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BYU Hinckley lecture: Science is clear, violent video games cause aggression

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 9:50 p.m. MST

Ohio State University professor Brad Bushman delivered BYU's annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture on Thursday night and said science refutes the conventional wisdom that violent media has only a trivial impact on aggression.

Joey Ferguson, Deseret News

PROVO — American teenagers hate Brad Bushman. "They hate me so bad," Bushman told a BYU audience Thursday night.

The researcher's daughter says he gets "fan mail," an ironic euphemism for the hate mail he receives.

"People who think video games cause violence should be shot," one teen wrote in a message to the Ohio State University professor.

Wearing a tan corduroy jacket and a salt-and-pepper beard, Bushman appeared affable enough Thursday night as he delivered the 10th annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture at BYU's Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center.

Bushman has studied violent media for 25 years and published more than 150 papers. That research has been cited so many times — 21,000 — that Google Scholar lists him as the second most-cited communications scholar in America.

On Thursday night, he laid out his scholarly review of 381 studies — with more than 130,000 participants — that looked at violent video game effects.

Based on that science, he said, "Playing violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, emotional arousal and aggression." They also make people "numb to the pain and suffering of others."

"All these effects are massive and statistically significant," Bushman added.

He said the largest effects found in the science are in the area that prove violent video games lead to increased aggressive behavior. There are 140 studies with more than 68,000 participants that establish that correlation.

"People who say there aren't enough studies on violent video games don’t know what they are talking about," Bushman said. "There is little margin of error, and the findings are so statistically significant that there is no question that violent video games affect behavior."

The Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture series is part of the endowed chair in social work and social sciences in her name at BYU. Each year, the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences invites a major national researcher with expertise in family issues to speak.

All five of the late Hinckleys' children attended the lecture. Past lectures can be found on YouTube and BYU's website.

Bushman described studies in which the participants randomly selected to play violent video games were more aggressive, in once case blasting noise through headphones at a competitor in a different city, than those who watched them play or who played neutral or pro-social games. Other studies showed violent video game players to be slower to help someone injured in a staged fight in a room next door.

Bushman said many Americans don’t accept what he described as established science for several reasons, including denial in the media industry, distaste for being told what to do, third-person effect, fallacious reasoning and cognitive dissonance.

An example of fallacious reasoning is something Bushman often hears from teens: "I've played violent video games my whole life and I never murdered anyone" or, "I never shot up a school."

This tests Bushman's patience. "Big deal," he said. "Nobody ever murders," relatively speaking. Just .1 percent of the "Big Eight" violent crimes tracked by the FBI are murders. School shootings are far rarer than that.

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