Do violent movies cause violent crime?

by on October 23, 2006 at 7:24 am in Film, Law | Permalink

No, at least not in the short run.  Rambo gets the bad guys off the streets.  And for a while they even seem to calm down:

What is the short-run impact of media violence on crime?  Laboratory experiments in psychology find that exposure to media violence increases aggression.  In this paper, we provide field evidence on this question.  We exploit variation in violence of blockbuster movies between 1995 and 2002, and study the effect on same-day assaults.  We find that violent crime decreases on days with higher theater audiences for violent movies.  The effect is mostly driven by incapacitation: between 6PM and 12AM, an increase of one million in the audience for violent movies reduces violent crime by 1.5 to 2 percent.  After the exposure to the movie, between 12AM and 6AM, crime is still reduced but the effect is smaller and less robust.  We obtain similar, but noisier, results using data on DVD and VHS rentals.  Overall, we find no evidence of a temporary surge in violent crime due to exposure to movie violence.  Rather, our estimates suggest that in the short-run violent movies deter over 200 assaults daily.  We discuss the endogeneity of releases.  Potential interpretations for our results include a cathartic effect of movies, displacement of crime, and decrease in alcohol consumption.  The differences with the experimental results may be due to experimental procedures, or to sorting into violent movies.  Our design does not allow us to estimate long-run effects.

Here is the full paper.

1 Rafe October 23, 2006 at 10:34 am

Perhaps economists should be looking for the Jack Bauer effect — does police brutality go up after violent movies are released? Do cops get more violent after watching movies that feature cops as gun slinging enforcers of justice?

2 truepeers October 23, 2006 at 1:12 pm

I think it’s true that all culture comes into existence to defer violence. By substituting signs, or representations, for real things we avoid immediate competition over scarce worldly objects. However, in so producing signs we also increase the level of conscious desire that has to be deferred by the world of signs. And since in time any sign will lose its power, if there are not new signs to take the place of those that no longer have a hold over us, real violence can erupt (often along the lines of the old myths about the gods that we have now assimilated to human worldly actions).

Thus it’s easy to accept a study that violent movies defer violence in the short term. But as the study asks, what about the long term? It suggests there must be a continual progression of new, and likely ever more violent, movies, to defer the violent desire that movies themselves help engender – we must recognize the paradox that a violent movie will simultaneously both defer and increase desires – the desire, in the imagination, to have godly/filmic power over life and death. And while movies may generally defer violence, there will be times when we can show a direct link between a movie and a violent crime, a crime that would not have been committed in this shape or form if not for the movie on which it was modelled.

If movies have been one of the major tools by which twentieth-century Western civilization has deferred its violence, what happens when the possibilities for innovation in filmic violence run their course, in the progression from, say, Chaplin to Tarantino? New cultural forms will have to develop if society is to maintain its order. Hence we see Hollywood losing ever more of its business to gaming and the internet.

Likewise, if a religion cannot continually evolve to renew its connection to fundamental mysteries which act to humble us and defer our desires, then the religion becomes a dead end and should be allowed to die instead of being turned into a worldly political project.

3 Brandon Walker October 23, 2006 at 7:22 pm

I think violence on tv and movies has increased violence tendencies within our society. I think this
experiment should be done with the youth until they are out of their teenage years because the younger
kids watching would be more likely renact a violent tendency when they are a little older. I also think
that more violence tendecies is being produced but just on a less significant perspective such as
kids hitting their parents, or fighting sibilings or friends. These may not be crimes but movies
and television deifintely have an impact on our youth. The youth simply mimics their role models so this
idea is legitimate.

4 AIngle October 25, 2006 at 3:54 pm

I would have to say that i think violent movies and T.v shows do cause people to act differently,
for example my brother use to love to watch wrestling, and after the match was over he would always come
to my room and try out the moves he just saw on me. I know after i go and see an action flick when i get
out i normally am in a different state of mind then i was when I went went into the movie. So overall i
think that what people in the movies or watch on t.v. or even listen to, do play a huge part in the way
that they behave.

5 MattM October 25, 2006 at 5:47 pm

I’m going to have to side with dude on this one. While I’ve always suspected that violent media attracts violent people rather than causing violence itself, I don’t see anything in the paper to indicate a causal relationship. They do have surprisingly strong correlation, but I suspect that the overall trends would be the same when comparing those same hours on non-release days as well.

I wonder if a similar relationship could be found with the release of violent games? Perhaps not, since the consumption of games is spread out according to the user’s whims in the same manner as DVD and VHS usage.

6 John May 16, 2007 at 1:56 am

Yes it gives a tendency to do that

7 32rrfrtg October 8, 2007 at 2:11 am
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