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Expert Warns Against Concluding That TV Causes Violent Behavior

Research Often Misstated or Exaggerated, Does Not Support Causal Link

FOR RELEASE: May 16, 2007

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute
703-243-5700

 

Arlington, Va., May 16, 2007 - A prominent professor and researcher warned today that the growing movement to limit television violence because of its supposed effect on children's behavior cannot be justified by the body of existing research, which is actually "inconsistent, weak, and generally non-supportive."

Dr. Jonathan Freedman, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, methodically refutes the claim that TV violence causes violent behavior in children in an issue paper released today by The Media Institute. The research simply does not support that claim, he states.

"The evidence provides no good reason to believe that television violence causes aggression, much less serious violence," Freedman writes. Relevant research tends to show a correlation between exposure to violent TV programming and aggression, but Freedman notes that correlation is not the same as causation. Aggressive kids may simply prefer violent TV programs, just as they prefer to watch and play more aggressive games. This intuitive explanation must be ruled out before causation can be proved.

Freedman chides those who claim there is "overwhelming evidence" of a causal link and who claim there is nothing left to debate. Their position is wrong and it deserves to be criticized, Freedman says. "The debate is not over," he states sharply.

Freedman also questions groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics that have issued statements containing "wildly inaccurate" figures and "spectacular errors." Such statements are made "without any detailed knowledge of the research" and "should be ignored" since they are not based on science, Freedman advises. Opinions - even those of professionals - are not the same as science, he states.

He also takes the FCC to task for its April 25 report on TV violence, which he calls "a missed chance." "The FCC could have paid serious attention to the actual evidence" but did not, Freedman says. "A cursory sampling of scientific opinion and a fair amount of non-scientific opinion could not hope to provide anything of much use."

Freedman describes different types of research: experimental studies, field experiments, longitudinal studies, and studies of communities with and without television. "Not one method has produced a clear majority of findings consistent with the idea that exposure to violent television makes people aggressive," Freedman concludes.

Citing the sharp decline in violent crime since 1992, Freedman poses a real-world test: "Legislators who are concerned about the harmful effects of television violence should ask themselves why, if television is so harmful, there is less violent crime now than there was when they were young."

Freedman's paper, "Television Violence and Aggression: Setting the Record Straight," can be found at www.mediainstitute.org.