Violent videos don't provoke young people. Violence does

Click to follow
There is no evidence that violent video films directly trigger violence among juveniles, according to a long-awaited Home Office study which will be published this week. The conclusions, obtained by The Independent, show that young people only turn to such films after growing up in a violent family and becoming delinquent.

Once young people had embarked on a path of criminal violence they were more likely to enjoy video violence and had a greater recollection of a film's violent moments, the Birmingham University report concludes.

But the researchers found almost no evidence to suggest that the film violence led directly to further aggression from any of the young people studied.

The report's findings were based on a two-year study of 122 young men invited to view violent films. Researchers then compared the reactions of young offenders to non-offending school and college students.

None the less, fears that the videos may reinforce the idea in some young people that violent behaviour is an appropriate response to frustration or provocation may now cause Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to ban young offenders from watching such films. The study was commissioned by the Home Office after the Jamie Bulger trial in 1993, at which the judge made comments about the unsuitability of certain videos.

The report, authored by Kevin Browne and Amanda Pennell of the School of Psychology at Birmingham University, overturns previous research which had suggested that film violence acts as a precursor to violent behaviour. "In contrast," the team writes, "this study suggests that the well-established link between poor social background and delinquent behaviour may extend to the development of a preference for violent films."

The study makes it clear that young people who do not experience violence in the family or have a criminal history will almost certainly not be moved to aggressive behaviour by violent films. "The implication is that both a history of family violence and offending behaviour are necessary pre-conditions for developing a significant preference for violent film action and role models," it concludes.

The films shown to the youngsters were not the "video nasties" sold under the counter, but those containing violence which are regularly hired from video shops, including such titles as Bad Boys, Licence to Drive, Last Gasp and ID.

The researchers found that youngsters with a criminal record watched videos significantly more than non-offenders, and made up 89 per cent of those who said violent videos were their favourites. Two-thirds of the offending group identified with stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, who play violent characters, compared to a quarter of the school and college students.

The study also found the offenders and students had equal recollections of the gist of the storyline of the film. Offenders had a slightly greater tendency to feel "excited" during violent scenes and 40 per cent of them complained later that the film lacked violence, compared to 18 per cent of non-offenders. A majority of the 122 youngsters surveyed (70 per cent) named 18-certificate films as their favourites, despite many of those questioned being between the ages of 15 and 17.

Ten months after watching the film, 82 per cent of offenders continued to identify with a vindictively violent character, compared to 43 per cent of non- offenders. In their conclusion the authors note: "Offenders were more likely to prefer actors who typically play characters whose use of severe violence appears positive and successful - a dangerous role-model for young people, particularly those predisposed to crime and delinquency.

"This may reinforce distorted thoughts about responding to frustration and provocation."

Speculative press reports in the summer had claimed that the Birmingham team had established proof that violent videos cause crime. Instead, the report states: "The research cannot prove whether video violence causes crime."

During the viewing the young people remained passive. The study noted: "The film had no immediate influence on empathy or the participant's state or level of anger." The school and college students mostly admitted to trying to copy the film's dialogue. None of the 122 said they had copied violent behaviour from the film or any others they had recently seen.

Four months later only three claimed to have been influenced by the film. One offender said Last Gasp had given him the "good idea" of slashing a victim's Achilles tendons to stop him escaping. Another said the film had taught him to keep a better look-out for the police. A student said ID, which is about football hooliganism, had made him depressed. Six months later all respondents were claiming to have been unaffected by the film.