The news: Every time there's a high-profile shooting or act of mass violence, the first fingers are pointed at the popularity of graphic videos and violent games and movies in mainstream media. There have been studies and think pieces galore linking the media to increased aggression in children and desensitization to brutality, inspiring renewed calls to tamp down on their availability.
But a new study published in the Journal of Communication argues there is little correlation between actual violence and violent media. By analyzing homicide rates between 1920 and 2005, Christopher Ferguson of Florida's Stetson University attempted to find any correlation between those figures and the release of violent movies and games.
However, Ferguson found there was little to no link between the two, and youth violence in the U.S. even declined during years of heavy consumption of violent video games.
What does this mean? The connection between violent media and actual violence has been a contested one for a while: Last year, President Obama even set aside $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study it.
And while there have been plenty of studies rejecting the link, most of them have consisted of lab trials and psychological research; this latest study, on the other hand, used crime data for a macro look at how violent media is often used as a scapegoat for actual acts of violence.
"Society has a limited amount of resources and attention to devote to the problem of reducing crime. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as media violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education and vocational disparities and mental health," Ferguson said in a statement.
"This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value."
These findings probably won't convince anyone who has staunchly made up their mind that Grand Theft Auto or Drive are responsible for all of society's ills. But the numbers indicate that their argument rests on little more than conjecture and anecdotal evidence.