The shooting rampage in an Erfurt school that took 17 lives has Germany searching for the roots of such aggression. A study recently released in the American journal Science links violent TV with violent behavior.
Did violent media images help lead to Robert Steinhäuser's killing spree in Erfurt?
The study began in 1975 with 707 families, each of whom had a child around the age of six in the household. Researchers followed the families as the children grew up and recorded the amount of time they watched television. Later researchers observed which of them, by that time adolescents and young adults, developed serious violent behaviors.
The results showed clearly that the more time the children spent in front of the TV, the more likely they were to develop into violent-prone adolescents or adults.
Researchers defined "violent" in this study as physical attacks on other people or participation in armed robberies.
The link between TV watching and violence behavior was especially pronounced among boys, according to the study.
More TV - More Violence
Researchers found that of fourteen-year-old boys who on average watched less than one hour of television a day, one in twelve of them would physically attack others once they reached the ages of between 16 and 22.
However, if that time spent in front of the set was increased to between one and three hours daily, the propensity for violence went up – from one in twelve boys to one in four.
Finally that number jumps to 41.7% among those who spent more than three hours daily in front of the TV.
Girls, on the other hand, appeared to be less sensitive to the effects of television viewing than their male counterparts.
Even when fourteen-year-old girls had spent more than three hours in front of the set, only one in eleven developed violent tendencies later on.
Hotly Debated Topic
The study is not likely to completely settle the debate over the media’s connection to or responsibility for violence. But it adds weight to those voices which decry the violent nature of today’s mass media and want to see change.
Media expert George Comstock asserts that that media violence does have a significant impact on anti-social behavior, especially due to the fact that it does not show the pain and suffering that result from violence.
And Leonard Eron, chair of the American Psychological Association’s Commission on Violence and Youth, conducted a similar longitudinal study, the results of which largely agree with the study in Science. He finds that television violence affects youngsters of all ages, both genders and all socioeconomic levels and levels of intelligence.
Still, the topic has been debated for over fifty years and there are still professionals who doubt that any direct causal relationship can be definitively proven.
"There are many factors that contribute to violence in general," wrote Dr. Stuart Fischoff, psychologist at California State University, in the Journal of Media Psychology. "Media manufactured violence is an easy and slow moving target. It’s easy to say, ‘the media did it!’"
Calls for a Ban on Violent computer games
But some German politicians look to be doing just that.
Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian conservative hoping to unseat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in elections this fall, has called for restrictions on violent videos and computer games.
"Videos glorifying violence should be generally forbidden. That has not happened up to now. I think now there is the readiness to take such a step," Stoiber told reporters.
The Erfurt school killer, Robert Steinhäuser, was found to have possessed a number of violent videos. He was also a fan of violent computer games along with heavy metal music often containing violent themes.
Stoiber might have found fertile ground in the aftermath of the shootings. Politicians from across the political spectrum, teachers, parents and clerics are demanding something be done.
Germany’s Bild Zeitung, the country’s largest circulation daily, has blamed violence on television and computer games for the massacre in its editorials.
It described the shooting as a "wake-up call" and "warning sign" for German society and politicians. Parents as well as politicians have failed, it said.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is meeting with heads of German television stations on Thursday to discuss voluntary curbs on violent films.