Violent video games are often blamed for school shootings when perpetrators are white and not black
Despite the lack of evidence, when a shooting occurs at a US school, people are more likely to blame video games, especially when the shooter is white and not Black. Researchers have now figured why this happens as seen in the case of recent shootings in the US. The reason is because of racial stereotypes that associate African-Americans or minorities with violent crime, according to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Researchers explain when a violent act is carried out by someone (a white perpetrator) who does not match the racial stereotype of what a violent person looks like, people tend to seek an external explanation (like video games) for it. However, when such an act of violence is carried out by a racial minority, individuals may not feel compelled to seek an external explanation because the race of the perpetrator fits their stereotype of what a violent criminal looks like.
Accordingly, says lead researcher Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, when a White child from the suburbs commits a horrific violent act as a school shooting, then people are more likely to erroneously blame video games than if the child was African-American.
After the two mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, US President Donald Trump and some Republicans blamed video games for both incidents.
"Despite a lack of research linking school shootings to video games, video games are frequently associated with school shootings carried out by white perpetrators. Because there is a stereotypical association between racial minorities and violent crime, it is possible that people often look toward video games as a cause for school shootings committed by white perpetrators who do not fit this stereotype. Two studies confirmed the notion that racial stereotyping leads people to accept school shootings committed by black perpetrators without seeking external explanations, but when school shootings are committed by White perpetrators, people often blame video games for the violent act," says the study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
The research team examined over 200,000 news articles about 204 mass shootings over a 40-year period and found that video games were eight times more likely to be mentioned when the shooting occurred at a school and the perpetrator was a white male than when the shooter was an African American male. Another experiment conducted with college students had similar findings.
According to Markey, video games are often associated with young people, even though the average age of players in mass shootings is in the 30s. "Video games are often used by lawmakers and others as a red herring to distract from other potential causes of school shootings. 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 do not," says Markey.
What does current evidence say?
Research has consistently found that violent video games are not related to real-world acts of violence, such as homicides or school shootings, and various professional societies have explicitly stated that research does not support such claims.
In 2015, the APA Council of Representatives issued a resolution based on a task force report about violent video games. The resolution stated that more than 90% of children in the US played video games, and 85% of video games in the market contained some form of violence. The task force's review found that there is insufficient research linking violent video games to lethal violence. Recent research has also found no link between violent video games and aggressive behavior. For example, in February 2019, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, stated in a study that they found no relationship between aggressive behavior in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games.
"Even with such evidence, scholars, lawmakers, and the media frequently link video games to school shootings, especially when the perpetrator is white," says the current study.
The first study investigated the importance of perpetrator race in a laboratory experiment by exposing participants to a mock news story featuring a school shooting committed by either a black or white individual, who happened to be a video game enthusiast.
In this experiment, 169 college students (65% female, 88% white) read a mock newspaper article describing a fictional mass shooting by an 18-year-old male named David Wilson at the fictional "Adams High School, who was described as an avid fan of violent video games." Half of the participants read an article featuring a small mug shot of a white shooter while the other half saw a mug shot of an African-American shooter. In their responses to a questionnaire, participants who read the article with the photo of a white shooter were significantly more likely to blame video games as a factor in causing the teen to commit the school shooting than participants who saw an African-American shooter.
Participants who did not play video games were also more likely to blame violent video games for school shootings. Participants were asked if the perpetrator's "social environment" contributed to the school shooting, but their responses to that question did not affect the findings, say researchers.
For the second study, the researchers analyzed news reports of mass shootings committed by black and white perpetrators at both school locations and nonschool locations. A mass shooting was defined as having three or more victims, not including the shooter, that wasn't identifiably related to gangs, drugs or organized crime. They created a large database by collecting 204,796 news articles about 204 mass shootings in the US, dating from 1978 (a year after the release of the Atari 2600 game console) to 2018.
The analysis found different results for school shootings than mass shootings in other settings. "When the shooting occurred at a school, news articles discussed video games 6.8% of the time when the perpetrator was white but mentioned video games only 0.5% of the time when the perpetrator was black. Video games were rarely mentioned when the shooting occurred at a nonschool location when the perpetrator was either white (1.8%) or black (1.7%)," the findings state.
It further says: "The experimental nature of Study 1 provided evidence that a perpetrator's race causes individuals to blame video games for the violent act more often when the shooter is white than when the shooter is black. In a similar manner, Study 2 found that video games were discussed 8.35 times more frequently when the perpetrator was white than when he was black."
According to the researchers, results from both studies suggest that blaming violent video games for school shootings by white perpetrators could be a sign of a larger racial issue where African-American perpetrators are assigned a "greater degree of culpability for their crimes." This, says the team, could lead to unfair treatment in the justice system.
"Given the growing body of research failing to find links between video games and real-world acts of horrific violence, it appears that racial stereotyping might be one reason some continue to blame video games for school shootings," says the team.