Monday, December 24, 2012

Violence In General - Part One

Sponge-Headed Scienceman and I were disagreeing about something at Bible Study – I know, our children will find it difficult to believe that anyone could ever disagree about anything in that group – and I thought I would like to open it out for discussion.

His contention, simplest version, is that culture and environment have considerable effect on outbursts of violence, and that violent video games in specific increase violence in some people.  My contention, simplest version, is that one would think so, but the general trend is the other way – we have a declining violent crime rate as entertainment gets more violent – and evidence has been lacking. 

To that end, he sent me this research, and this essay byCharles Krauthammer, who I respect and often agree with. I, of course, want to defend my POV simply because it’s mine, and am not giving these a fair shake, because that’s who I am. Such has long been understood by those who know me.  For my own self-regard, however, I like to appear as objective as possible before disagreeing. Plus, the two links actually do have strength, and I have some agreement.

Additional:  SHS offered the increased incarceration rate as a partial explanation for the reduction in violence, and I don’t disagree.  He did not develop that idea at any length, but that’s in his mix.  What else is there that he might think are factors we haven’t gotten to yet.

 First, I would like to thank the researchers for doing some of my work for me. I have had some contact with research exploring whether x increases or reduces violence for forty years or so, but I haven’t followed it closely.  I’ve just picked up things here and there over the years, sometimes professionally, sometimes just from general stuff I read.  So it saved me a lot of reading when they tell me that certain connections between violent material and desensitisation to violence have been demonstrated, but others haven’t.  I suspected that, because that has been the case repeatedly for years – researchers want to show that stuff they disapprove of is bad for you, but have trouble locking the case down.  It was nice to know that hadn’t changed much.

This research does take a step in that direction, however.  It’s not just about activation and arousal, which we observed well before we could watch it in the brain, but about actual bad behavior.  Subjects willingly did worse things to other people after being exposed to certain types of violence.  There’s a limit to how far you can go in testing this stuff.  You can’t run folks through a bunch of different possibilities, then kick them out the door with guns and see which group shoots the most people.  By its very nature, you have to look at a lot of indirect evidence and likely precursors to violence, rather than violence itself.  The test design was pretty clever in trying to get around that.

But I don’t think they get there, for more than one reason.  Nor does Krauthammer, who remarkably does not employ the reasoning in one paragraph of his essay to a later paragraph.  

Folks can anticipate where I'm going or begin to weigh in on their own.  But for openers, you can look at the language the researchers use to introduce their topic.


John Cunningham said...

I highly recommend a 1999 book by Col. DAve Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. he makes the point that highly realistic first person shooter games train kids in shooting and seriously de-sensitize them to killing humans. he cites hundreds of studies supporting this conclusion.

Dubbahdee said...

Grossman's book "On Killing" goes into detail regarding the psychology of killing, specifically in regards to training soldiers. The follow up "On Combat" explores the effects of such training on the psyche of the trained.

Is it possible that the limited cohort exposed to these games (young men under X age) produces a small sub-population disposed to asocial mass violence. The crime rate in the overall population may be reduced, while the rate of incidence of a specific kind of violence ("asocial mass violence) is going up due to the desensitization of this particular sub group?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

A question much on my mind. The opening answer is that this is hypothesised, but no evidence has been found to support it. However, the population that does these terrible things is so small that it is hard to measure with any degree of assurance what exactly is pushing them from contemplation to crime.

I will be bringing in the forensic information of what factors increase risk in predicting which mentally ill people who have committed crimes will reoffend. That is not quite the same question, but it is related. Violent games or the other things which make the op-ed page are not even on the radar in that literature.

Dubbahdee said...

What about research re: the effects of widespread prescription of anti-depressants on the same young population -- and their tendency to produce harmful behaviors in young patients?

A possible combination/intersection of two forces.

Probably no research on this either, but another interesting hypothesis. I've been hearing noise about it.