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Does Viewing Violent Media Really Cause Criminal Violence?: A Methodological Review

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 10 Issue: 1 Dated: November-December 2004 Pages: 99-128
Joanne Savage
Vincent B. Van Hasselt, Michel Hersen
Date Published
November 2004
30 pages
This paper provides a review of all published studies, in English, that examine the effects of viewing television and film violence on criminal behavior.
This review is organized by study methodology starting with aggregate-level studies (cross-sectional and longitudinal), followed by individual-level studies (experimental and quasi-experimental), and ending with correlational studies and prospective longitudinal studies. The criteria for evaluating studies organized by study type are summarized in table format. The criteria are based on contemporary standards of research in criminology and criminal justice and knowledge gained from reviewing several decades of television and media research. Each study was evaluated based on the set of appropriate criteria, with more detail given on the specific methodological criteria sought for that particular study type. The review found that there were only two cross-sectional studies and four longitudinal studies that have attempted to evaluate whether television viewing or violence viewing affects crime rates at the aggregate level. For individual-level studies, the review found 12 studies comparing groups in an experimental or quasi-experimental setting. Approximately four to five of the studies suggest that watching violent television or films is associated with “violent” or analogous behavior, yet five of the studies found no effect of violence exposure, and four suggest a negative effect, that children who watched the control television programs were more violent than those who watched the violent program. A review of the prospective longitudinal studies found that evidence for an effect on criminal behavior is practically nonexistent and the evidence for an effect on aggression is very weak at best. Recommendations are made for future research. References and 3 tables