New Research Sees Correlation Between Violent Bible Passages and Aggression

In what is likely to be a controversial finding, a team of researchers reports a correlation between violent sciptural passages and real-life aggression.

The research, which may have implications in the ongoing debate over the effects of video game violence, was conducted in part at Utah’s Brigham Young University. As reported by the Deseret News:

a study of 490 students — 248 of them at Brigham Young University — suggests a correlation between exposure to scriptural violence that is condoned by God and increased aggression.

University of Michigan psychologist Brad Bushman, BYU professor Robert Ridge and three other researchers co-wrote “When God Sanctions Killing,” which will appear in the March issue of Psychological Science magazine.

Ridge was careful to point out that the study was not meant as an attack on biblical writings:

We were not saying that reading the scriptures is bad, but we were pointing out that if a person was seeing that kind of (violent) literature, it could have some negative effects… when you think about terrorists and they say, ‘God will sit in judgment,’ and they sometimes refer to a scripture, our question was, ‘Could that really make a person behave more aggressively?’ And the answer is, yes, it could.

In the study, student volunteers were shown bible passages containing references to violent acts such as rape, beatings and murder. Half of the survey group were then shown an additional passage indicating that God sanctioned violent retribution. Those who were given this additional information responded with increased aggression in a subsequent measurement.

The Deseret News reports that the researchers believe their findings are consistent with other studies which show correlation between aggression and violent movies, music and video games. On this point, Ridge said:

We’re not saying that just in and of itself violent media is uniformly bad but oftentimes there is no redeeming context to it…  But if a person dives into (a violent passage) without the context, you could probably get some increased aggression.

Among the researchers involved in the scriptural violence study, Dr. Bushman has prior background with research on aggression and violent video games. In 2005 he was a member of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media. That group issued an oft-cited report linking violent games to increased aggression.

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