Sources: CDC believes link between media and violence still needs research

While President Barack Obama specifically mentioned video games when detailing plans for further study into the causes and prevention of gun violence today, the official Presidential Memorandum he signed doesn't.

But sources with knowledge of the Memorandum and the CDC tell Polygon that further research into any possible connection between video games, media and violence is both necessary and likely, but only if Congress agrees to fund it.

In a pre-briefing for press by senior White House officials and in the now-public plan, the Presidential Memorandum is described as a call for the CDC and others to "conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including between video games, media images and violence."

The actual Presidential Memorandum, released today on the White House website, isn't as specific in its direction of how the research should be conducted or what it should be focused on. Instead, the memorandum calls for general research into the problem of gun violence.

"In addition to being a law enforcement challenge, gun violence is also a serious public health issue that affects thousands of individuals, families, and communities across the Nation," according to the memo signed by Obama. "Each year in the United States there are approximately 30,000 firearm-related deaths, and approximately 11,000 of those deaths result from homicides. Addressing this critical issue requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach.

"Recent research suggests that, in developing such an approach, a broader public health perspective is imperative. Significant strides can be made by assessing the causes of gun violence and the successful efforts in place for preventing the misuse of firearms. Taking these steps will improve our understanding of the gun violence epidemic and will aid in the continued development of gun violence prevention strategies."

The memo goes on to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, to conduct research into gun violence and ways to prevent it.

"The Secretary shall begin by identifying the most pressing research questions with the greatest potential public health impact, and by assessing existing public health interventions being implemented across the Nation to prevent gun violence," according to the memo.

No reference to video games or entertainment are made in the memo, which neither directs nor precludes research into the impact of entertainment on gun violence.

Reached for comment today, an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that any such research would likely be conducted by the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control is home to research on a wide variety of topics involving violence and injury prevention. The center researches the "best way to prevent violence and injuries, using science to create real-world solutions to keep people safe, healthy, and productive," according to the official website.

While the CDC is not currently funding research on the relationship between violence and the media, it has supported several research projects in the past. One such study examined the relationship between serious youth violence and long-term use of violent media. Conducted by Rutgers' researcher Paul Boxer and funded by the CDC, it found that violent media does indeed impact adolescent behavior. The second examined the mental health effects of internet-mediated violence and the relationship between the internet, video games and other media and aggressive and violent behavior. Conducted by Michele Ybarra, a researcher who specializes in technology-related health issues for young people, and funded by the CDC, the research concluded that exposure to violence in the media was associated with concurrent reports of seriously violent behavior.

Other researchers, including Christopher J. Ferguson, an international expert on the impact of violent media on children, believe there is no connection.

While officials at the center declined to comment about pending research, those with knowledge of the CDC and the memorandum say that there remain research questions that still need to be addressed regarding the interactions between media consumption and violence.

That's likely to come only if Congress agrees to provide the requested $10 million for the CDC to conduct further gun violence research and would likely, we're told, include a look at video games, among other forms of media.

Although the funding question is in Congress' hands, the CDC has already begun developing a research agenda based on President Obama's request. That includes assessing the gaps in knowledge and pressing research questions that currently exist. And then working with outside experts to develop a research agenda to help guide their future efforts. If funding is approved, the CDC will most likely use a competitive process to determine who will receive their funding for research into the causes and prevention of gun violence, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images and violence.

Earlier today, Entertainment Software Association officials told Polygon that they will "embrace a constructive role in the important national dialogue around gun violence in the United States, and continue to collaborate with the administration and Congress as they examine the facts that inform meaningful solutions."

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