Interest of the Amici Curiae
scholars in the fields of media, psychology, and culture. They view
the relationship between entertainment and human behavior as
multi-faceted and complex. They are concerned when, as in this case,
a court relies on commonly held but mistaken beliefs about a proven
causative link between violent entertainment and violent behavior to
uphold a censorship law. They file this brief pursuant to F.R.A.P.
29, in an effort to assist the court in understanding the "media
effects" debate .
Summary of the Argument
St. Louis County Council, in passing Ordinance #20.193, and the
district court, in upholding it, relied on the assumption that video
games containing "graphic violence" cause violent behavior. The
Council heard testimony from psychologist Craig Anderson that
playing violent video games "for as short as 10 to 15 minutes"
causes "aggressive behavior" and, more broadly, that "there is a
causal connection between viewing violent movies and TV programs and
violent acts." J.A. 3, 4. The trial court relied on these
statements, adding that according to Anderson, video games are
"addictive" and "provide a complete learning environment for
aggression." J.A. 772-73.
County Council and the court were mistaken. Most studies and
experiments on video games containing violent content have not found
adverse effects. Researchers who do report positive results have
generally relied on small statistical differences and used dubious
"proxies" for aggression, such as recognizing "aggressive words" on
a computer screen. Indeed, research on media violence more generally
has also failed to prove that it causes – or is even a "risk factor"
for – actual violent behavior. As psychologist Guy Cumberbatch has
real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this
field could draw any conclusions about the pattern, let alone argue
with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm
of violence on television, in film and in video games. While tests
of statistical significance are a vital tool of the social sciences,
they seem to have been more often used in this field as instruments
of torture on the data until it confesses something which could
justify publication in a scientific journal. If one conclusion is
possible, it is that the jury is not still out. It's never been in.
Media violence has been subjected to lynch mob mentality with almost
any evidence used to prove guilt .
torturing of research data on media effects has been driven by a
"causal hypothesis" held by some psychologists, that youngsters will
imitate fantasy violence. There is some common-sense appeal to this
hypothesis. But seemingly common-sense notions do not always turn
out to be correct. And researchers' attempts to reduce the myriad
effects of art and entertainment to numerical measurements and
artificial laboratory experiments are not likely to yield useful
insights about the way that viewers actually use popular culture.
Likewise, in a field as complex as human aggression, it is
questionable whether quantitative studies can ever provide an
adequately nuanced description of the interacting influences that
cause some people to become violent.
Violent crime rates across the United States have fallen
significantly in the past decade, even while fantasy violence in
entertainment has increased – and while video games, especially
violent ones, have become a staggeringly popular form of
entertainment. Youth violence in particular has seen dramatic
This does not mean that youth violence is not a serious problem – or
for that matter, that media messages do not have powerful effects.
But those effects are much more diverse and difficult to quantify
than believers in the causal hypothesis generally acknowledge. And
efforts to address real-world violence by censoring entertainment
are profoundly misguided.