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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defeated Videogame-Violence Experts: Science Was on Our Side | Wired Science

An analysis of competing videogame violence reports submitted to the Supreme Court found that researchers warning of links to real-world aggression had far stronger academic credentials than their opponents.

Two groups of researchers submitted briefs to court, which on June 27 ruled unconstitutional a California law banning the sale and rental of violent videogames to minors. One brief, named after attorney Steven Gruel, said that violent videogame play leads to aggression and is cognitively different than watching TV or reading.  It was signed by 102 researchers who cited 130 studies specifically related to violent videogames. They supported the law.

The other brief, named after counsel Patricia A. Millett, was signed by 82 researchers who opposed the law and called the game-violence link nonexistent. Their position appeared to influence the court, which in its 7-2 majority decision wrote that claims of videogames’ cognitive uniqueness were “unpersuasive.” According to the majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, videogame studies “do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.”

But according to social psychologist Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, an author of the Gruel brief, the competing claims were supported by very unequal levels of scientific firepower. In a May 27 Northwestern University Law Review study, Bushman and two other authors compiled the publication record of each brief’s signatory, then categorized the experts according to how often they published in top-tier journals and how often they were cited.

Comparison of publications by authors and signatories of the Gruel brief to those of signatories backing the Millett brief. (/Brad Bushman/Northwestern University Law Review)

On average, Gruel brief signatories published about 7 original, peer-reviewed studies on aggression or violence. Each Millett brief signatory had published 0.48 such studies.

Bushman also found that each Gruel signatory had published an average of 1.45 studies on media violence, compared to 0.28 stuch studies among Millett signatories.

Both the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics say that videogame violence is linked to aggression.

“More than anything, this whole case highlights the complexity of this issue,” said former Harvard University publich health researcher Cheryl Olson, who lauded the court’s decision in a New York Times op-ed. “It shows how little we’re certain about and how much work remains.”

Image: n.W.s./Flickr

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