Constitutional Kombat: Psychological Evidence Used to Restrict Video-game Violence

Violent video games have triggered substantial controversy due to highly publicized incidents of youth violence that have been allegedly inspired by the content of such games. Several jurisdictions have passed legislation penalizing the distribution of violent video games to minors and used psychological research to support the justification for such laws. However, courts have consistently found this research to be unpersuasive and have struck down restrictive video-game legislation on First-Amendment, Freedom-of-Speech grounds. This article explores our Constitutional right to free speech, along with its underlying psychological assumptions. It reviews the reasons that courts have found current research on the effects of violent video games to be unconvincing as evidence in a legal context, and presents a number of methodological recommendations that would make the research on this topic more probative in future cases.–Turner and Elwork

From my perspective as a humanities prof, this abstract seems vague, for instance teasing by saying it “reviews the reasons” rather than actually giving the paper’s opinion on those reasons. But GamePolitics.com boils down some of its key points:

The research then delves into a history of restrictive videogame
legislation and the different applications of psychological studies as
applied to these cases. The duo then analyze why existing research has
lacked persuasiveness in these legislative battles:

Our
first impression from this review is that the research results on the
effects of violent video games have been inconsistent and equivocal.

Our
second conclusion is that none of these studies meets the minimal
research criteria that the courts have established as necessary to be
probative in a legal context.

For example, there has been no
research to address the question of whether violent video games are
more harmful than other forms of violent media. In addition, no
research has been done on whether violent video games cause long-term
or short-term effects.

The pair thinks that substituting an applied minded approach to research, versus theoretical, would help:


the primary goal of applied research is to solve a real-world problem;
its contribution to theory is also incidental. For example, one might
study the effects of violent video games on minors in order to answer
very specific legislative questions that may or may not be important to
psychological theory.

Other suggestions for
researchers include: create studies that answer legally relevant
questions, use conditions that are representative of real-life
conditions (external validity) and to include statistical validity, so
“research findings can be attributed to an actual relationship between
the scores being measured, as opposed to a chance occurrence (random
variability).”