Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Data doesn't lie: violent and sexual media are not influencing children

I, for one, want to know when people are going to stop bashing violent and sexual media. Case in point, here are two articles, one is about teens, wrestling, and violence; the other is about teens, "raunchy music", and sex (those poor teens, it's always something). Violence and sex are the two darlings of reporters and sociologists wanting to get their names places; suggesting a link guarantees at least a mention in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, when someone says, "It's yet more evidence that, when it comes to kids and [violent] media, learning happens," their conclusions are going to be suspect. Or how about, "Whether it's hip-hop, rap, pop or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found." Do theses researchers ever consider the possibility that the innately violent seek out violent media? Or that the kids who have sex at ten like sexual lyrics? It's completely obvious, but it never gets mentioned.

Continue reading...You'd think that in a day and age where studies have found that genetic factors determine about 50% of our personality (taken from Matt Ridley's The Agile Gene) that these "researchers" (who are often nameless) would start to suggest that these forms of media (whether violent or sexual) cater to the people who are already violent or sexual, instead of causing the behavior.

It turns out that humans are sexually maturing younger than ever, to the point where some are suggesting that 6 or 7 be considered normal age for girls to hit puberty, whereas a couple centuries ago it might not happen until 17 (New Scientist, July 22, subscription required). Assuming kids are having sex earlier and more often, should it be a surprise? Physiologically they might be at the point where they should be starting. Maybe our age of adolescence is what's out of whack, or the fact that we're eating so well (as was suggested in the article). No one stops to consider that maybe children are maturing earlier than they used, so the idea of when things are “supposed” to happen is outdated.

But that's just one possibility. "However, Yvonne K. Fulbright, a New York-based sex researcher and author, said factors including peer pressure, self-esteem and home environment are probably more influential than the research suggests." I agree with her, but she gets two paragraphs, less than the 17-year-old sex-ed site manager, who has no supporting evidence at all for her claims. She just says, "Teens will try to deny it, they'll say 'No, it's not the music,' but it IS the music." Yeah, and while we’re jumping to baseless conclusions, Heavy Metal makes kids bite the heads off of bats and worship Satan.

However, the most damning evidence is the data on sex. Teen pregnancy rates are falling, and have been for quite some time. 2003 (the most recent year I found data for) had the lowest rates in 15 years. According to the CDC, more teens are abstaining, and fewer teens are having sex now than in 1995. So why, if sexual lyrics are corrupting our children, are the children having sex less? I guess facts don’t matter when we’re talking about sex.

It's almost as though the baby boomers forgot how Rock and Roll was supposed to corrupt the moral fabric of the youth beyond all repair. Funny how they're spewing the same garbage that was spewed fifty years ago. It's just as wrong then as it is now.

And the violence. Oh boy the violence. How is it, that when violence rates are the lowest they've been in over forty years, and have been declining for thirteen, we could be an epidemic of violence? If we’re in an epidemic of violence, why have almost all forms of violence in schools declined in the past ten years? How is it that violent videogames, which came about in the last decade or two, could be responsible for increased violence if violence has decreased? How is it that, according to the Surgeon General, there are 27 factors that increase violent behavior more so than violent media, such as socioeconomic status, academic failure, poor parent-child relations, weak social ties, and being male? How can anyone claim violent media is destroying our society? It's more likely that, giving the falling rates coinciding with the rise of videogames, they're making it better! Of course, I realize that correlation does not indicate causation, so I will leave that as a hypothesis and, unlike the "researchers" in these articles, not just state facts from nothing.

Violence has always existed, and it will always continue to exist. There's no way to get people to stop hurting each other. Some people are more prone to it than others, just by their genes or environment (by environment I mean family and socioeconomic status). Arguably, by giving those people a way to express their violent tendencies without hurting anyone, videogames (and perhaps other media too) do a great good. But this is pure speculation, and unlikely to ever be seriously studied.

Googling “violence” and “videogames” invariably brings up a study from Iowa State University that claims a connection between violent videogames and desensitization to violence. There was a decreased physiological response resulting from playing videogames, but this in no way makes those people more likely to commit crimes. Perhaps violent videogames really do desensitize people to violence, it seems to be the case for a short time after exposure, but there is no proof that this makes people more likely to be violent, which is what’s really important.

What I really think we should study is why people consistently claim that new things, things that they don’t understand, and things that scare them are destroying the world. There are dozens of examples, from videogames to filesharing to homosexuality to the Theory of Evolution. There are tons of historical ones, Rock and Roll and heliocentric theory spring immediately to mind. Fortunately, it seems as though many, if not most, people see through these inane fears, and I’m hopeful that in time these fears will be relegated to the fringe minorities. That would truly be a great day.

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4 Comments:

  • Every age has what it blames for the degredation of society. One of the greatest minds of his time, Socrates, was forced to drink poison for corrupting the youth of Athens. Video games and rap music are just the latest scapegoats.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 PM, August 16, 2006  

  • Great article. You make some great points. I agree that those predisposed to violence and trouble probably seek out violent trouble. But would you say that since that since violent internet, television, video games, and music are so readily available, it influences those already predisposed to violent behavior to become and possibly perform even more violent acts?

    By Anonymous james, at 4:26 PM, August 16, 2006  

  • james, it's possible, but I find it unlikely. I think it's more likely that by providing an arena to get those impulses out without hurting anyone, videogames help the problem. But I could very well be wrong, and I'm sure some people are made worse by violent media, just so few it hardly justifies the reaction.

    By Blogger stupac2, at 4:30 PM, August 16, 2006  

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