Tom Grimes, professor of journalism and mass communication, discussed and disputed different research studies on violence and media connections during his Mass Comm Week panel Monday.
Grimes’s lecture, “Violence in Society: Does Media Reflect or Encourage It?” began with the history of media violence and covered research studies over the past 60 years. Grimes said although past research has found a link between violence and the media, his personal research has found otherwise.
“There’s been this notion that media violence will somehow, over time, make psychologically well people unwell by making them more aggressive because of their exposure to violent acts,” Grimes said.
Grimes, who has been a professor for nearly 30 years, explained how researchers have connected the media’s portrayal of violence and actual violent acts. He credited organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and National Institutes of Health with conducting insufficient studies and not examining the correct forms of violence.
“They make the argument based on study after study. They found a connection between violent media and violent acts because they looked for a connection,” Grimes said. “It’s cliché, but I like to use the old saying, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and the fire in this situation would be a violent act.”
Since the mid 1990s, Grimes and his colleagues have been conducting research regarding media violence, and the studies have helped formulate an equation. The equation takes those who do not consume violent media, subtracts those who have watched violent media and divides by a number for random error.
The reason violent behaviors occur, according to Grimes, is not because of an exposure to aggressive acts someone witnesses through the media. It occurs because the individual who acted on a violent behavior had a pre-disposed illness, he said. Grimes said witnessing a violent act may trigger someone to act aggressively, but most people without illnesses will see such media for what it is—entertainment.
Grimes discussed the organs that are responsible for protecting people from acting on their violent thoughts.
“There’s two organs in the brain that generate disgust—the Hippocampus and the Amygdala. These are parts of the brain that acts and impulses,” Grimes said. “Someone who commits a violent act because they saw it on TV may indeed have a pre-disposed illness and have something wrong with their Hippocampus or Amygdala.”
Grimes used Shakespeare as an example of a writer who used violence as a tool to enrich his literature and art. He said the average person knows the portrayal of violence in these tales is not meant to be taken seriously.
“They put themselves in that environment in order to entertain themselves, knowing all the while that it’s not real,” Grimes said.
Christopher Salinas, journalism junior, said as an avid video gamer, he appreciated Grimes’ presentation.
“I’ve never been one to think that the media portrayal of violence is connected to people acting out,” Salinas said. “Professor Grimes just helped reaffirm my belief in the topic.”
Morgan Martens, journalism senior, said Grimes’ speech was compelling and interesting. She said it helped show her another side of the argument.
“I think it’s opened my mind more,” Martens said. “I can’t say I agree or disagree, but I think people jump to the conclusion that media violence leads to violent behavior.”