WASHINGTON — When it comes to violent crime, does a suspect’s race really change the public’s perception regarding their motive? People are more likely to cite violent video games as a cause of school shootings by white shooters than those by African American shooters. This is the conclusion of a study by the American Psychological Association. Their researchers believe this is because of racial stereotypes associating minorities with violent crime.
The researchers analyzed over 200,000 news articles reporting on 204 mass shootings over a 40-year period. The results show video games are eight times more likely to be part of the media’s narrative if the shooting happens in a school and the perpetrator is a White male. The researchers also conducted a study with college students and reached similar conclusions.
“When a violent act is carried out by someone who doesn’t match the racial stereotype of what a violent person looks like, people tend to seek an external explanation for the violent behavior,” lead researcher Dr. Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, says in a media release. “When a White child from the suburbs commits a horrific violent act like a school shooting, then people are more likely to erroneously blame video games than if the child was African American.”
‘Video games used by lawmakers as a red herring’
There has never been a scientifically proven link between mass shootings and violent video games. Politicians and media leaders however, often mention these games as a cause of senseless violence, especially school shootings. Video games are also blamed for violence among young people, even though the average age of players is over 30.
“Video games are often used by lawmakers and others as a red herring to distract from other potential causes of school shootings,” Markey adds. “When a shooter is a young White male, we talk about violent video games as a cause for the shooting. When the shooter is an older man or African American, we don’t.”
One study experiment involved a group of 169 college students, which was 65 percent female and 88 percent White. The study gave participants a fake newspaper article describing a mass shooting by an 18-year-old man described as a fan of violent video games. Participants were either shown a mugshot of a White or Black suspect with the article.
The participants who saw a white shooter were much more likely to blame video games than those who saw an African American suspect.
Racial disparities in media coverage of mass shootings
Researchers created a database of 204,796 news articles about 204 mass shootings in the United States from 1978 to 2018. 1978 was the year after the famous Atari 2600 game console hit the market. The study defined mass shootings as having at least three victims, not including the shooter, and not related to gangs, drugs, or organized crime.
The researchers then analyzed the data and found differing results for school shootings and mass shootings in other settings. Coverage of school shootings in which the shooter is white mentioned video games in 6.8 percent of the news articles. Coverage of school shootings with African American perpetrators however, only mentioned video games in 0.5 percent of articles. News reports mentioned video games at nearly the same rates during coverage of mass shootings in other locations as well.
The APA wrote a resolution in 2015 about violent video games, based on findings from a special task force. The resolution cited that over nine in 10 American children play video games. Eighty-five percent of the games on the market contain some form of violence. While the review showed an association between violent games and some aggressive behavior, it also noted that there was insufficient evidence to support a link between these games and lethal violence. Recent studies have continued to add to the conclusion that there is no link between violent games and aggressive behavior.
Markey says the disparity of violent video game blame for mass school shootings between white and Black perpetrators is a symptom of a larger racial issue. The team states that African American shooters are seen as more culpable for their crimes than white shooters. This then leads to unfair treatment in the criminal justice system.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.