Letter to APA on policy statement on violent media

October 07, 2013

In an effort to change the cultural dialogue about violence in media causing aggression in teenagers, an international group of 228 media scholars, psychologists and criminologists recently sent this open letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) asking it to reconsider its position on the effects of violence in the media.

Dear APA Science Directorate:

As you know, many individuals within the scientific community have been concerned about the APA’s past policy statements on violent media.  Many of us welcome the APA’s review of past policy statements, but also worry about potential pitfalls within that process.  Given, that approximately 230 media scholars, psychologists and criminologists have signed a statement urging the APA to refrain in the future from declarative policy statements as these are likely to do more damage to the field and mislead the public than be helpful.  I attach the statement below.

Cordially,

Christopher J. Ferguson

Stetson University

Statement:

(Updated 9/25/13)

We welcome the appointment of a Task Force charged with examining research on media violence, and previous statements on the subject by the APA.  The issue of video game and other media violence continues to be contentious among both the general public and the scholarly community.   Particularly in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, whether rightly or wrongly, much discussion has focused on this issue.   Much is at stake regarding the way scientific information is communicated to the general public, the way in which policy statements can set scientific agendas and the credibility of the field as a careful and objective science.   We very much welcome the appointment by the APA of a new Task Force to revisit the issue, pursuant to new research that has questioned previously held views.   We appreciate the APA’s efforts to revisit the topic and believe that, given the scientific progress in the field, there are unprecedented opportunities to develop a solid basis for a careful and nuanced communication of research findings to the general public.   We also express concern that there are risks involved, particularly in light of methodological and sociological issues well known to impact this field.   Below we highlight several issues that we hope the APA Task Force will consider as they reflect on this matter.

We express the concern that the APA’s previous (2005) policy statement delineated several strong conclusions on the basis of inconsistent or weak evidence. Research subsequent to that 2005 statement has provided even stronger evidence that some of the assertions in it cannot be supported.   As an important scientific discipline that helps shape the public discourse on issues of behavior, policy statements that are rigid or ideological can serve to stifle scientific innovation and new theories and may inadvertently serve to increase publication bias, particularly given concerns about both disregard for null findings and researcher degrees of freedom (Simmons et al., 2011).

Against this background we further express the belief that it is possible for responsible scholars to make good faith arguments both that media violence may have some influence on aggression or other outcomes, or that media violence may not have such effects.   Similarly, we believe that pressure to produce “positive” findings is present throughout the review and publication process as well as in grant-seeking.   Obviously, positive findings should certainly be welcomed, but so should “negative” findings or failed replications.   Without care taken to encourage publication of non-replications, we will not have a full view of the data in this field.

We also acknowledge that meta-analysis has its place, but express the concern that meta-analysis in this realm can be misleading.   For instance, many previous meta-analyses have relied on bivariate effect sizes, which is normal due to the homogeneity assumption of meta-analysis, but which may be of limited value in this realm.   As a simple matter, boys both consume more violent media and are more aggressive, so small correlations may reflect gender effects.   Naturally, other variables may well explain small correlations as well.   From our observation, considerable research data bears this belief out.   Unfortunately, it is our observation that, in communicating results to the general public, scholars and the APA’s previous policy statements have tended to focus on bivariate effect sizes, which may be more misleading than informative.   Similarly we are skeptical of a “the average effect size wins” approach to meta-analysis, which could be used to smooth over inconsistencies and failed replications.   Previous meta-analyses have disagreed on the presence of publication bias, but given the issue of researcher degrees of freedom, some forms of scholar-driven bias may simply be hard to detect.

We also express concern about the overgeneralization of controversial laboratory measures of aggression to public health issues and violent crime.   Laboratory measures certainly have their place, but we believe that greater caution should be used in generalizing them to real-life behaviors they may only obliquely measure.   Further, the unstandardized and “ad hoc” nature of many of these measures is of concern to us, given they may create false positives.

During the video game epoch, youth violence in the United States and elsewhere has plummeted to 40-year lows, not risen as would have been expected if the 2005 APA resolution were accurate.   Although we do not assert video games are responsible for this decline (such would be an ecological fallacy), this decline in societal violence is in conflict with claims that violent video games and interactive media are important public health concerns.   The statistical data are simply not bearing out this concern and should not be ignored.

Fundamentally, we are of the belief that the task force has a tremendous opportunity to change the culture of this research field to one which is less ideological and open to new theories, data and beliefs.   So too, should scholars feel free to argue for existing theories.   We believe that the field is beginning to undergo theoretical and data-driven changes that challenge previously held beliefs.   Only with the freedom for data to sort itself out can this field progress.   We would endorse any attempt to properly reflect these differences in data, theories, and beliefs. Such a policy statement might be less conclusive, but certainly more sophisticated, and it could do much to restore the credibility of this field. Policy statements based on inconsistent and weak evidence are bad policy and over the long run do more harm than good, hurting the credibility of the science of psychology.  We are certainly happy to help the Task Force however we can in support of their important work.

Signed:

Paul Adachi, Brock University

Jason C. Allaire, North Carolina State University

James Anderson, University of Utah

Len Annetta, George Mason University

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Clark University

Dominic Arsenault, Université de Montréal

Mary Ballard, Appalachian State University

Jaime Banks, University of Toronto

Wolmet Barendregt, University of Gothenburg

Martin Barker, Aberystwyth University

Matthew Barr, University of Glasgow

Anthony Bean, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Kevin Beaver, Florida State University

Katrin Becker, Mount Royal University

Gary Bente, University of Cologne

Fran Bernat, Texas A&M International University

Kristin Bezio, University of Richmond

Rafael Bienia, Maastricht University

Staffan Björk, University of Gothenburg

Jerald Block, Oregon Health and Science University

Fran C. Blumberg, Fordham University

Leonardo Bobadilla, Western Carolina University

Walter Boot, University of Florida

Randy Borum, University of South Florida

Wolfgang Bösche, Technische Universität Darmstadt

Nicola Bowes, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Nick Bowman, West Virginia University

Linda Breitlauch, GA University for Applied Sciences, Berlin

Johannes Breuer, University of Münster

Douglas Brown, Brunel University

Jo Bryce, University of Central Lancashire

David M. Buss, University of Texas

Jon Cabiria, Walden University

Kursat Cagiltay, Middle East Technical University

Alessandro Canossa, Northeastern University

David Canter, University of Liverpool

Rogelio E. Cardona-Rivera, North Carolina State University

Ineke Pit-ten Cate, University of Luxembourg

Adam Chapman, University of Hull

Isabelle D. Cherney, Creighton University

Anne Collier, Connectsafely.org

John Colwell, University of Westminster

Lorenza Colzato, Leiden University

Mia Consalvo, Concordia University

Victoria Cooper, University of Leeds

Patrick J. Coppock, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Aysegul Bakar Corez, Kocaeli University

Mark Coulson, Middlesex University

Francis G. Couvares, Amherst College

Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, Nottingham Trent University

Frederik De Grove, Ghent University

Bob de Schutter, Miami University

Jonathan deHaan, University of Shizuoka

Jennifer deWinter, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

M. Brent Donnellan, Michigan State University

Brock R. Dubbels, McMaster University

Robert Andrew Dunn, East Tennessee State University

Kevin Durkin, University of Strathclyde

Malte Elson, University of Muenster

Dorothy Espelage, University of Illinois ~ Champaign

Frank Farley, Temple University

Thorsten Fehr, University of Bremen

Christopher J. Ferguson, Stetson University

F. Richard Ferraro, University of North Dakota

Emmanoel Ferreira, Universidade Federal Fluminense

Seymour Feshbach, University of California, Los Angeles

Jon Festinger, Centre for Digital Media

James Alan Fox, Northeastern University

Claudio Pires Franco, University of Bedfordshire

Jonathan Freedman, University of Toronto

Johannes Fromme, University of Magdeburg

Philippe Geril, Ghent University

Sabine Glock, University of Luxembourg

Jeffrey Goldstein, University of Utrecht

Eva Oliveira Gonçalves, Polytechnic Institute of Cavado and Ave

Peter Gray, Boston College

Michael B. Greene, Rutgers University

Mark Griffiths, Nottingham Trent University

Matthew Grizzard, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

John Grohol, Psych Central

Whitney D. Gunter, Western Michigan University

Robin L. Haislett, Texas Tech University

Ryan Hall, University of Central Florida

Karla Hamlen, Cleveland State University

Jessica Hammer, Columbia University

Rick Hartley, University of Texas – San Antonio

Elizabeth Hayward, New York University

Moritz Heene, Ludwig Maximilian University

Rani Desai Hoff, Yale University

Robert Hoff, Mercyhurst University

Stephen Holmes, University of Central Florida

Bruce Homer, CUNY

Aaron Chia Yuan Hung, Adelphi University

Ioanna Iacovides, University College London

Mimi Ito, University of California ~ Irvine

James D. Ivory, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Adrienne Holz Ivory, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Kevin Jackson, RMIT University, Vietnam

Jeroen Jansz, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Daniel Johnson, Queensland University of Technology

Kristine Jørgensen, University of Bergen

Faltin Karlsen, The Norwegian School of Information Technology

James C. Kaufman, University of Connecticut

John Kilburn, Texas A&M International University

Daniel King, The University of Adelaide

Dana Klisanin, Evolutionary Guidance Media

Julia Kneer, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Carly A. Kocurek, Illinois Institute of Technology

Hartmut Koenitz, University of Georgia

Kyle Kontour, Montana State University – Billings

Rachel Kowert, University of Muenster

Nicole Krämer, Universität Duisburg-Essen

Tanya Krzywinska, Falmouth University

Krishna Kumar, West Chester University

Kenneth Lachlan, University of Massachusetts ~ Boston

Petri Lankoski, Södertörn University

Robert E. Larzelere, Oklahoma State University

Olli Tapio Leino, City University of Hong Kong

Roger J. R. Levesque, Indiana University

Mark Lewis, SUNY Empire State College

Anthony M. Limperos, University of Kentucky

Holin Lin, National Taiwan University

Jonas Linderoth, University of Gothenburg

Anders Sundnes Løvlie, Gjøvik University College

Amy Lu, Northwestern University

Esther MacCallum-Stewart, University of Surrey

Mike Males, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Charlotte N. Markey, Rutgers University

Patrick Markey, Villanova University

Frans Mäyrä, University of Tampere

Catherine McBride-Chang, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Alan Meades, Canterbury Christ Church University

Dawna-Cricket-Martika Meehan, Miami University’s Center for School Based Mental Health Programs

Jean Mercer, Stockton College

Konstantin Mitgutsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boris Mlacic, Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar

Ro Mohseni, Universität Osnabrück

David Moshman, University of Nebraska—Lincoln

Barbara Müller, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich

Shane Murphy, Western Connecticut State University

Glenn W. Muschert, Miami University of Ohio

Charles Negy, University of Central Florida

Mark Nielsen, The University of Queensland

Cheryl Olson, Independent Media Researcher

Jim Parker, University of Calgary

Hal Pashler, University of California ~ San Diego

Julian Petley, Brunel University

Bernard Perron, Université de Montréal

Oscar Peters, University of Twente

Tamara Peyton, Pennsylvania State University

Daniel Pietschmann, Chemnitz University of Technology

Steven Pinker, Harvard University

Jan L. Plass, New York University

Nathaniel Poor, Independent Researcher

Patrick Portz, RWTH Aachen University

Andrew Przybylski, University of Oxford

Thorsten Quandt, University of Muenster

Joost Raessens, Utrecht University

Dennis Ramirez, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Niklas Ravaja, Aalto University

Christina Regenbogen, University of Bremen

Leonard Reinecke, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Peter J. Rentfrow, University of Cambridge

Richard Rhodes, science writer and Pulitzer Prize winner

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, University of Southern California

Christian Roth, VU University of Amsterdam

Martin Roth, Leiden University

Thomas Henry Rousse, Northwestern University

Dana Ruggiero, Bath Spa University

Pamela Brown Rutledge, Media Psychology Research Center

Richard Ryan, University of Rochester

Alyea Sandovar, Fielding Graduate Institute

Joanne Savage, American University

Mike Schmierbach, Pennsylvania State

Christina Schumann, TU Ilmenau – Institut für Medien und Kommunikationswissenschaft

Karen Schrier, Marist College

Felix Schroeter, University of Hamburg

Daniel Schultheiss, Ilmenau University of Technology

Marcus Schulzke, State University of New York at Albany

Seth Schwartz, University of Miami

Digdem Sezen, Istanbul University

Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen, Istanbul Bilgi University

Todd K. Shackelford, Oakland University

Josh Sheldon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John Sherry, Michigan State University

Daniel Simons, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Marko Skoric, City University of Hong Kong

Gillian Smith, Northeastern University

Ian Spence, University of Toronto

Kurt Squire, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Karen Sternheimer, University of Southern California

Marko Siitonen, University of Jyväskylä

Dean Keith Simonton, University of California, Davis

Ian Sturrock, Glyndwr University

Kaveri Subrahmanyam, California State University – Los Angeles

Joanne Broder Sumerson, St. Joseph’s University

Raymond Surette, University of Central Florida

Joshua Tanenbaum, Simon Fraser University

Morgan Tear. The University of Queensland

Anne Mette Thorhauge, University of Copenhagen

Angela Tinwell, University of Bolton – UK

Hakan Tuzun, Hacettepe University

Jan Van Looy, Ghent University

Antonius J. van Rooij, IVO Addiction Research Institute

John A. Velez, Ohio State University

Matthew Ventura, Florida State University

Edelyn Verona, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Gerald Voorhees, University of Waterloo

Edward Vul, University of California ~ San Diego

Frank Waddell, Pennsylvania State University

Annika Waern, Uppsala University ~ Sweden

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, University of Amsterdam

Nia Wearn, Staffordshire University

Danny Wedding, Alliant University

Karin Wenz, Maastricht University

Johanna Weststar, Western University ~ Ontario

Lauren White, Fielding Graduate University

Matthew M. White, Penn State University

Dmitri Williams, University of Southern California

Teena Willoughby, Brock University

Tobias Winnerling, Düsseldorf University

Donghee Yvette Wohn , Northwestern University

Michelle Wright, Masaryk University

Talmadge Wright, Loyola University Chicago

R. Michael Young, North Carolina State University

Jose Zagal, DePaul University

Nelson Zagalo, University of Minho

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1359-1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632


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