Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 15, 2013

Report links violent media, mental health and guns to mass shootings

National Science Foundation study was requested by Congressman following Sandy Hook massacre

By Truman Lewis
ConsumerAffairs.com

— A report compiled by an advisory committee to the National Science Foundation (NSF) details three major risk factors associated with mass shootings --exposure to violent media, mental health, and access to guns.

The report was requested by Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, said the report supports his belief that rampage shootings are the result of multiple factors, including access to firearms, mental health issues, and exposure to violent media, including violent video games. 

Wolf said he was expecting to hear President Obama’s plan to address the role of media violence and mental health in episodes of mass violence during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, but was disappointed those topics were left out.

“To only focus on one piece of a large and complicated puzzle is irresponsible,” he said.

Outspoken lawmaker

Wolf, an outspoken lawmaker who has long represented a Northern Virginia district, has previously advocated measures that would prevent health insurers from placing discriminatory restrictions on mental health and addiction treatments, and has repeatedly cosponsored legislation aimed at protecting children from violent and sexually explicit video games and Hollywood films.

“While I recognize the potential constitutional issues involved in tackling media violence, mental health parity and gun control, I am disappointed that mental health issues and media violence were left out of the president’s address,” Wolf said.  “The president said that the victims of mass shootings, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the college students at Virginia Tech, the children at Sandy Hook, the high school students at Columbine, and the movie-goers in Aurora all deserve a vote for gun control proposals. 

"How can he in good conscience call for that, but not acknowledge the fact that each one of the shooters in those events was mentally disturbed?  How could he not acknowledge the role that violent media played in some of their lives?  The president has failed the American people and the families of the victims by remaining frustratingly silent on these crucial issues and ignoring the other central factors related to mass violence of this kind,” Wolf said.

Violent games

The NSF report examines exposure to violent media, including video games, movies, television, apps, music and comic books. Violent video games increase aggressive thoughts and behavior, angry feelings and physiological arousal, and decrease helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others, according to the report. 

The researchers also said that rating systems have not kept up with the increasingly violent content of popular media, and there is no standard rating system in the U.S.

Exposure to violent media is “one of the easiest risk factors to change,” according to one study in the report.  It included possible solutions such as more warning labels, establishing a universal rating system that would make ratings among all types of media uniform and easier to understand, and educating parents.

Wolf also is considering legislation that would require reduced-violence versions of video games with less-realistic images (i.e. blue-colored blood), similar to measures that are already in place in Europe.

Media coverage

The report also questioned whether the extensive media coverage that takes place following a shooting negatively affects adolescents.

“The news media cover rampage shootings heavily, but very little is known about the effects of such coverage on adolescents and young adults,” one study said.  “Does such coverage increase thoughts of imitation, as it seems to in suicide?  Is it more likely to influence thoughts of imitation among youth who already have thoughts of suicide and homicide?”

Another study the report cited dealt with mental health, examining “signaling behavior” among rampage shooters.  Perpetrators are generally at the early onset of severe mental illness, with symptoms they find frightening, but often go entirely undiagnosed or untreated, according to the report.  Those who survive into their 20s often develop full-blown mental disorders that are immediately recognized, but at the age of 12-14, these conditions are often just beginning, but lead the shooter to magnify slights and feel severely depressed by rejection, the study showed.

Still another study found that there might even be a link between these three main factors, with a particular tie between mental instability and consumption of violent media. 

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.