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Social Psychology

Study finds violent video games are more likely to blamed for school shootings if the gunman is white

People tend to believe video games played a bigger role when school shooting are carried about by a white perpetrator compared to a black perpetrator, according to new research published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. The findings suggest that racial stereotyping is one reason some continue to blame video games for mass shootings.

“There is no scientific evidence linking playing violent video games to horrific acts of violence like homicides or school shootings,” said study author Patrick M. Markey (@PatMarkey), a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Villanova University.

“In fact, research done by numerous scholars from psychology, communication, criminology, sociology, and economics examining such violence have found that when people are consuming violent video games, societal violence decreases.”

“Despite this, the media politicians, and even some scholars – who should really know better – often link school shootings to video games. The current study was conducted to examine whether racial stereotyping might be one reason some continue to erroneously blame video games for school shootings.”

For their study, the researchers had 169 undergraduate students read a fake news story about a school shooting committed by an 18-year-old man who happened to be a video game enthusiast. The story included a mugshot of the perpetrator, which featured either a black or white suspect.

The participants were more likely to believe that violent video games were a factor in the crime when the suspect was white compared to when the suspect was black — even among participants who themselves reported playing video games. However, participants who didn’t play video games tended to place more blame on violent video games for the school shooting than those who did.

To bolster their findings, the researchers then created a database of 204,796 news articles about 204 mass shootings in the United States dating from 1978 to 2018. They found that video games were eight times more likely to be mentioned in news articles when the shooting occurred at a school and the perpetrator was a white male than when the shooter was an African American male.

“Because video games are disproportionately blamed as a culprit for mass shootings with white perpetrators, video game ‘blaming’ can be viewed as flagging a racial issue. Such ‘blaming’ serves as a symptom of a broader racial problem. This problem is one in which media sources and audiences are more receptive to alternate causes for mass shootings perpetrated by whites than by members of minority groups,” Markey told PsyPost.

“This disparity may have dire consequences, affecting not only perceptions of video games’ effects, but also reflecting disparities in the culpability we assign to criminals depending on their race.”

The findings suggest that people should be more cautious when discussing the influence of media on mass shootings.

“Media pundits, politicians, and even some researchers are quick to blame video games for horrific acts of violence when the perpetrators of these crimes do not fit their image of a person who might commit a violent crime,” Markey said.

“Given the growing body of research failing to find links between video games and real-world acts of violence hopefully people will be more careful when discussing media effects in the context of school shootings. Such a concern is particularly relevant given the findings from this study that such links seem to be embedded within a broader concern of racial stereotyping.”

The study, “He Does Not Look Like Video Games Made Him Do It: Racial Stereotypes and School Shootings“, was authored by Patrick M. Markey, James D. Ivory, Erica B. Slotter, Mary Beth Oliver, and Omar Maglalang.