990s, the U.S. has seen record decreases in violent crime.
Meanwhile, the issue of media violence has become a smokescreen diverting attention from “an obvious, uncontroversial, correlate of violent crime – the availability of guns,” says Savage. “If we are we are serious about reducing shootings, there are a host of other causes to examine, and the easy availability of guns is certainly one of them.”
Savage hopes to someday soon turn her attention away from causes of violence and toward prevention, but for now, finds there is still much work to do clarifying the record on what factors do lead to violent behavior.