Researchers Agree: Too Soon to Judge Influences on Arizona Killer

An article in Scientific American featuring comments from psychologist Craig Anderson (director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University) and psychologist Christopher Ferguson (Texas A&M International University) comes to the conclusion that many in the media are drawing conclusions with little evidence when it comes to Arizona killer Jared Loughner.

While the media tries to say that Loughner was influenced by heavy metal music, angry political speech, and video games, both Anderson and Ferguson agree that more details on the individual are required to come to any kind of conclusion.

Here’s what Anderson says about it:

"The problem in any specific case is that you can’t really know for sure whether an incident would have happened had not there been, say, a lot of media violence exposure," says psychologist Craig Anderson, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University. "In this particular case, we can’t really know whether such shootings would have taken place had there not been this recent history of fairly nasty political exchanges in the press."

Ferguson zeros in on video games:

"There is still some debate about whether it is a risk factor, and I would argue that it’s not," Ferguson says of video games, noting that violent crimes among juveniles have been on the decline even as games have increased in both prevalence and graphicness.

Similarly, studies by Ferguson and by other researchers, such as economist Todd Kendall, have found a decrease in rates of rape that coincides with increased availability of pornography. "Once again you see this sort of inverse relationship across not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well between pornography consumption and the actual rates of sexual violence," Ferguson says. That does not mean that video games prevent violence, or that pornography curbs sexual crime, but it does highlight the difficulty in establishing a casual relationship between any one medium and a group’s behavior, let alone the actions of an individual.

Ferguson goes on to say that many are being irresponsible:

"It’s irresponsible in my opinion to start blaming anything until we know more about this individual," Ferguson says. "I think we’re really rushing to judgment, and that’s not to say that I like this kind of political speech. I find it atrocious, like everybody else."

Anderson agrees:

"I think it would be fair to say that when political discourse gets more and more strident, and when there are images portrayed on the Web where you have a scope sight as part of your attack on your political opponent, that isn’t helpful. I think that’s safe to say. But whether or not it plays any major causal role in any given case, it’s just impossible to say."

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