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At one point in graduate school, too many years ago, I got a consulting job at a major broadcasting company asking me to summarize the body of research on the media-violence connection and the question of whether high-profile crimes might cause copy-cat incidents.
I should have refused.
It’s not there wasn’t a literature. It’s that there was a massive, nuanced, complex, and almost limitless literature. And that literature came from every imaginable discipline and reached every imaginable conclusion. Lab-based social psychology, ethnography, psychiatric epidemiology, anthropology, biology, and many others were represented.
My report actually ended up being about the breadth and complexity of the question itself rather than the answers provided by the research.
I mention this only to highlight the fact that this literature is still large and inconclusive, and still poorly understood by a public that consistently confuses the concepts of correlation and causation, aided by similarly confused media institutions.
However, to say that the research is inconclusive is not to deny the existence of a number of methodologically rigorous studies that do show a causal link between media exposure and subsequent aggression and others that don’t.
I mention this as a way of calling your attention to an extraordinary and horrifying series of recent incidents in China in which perpetrators break have broken into Chinese primary schools and quickly stabbed a group of young students and teachers to death. The latest occurred today.
I won’t attempt to tease out all the nuance in the alleged copy-cat phenomenon, but I did want my colleagues to be aware of this series of incidents.
Sad. Horrifying. And horribly traumatic for witnesses, victims, and family members.