Academic Psychiatry 28:144-150, June 2004
© 2004 Academic Psychiatry
Media Violence Research and Youth Violence Data: Why Do They Conflict?
Cheryl K. Olson, M.P.H., S.D.
Dr. Olson is Professor of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media,
Boston, Massachussetts. Address correspondence to Dr. Olson, Harvard Medical School Center for Mental
Health and Media, Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, 271 Waverley Oaks Rd.,
Waltham, MA 02452-8403; Cheryl_olson@hms.harvard.edu (E-mail).
Objective: Contrary to media headlines and public perceptions, there is little evidence of a substantial link
between exposure to violent interactive games and serious real-life violence or crime. Conclusion: Further
research is needed on whether violent games may affect less dramatic but real concerns such as bullying,
fighting, or attitudes and beliefs that support aggression, as well as how effects may vary by child
characteristics and types of games. There is also a need for research on the potential benefits of violent
games for some children and adults.
It's almost an American tradition to blame the corruption of youth on violent mass media, from the lurid
"half-dime" novels of the 19th century to 1930s gangster films and 1950s horror/crime comics (1). In 1972,
a report to the U.S. Surgeon General addressed then-growing concerns about violent television. Its authors
pondered how television content and programming practices could be changed to reduce the risk of
increasing aggression without causing other social harms. They concluded: "The state of present knowledge
does not permit an agreed answer" (2).
Violent video games are the most recent medium to be decried by researchers, politicians, and the popular
press as contributing to society's ills. In particular, they were implicated in a series of notorious shootings:
Although it is impossible to know exactly what caused these teens to attack their own classmates and
.. one possible contributing factor is violent video games. Harris and Klebold enjoyed playing the
bloody, shoot-'em-up video game Doom, a game licensed by the U.S. Army to train soldiers to effectively
(Anderson and Dill did not cite a source for the use of Doom by the military. However, according to the
web site of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Topographic Engineering Center, Doom II was indeed
licensed in 1996 and transformed into Marine Doom, which "teaches concepts such as mutual fire team
support, protection of the automatic rifleman, proper sequencing of an attack, ammunition discipline and
succession of command" [see www.tec.army.mil/TD/tvd/survey/Marine_Doom.html]).
"We've been seeing a whole rash of shootings throughout this country and in Europe that relate back to