Home Media Violent TV Reduces, Not Increases, Real World Violence

Violent TV Reduces, Not Increases, Real World Violence



The idea that watching lots of violence increases the propensity to go commit violence is not silly. It is, in the economic jargon, a claim that watching violence is a complement to committing violence. Some things are complements, the consumption of grape jelly goes up in tandem with that of peanut butter for example – there being no earthly use for grape jelly other than in a PBJ after all.

However, it is also possible for things to be substitutes. The consumption of the one decreasing the consumption of the other. Whether something is a complement or a substitute is not something discernible a priori. Sure, we can have a pretty good guess, people stop eating breakfast and the consumption of marmalade falls maybe – except that wouldn’t be true in Portugal. What is which is something that needs to be observed.

And we now have an observation:

We document the immediate and long-term effects of violent media. Specifically, we evaluate the effects of The Ultimate Fighter, a hit TV show that features fighters competing in violent mixed martial arts and which brought Ultimate Fighting Championship into the mainstream. We estimate the effect of early exposure to this show using panel data from police agencies across the United States and a strategy that uses network ratings prior to the show’s premier as an instrumental variable. We show that early exposure significantly reduced crime: these effects are particularly evident for assault, began in the month the show premiered, and persisted for many years. These estimates do not reflect systematic differences across geographic areas in their trends in crime rates prior to 2005. To complement our main results, we also investigate the effects of “UFC Main Events,” which air in bars and on Pay-Per-View. This analysis additionally suggests reductions in violence caused by viewership.

One reason we like this research is that we knew Chuck Liddel back when he was a mild mannered accounting student but that’s all another story. And not entirely mild mannered either.

Watching violence reduces the propensity to create real world violence. Pretty cool, they’re substitutes, not complements. This has interesting implications too, it means that by keeping violence off the screens we actually increase the amount that is done to actual people. The censors lead to bloodiest lips and even corpses that is. And ain’t that interesting?

Of course, this isn’t the first time the same finding has been highlighted. We can track the spread of broadband internet across America, country by county, and the linked access to decent and free pornography. Reflected in the significant fall in rape. It appears that young men playing themselves into a stupor reduces their desire to get them some o’ that. Amazing, isn’t it?

We can even show that child pornography reduces the incidence of child molestation:

A result which is almost mindboggling. That more child pornography might lead to a reduction in the incidence of child abuse. There’s almost a case there for child victim units to get to work with Photoshop churning the stuff out.

No, I think the idea is as ridiculous as you do: but that is the direction the evidence leads us in.

Well, actually, it’s not ridiculous, is it? If it’s child abuse we wish to reduce then why not produce, subsidise even, that which reduces it?

And if we wish to reduce the violence done to persons in the real world then why not broadcast more violence?



  1. @mjohnm: Agreed. Now where did I read the current media coverage of mass shootings was the best incentive for the failed individuals who commit such crimes ? Instant fame for all the wrong reasons. Media and cops taking notice of them. A forensic psychiatrists autobiography methinks. At least plausible. As for observing or playing violence as entertainment, I know the video games industry has had this argument for years. I have no data for this, but think the effect may be on a curve. Exposure to play or simulated violence might reduce the central 80% of populations propensity to bash their neighbor, but having lived in violent (by western standards) cultures I cant help that there is a level where violent behavior is normalised . Normalisation makes violence seem unexceptional, increasing prevalence. For instance, 40% of males die in inter-tribal fighting in subsistence groups where war is the normal state of affairs.

  2. Dear Mr Worstall

    Does that mean war films reduce the incidence of war?

    Perhaps all government officals involved in making war ought to be compelled (by whom?) to watch war films. It is said that the most warmongering governments are dictatorships, so that isn’t likely to happen there.



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