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."

Image source

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    Well, there’s a subtle difference. Video games don’t urge people to kill people. People on the far political right have been doing just that, with phrases like "We need a second amendment solution". The words "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest" come to mind. Murderous words, unlike violent video games, can lead to people getting killed.

  2. 0
    Arell says:

    I agree, that’s not speculation, that’s something he really was obsessed with.  And incident with his stupid question didn’t "make him do it," rather it just focused his crazy vibes on Gifford.  Nobody’s saying that he killed her because she couldn’t answer his bullshit question, we’re just noting that it created a (loose) history between the shooter and Gifford.  I think Erik’s first post is valid.

    Quite simply, he had mental issues and killed someone he didn’t like.

  3. 0
    Erik says:

    Oh, well I guess we should ignore the fact that the people closest to him have said that he was completely obsessed with the congrress woman and the, in his words, inadequate answer to his question.

    Instead lets just go, I DUNNO.  It is so much easier that way.  Thanks for hindering society.

    Is it really so wrong to say that a crazy person was crazy?  Really?  You know sometimes things are cut and dry.  If a guy killed someone who slept with his wife, are we going to do some deep introspective and try to see if his mother hugged him enough when he was a child or some other crap and ignore the obvious?

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  4. 0
    Avalongod says:

    It’s true…it’s always easy to point a facile finger of blame at something you don’t value.  That’s much of what fuels the video game moral panic.  My hats off to you for recognizing it (we all do it of course).  Now if only the rest of America could do the same…

  5. 0
    Arell says:

    I stumbled this week when I realized I was being a hypocrite.  I’ve been in opposition to the notion that violent media makes people violent, that playing a video game makes someone more likely to pick up a gun and shoot someone.  But when this tragedy broke, I was more than happy to jump on the bandwagon with blaming incendiary political discourse (like some Tea Party favorite saying we may need a "second amentment solution" to the health care reform debate, suggesting that maybe they should just arm themselves and shoot up people they disagree with) as a key factor in his decision to kill.  I hate the political climate today, there’s no room for compromise.  And a lot of media personalities are feeding on the insecurities and fears of the people to push an "Us versus Them" mentality.  But I have to accept that this wasn’t what caused him to kill.

    Video games don’t turn normal kids into sociopathic monsters, it just happens that sociopathic monsters are drawn to violent media.  They’re already like that.  So too, this guy was off his rocker.  Maybe all the nasty rhetoric and conspiracy theorists fed into his delusions, but it didn’t cause it.  Millions of normal people who listen to the Becks and Palins of the world, are appauled by what this man did.  Their opinions may be swayed, but they’re not being brainwashed into doing violent criminal acts.

    It’s like another guy last year.  Avid Beck fan, became convinced that the gov’t was coming to get him and his guns.  So when some police entered his appartment building one day, he killed 3 of them.  Beck may be an asshole, but he didn’t make this guy kill those cops.

  6. 0
    Erik says:

    This guy, from what I’ve been reading, has a big language hard-on.  Unfortunately this is coupled with the fact that he is not as deep as he believes himself to be.  The reason that he shot Giffords in the first place is due to the fact that he had previously posed the question: "If words have no meaning then what is government?", and he didn’t like her answer to his pseudo intellectual bullshit.  And apparently after that fact that he dropped Giffords name a LOT in conversation.  Because she couldn’t answer his, uknown to him, meaningless bullshit he stewed on it endlessly.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  7. 0
    Samster says:

    And maybe, some day, people will understand that being drawn towards certain types of media because of your underlying issues is not the same thing as said media causing those underlying issues.

  8. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    It’s not too soon to judge the influences on him. The guy was a grade 1 nutter. Being a complete wack-job influenced him to kill. Anyone who has read his YouTube rants can see that this guy was at least as batshit-crazy as Dr. Strangelove’s Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. Jared Loughner’s loony warnings about ‘mind control” sound a lot like Jack D. Ripper’s fear of his ‘precious bodily fluids’ being sapped.

  9. 0
    Left4Dead says:

    How many friends does this guy actually have (or had)?  Did people go out of their way to include him in their circle or did they eschew him and mock him?  Any girlfriends or romantic relationships?  Close friends provide stability in a person’s life even with unstable individuals.

    – Left4Dead

    Why are zombies always eating brains? I want to see zombies that eat toes for a living. Undead-related pun intended.

    -- Left4Dead --

  10. 0
    Zerodash says:

     What I find fascinating about this particular case is that this guy turns out to be quite complex- with conspiracy theories, book/movie influences, and quirks that span all over the political spectrum.  This guy has aspects that identify with both the right and left as well as traits that each political dogma pruportes (spelling WTF) to hate.  

    This guy is mentally unstable but also turns out to be a real person who can’t be easily pigeon-holed into a particular designer strawman…regardless of what MSNBC, FoxNews, or the 700 Club would have us believe.

    Sadly, considering that people were already pointing fingers at their favorite strawmen before the crime scene was even cleared, it proves that we are living in classy times indeed.

Leave a Reply