How Do Violent Media Influence Us?

By Max Resnik

July 24, 2012 Updated Jul 24, 2012 at 5:38 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A forensic psychologist says there is not enough evidence to support the idea that viewing violence can cause violent behavior. He does say, however, that correlations do exist.

As the story develops of James Holmes, the 24-year-old shooting suspect in the Colorado movie theater massacre, questions of his ideology and the purpose for the shootings have come to light as well. Some have drawn comparisons to a 1986 string of comic books about a redheaded man killing moviegoers at a Batman-inspired movie.

Violence in media like movies, television and video games, according to Stephen Ross, PsyD, a forensic psychologist, can have its greatest influence on individuals predisposed to violence and abuse. The same would also apply, according to Ross, to people raised under poor socioeconomic conditions.

“I think for those individuals who are probably predisposed to violent potential or violent acting out, this fuels it. Whether it causes it? No. Does it fuel it? What it does, it desensitizes you.”

The pieces of Holmes’ background that have emerged, such as aspirations to become a neuroscientist and coming from an upper-middle class family, do not allude to the aforementioned criteria for responding to violent media with violence, but Ross says other dispositions, still to be learned, could shed light on why and under which conditions Holmes allegedly shot moviegoers.

Ross says that when discussing Holmes’ alleged crimes or the crimes of any other alleged mass murderer, analysts have to be careful to say whether the continual viewing of violent media causes people to commit violent acts.

“There really is no scientific study that's out there that meets rigorous standards that can definitively say watching a horror movie like this of violence will result in the acts that are attributed to this defendant.”

Ross says most people, when viewing violence, should have some sort of visceral response to what they are viewing. He says viewers of violence who feel no emotion and who seek further avenues for violent media are people who could be influenced most by what they are watching.

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