Senators Push to Study TV, Video-Game Violence

WASHINGTON — TV programmers and videogame distributors may be reaching a whole new demographic: academics bent on discovering whether there is a causal connection between onscreen violence and gun violence like December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Last week, the Senate circulated a bill that seeks that connection, if it exists, even as Vice President Joe Biden pushed for two separate studies from President Obama’s violence-initiatives package. Cable and broadcast trade groups have said they were willing to cooperate with research efforts, and if the administration gets its way, they should have plenty of opportunity.

As promised, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has reintroduced a bill — at this stage, still a discussion draft — directing the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent video games and violent video programming on children to determine if there is a causal connection between violence in either medium and real-world violence.

After the Dec. 14 school shootings at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, Rockefeller said he would push for the bill, the Violent Content Research Act of 2013. Rockefeller has been one of the most consistent voice in Congress sounding an alarm about the impact of media, particularly violent content, on children.

“We need comprehensive policies to fully protect our communities,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “This study is an important element of this approach. I’ve been working closely with Senate leadership and my colleagues to make sure that research like this is a priority, and I’m glad that the president’s plan includes additional research into the link between violent content and children’s behavior.” The bill directs the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive study of whether violent video games and video programming have a harmful effect on kids, including causing them to be aggressive (or more aggressive among kids who have already demonstrated aggressiveness) and whether that harm is distinguishable from the “negative affects” of any other type of media, which suggested the study would have to extend to movies, books and other entertainment.

Rockefeller also wants to know whether the negative impact, if there is one, is long-lasting and whether video games have a unique impact due to their interactivity and “the extraordinarily personal and vivid way violence might be portrayed in such video games.”

The report will be due 15 months after the FCC, Federal Trade Commission and HHS have arranged for the studies.

Rockefeller introduced the bill the same day Biden said the president believed “very strongly” that violence research is needed. Biden’s violence initiative includes funding for studies by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.

During a Google Chat with Hari Sreenivasan of the PBS NewsHour, Biden said that there was “part of the interest group population” that was “afraid of facts. Let the facts lead where they will, and let the research be done.”

He said that both he and the president feel very strongly about the research portion of the initiative, “including with regard to the entertainment industry.” Biden conceded there was no hard data correlating violent video games with antisocial behavior, but suggested that was because the research hadn’t been done.


Key Democrats are pushing for more study into links between violent media and real-life actions.

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.