IOM Issues Violence Study Recommendations to Administration

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the National Academy of Sciences, has told the Obama Administration that due to a lack of research focused on guns, "a direct relationship between violence in media and real-life firearm violence has not been established and additional research is necessary," but that existing evidence points to a "significant relationship" between media and some real world violence.

That came in a report released Wednesday in response to president Obama's executive order -- following the Newtown, Conn., school shootings -- requesting that the CDC "immediately begin identifying the most pressing firearm-related violence research problems."

The report reviewed existing research and pointed out where more research could be done, but concluded that even from what it said was "limited" evidence, "a significant relationship exists between violent media exposure and some measures of aggression and violent behavior."

CDC turned to IOM, which is recommending that the key research priority in the media space is to examine the relationship between exposure to media violence and real-life violence. IOM points out there have been a number of studies on media violence and its impact, but none have established causation, and do not deal specifically with the effect on gun violence.

IOM suggests conducting more research on copycat acts and suggestions that media violence has been imitated in real life. It suggests such research might "advise media purveyors about changes in frequency or type of violent content to help reduce copycat effects or encourage help-seeking behaviors."

The report also says that there are possible adverse effects from evening news reports about violent incidents and "ongoing, sensationalized stories about high-profile murders and mass shootings" that "has not been the subject of systematic research...Some evidence exists that these types of news stories are associated with unrealistic perceptions of low community safety as well as, in some cases, secondhand trauma-related fear, depression, feelings of vulnerability and PTSD."

It points to the age-old conundrum of the relationship between childhood media violence exposure and adult actions, given that one cannot ethically conduct an experiment in which some children are subjected to violent media to study the theory. But it concludes that there can be more study in that area of long-term causality by "using modern statistical methods for supporting causal inferences based on non-experimental data."

Among the questions new research on the impact of media violence and real violence should seek to answer, says the report, are:

Is there a relationship between long-term exposure to media violence and subsequent firearm-related violence? To what degree do violence-prone individuals disproportionately expose themselves to media violence? If such a relationship exists, is it causal and who is most susceptible? If a plausible case can be made that the relationship is causal, what kinds of people are most susceptible to the effects of media violence? If the relationship is causal, which dimensions of media exposure are driving the relationship (e.g., competitiveness, violence, particular violence subtypes or contexts)?

The Administration is not the only concerned party looking for better living through research.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been pushing legislation to conduct new media violence research similar to that proposed by IOM. He has previously pushed for a bill that would allow the FCC to regulate media violence as it does indecency, but has been unsuccessful in persuading enough colleagues to join that effort.

Rockefeller praised the IOM effort, but a committee source said it would not supersede Rockefeller's legislation.

"The research agenda proposed by the IOM would improve our understanding of this content and how it is linked to behavior," said Rockefeller. "This will inform our work to develop policy that protects our children. We should take the IOM proposal seriously and make sure the research into causes of gun violence can begin in earnest. I have always believed that the cornerstone of good public policy is strong facts rooted in objective evaluation."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.