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Researchers express concerns about APA Task Force on Violent Media

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A group of 228 academics, researchers and psychologists are calling on the American Psychological Association today to use an "objective scientific process" when reviewing a landmark policy statement issued in 2005 on media and violence.

The APA Task Force on Violent Media was established in Jan. 2013 to "oversee a comprehensive review of the scientific literature." It could also potentially revise a 2005 APA policy statement called the "Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media," (PDF link) which stated that there "appears to be evidence that exposure to violent media increases feelings of hostility, thoughts about aggression, suspicions about the motives of others, and demonstrates violence as a method to deal with potential conflict situations."

The group of 228 believes these steps are necessary during the review because previous studies include "methodological flaws, ideological biases, and conclusions drawn from inconsistent or weak evidence" and a reexamination of the previous policy statement is necessary.

"We express the concern that the APA's previous (2005) policy statement delineated several strong conclusions on the basis of inconsistent or weak evidence," a letter signed by each member of the group (PDF link) reads. "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)."

The signatories express concern about several potential aspects of the Task Force's work, including the dangers of "meta-analysis," which can miss nuances of individual studies and contain focuses that "may be more misleading than informative" as we well as efficacy of extrapolating laboratory measures to real-life behavior.

Further, the signatories assert that, "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." They are careful to point out that they "do not assert that video games are responsible for this decline," but rather that one would expect the opposite to be true, based on the 2005 publication.

In a press release, Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association representing U.S. video game publishers, said that the organization agrees "with these experts that additional APA’s analysis must be objective, fact-based, and peer-reviewed, and must comprehensively examine all relevant factors."

In Jan. 2013, President Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine the links between "media images" and violence.