Research: Childhood Media Consumption Not a Predictor for Adult Criminality

A recent study by Texas A&M International University chair and associate professor, psychology Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson shows that childhood media consumption is not a predictor for future adult criminal behavior. The long-held (and as of yet unproven) argument has been that violent video games or other violent media have a direct causation to violent crimes like school shootings.

But according to a new study from TAMIU, genetics, environment, the lack of maternal nurturing, and a number of other factors combined are better predictors of adult criminality. The TAMIU study used data from a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included a representative sample of U.S. adolescents.

"We basically find that genetics and some social issues combine to predict later adult arrests," Dr. Ferguson stated. "Despite ongoing concerns about media influences, media exposure does not seem to function as a risk factor for adult criminality."

Researchers found that genetics accounted for more variance in criminal behavior among women (58 percent) than men (20 percent), but for both sexes, the genetic contribution was described as "significant." Researchers also noted that other factors such as "family environment, peers and socioeconomic status can also be predictors of adult criminality."

"Genetics was overall one of the strongest predictors of adult criminality among variables we considered in our analysis," Ferguson said.

"Genetics alone don’t seem to trigger criminal behavior, but in combination with harsh upbringing, you can see negative outcomes. In our sample, experiencing maternal warmth seemed to reduce the impact of genetics on adult criminality," Ferguson added.

The research also found that being exposed to maternal affection may have the potential to decrease criminal behavior in individuals who might otherwise be at risk. Ferguson noted that this research can help put the focus where it needs to be when it comes to violence and crime, and avoid areas where there is no link – like media violence.

"People may object morally to some of the content that exists in the media, but the question is whether the media can predict criminal behavior. The answer seems to be no," Ferguson said.

You can read the entire study here (PDF).


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