Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 478-479)

PROFESSOR KEVIN BROWNE

24 MARCH 2009

  Q478 Chairman: May I remind all those present of the Register of Members' Interests where the interests of members of this Committee are noted. This is the final session in our inquiry on knife crime which started in October last year. Professor Browne, we are absolutely delighted to have you give evidence to us on a particular aspect of knife crime and that is the effect of the watching of video games on young adults. In all the submissions that have been made to the Government and indeed from the Government on this issue they have maintained that there is no link between violent video games and the possibility of violence by those who watch them. Do you think that that is a correct view or do you think there is evidence that goes the other way?

  Professor Browne: It is a view that is not supported by scientific evidence. The scientific evidence, as reviewed in the Lancet in 2005, which was authored by me and my colleague, looked at all the available evidence in the English scientific literature. It became very clear that there are well-established short-term effects of children or teenagers watching violent video films, DVDs or playing violent computer games and then behaving aggressively in the hours and weeks afterwards. The effect size has been measured and the effect size is equivalent to the effects of using condoms to prevent HIV or the effect size of putting fluoride in the water to reduce tooth decay. It is an effect size that has considerable public health consequences. The scientific lobby is very clear that media violence has effects on children and adolescents in the short term. The debate that is left is one involving long-term effects, ie if you watch violent films aged eight does that make you more prone to be a delinquent or a criminal at 16? That is still open to question. The scientific evidence for that is both pro and against, so there is a balance. Some studies do not find a link over long-term effects and some studies do. However, the studies that have been carried out have been mainly to do with non-vulnerable groups, school children that have been followed up over time. Most of this research is American and they have not looked at vulnerable groups. In the UK, with Home Office funding in the late 1990s, we did look at young offenders and how they react differently as a vulnerable group to media violence than non-offenders and we found indeed that they do. First of all, they watch more media violence in any case. Non-offenders have a more varied diet of film and game entertainment. They will be interested in comedies. As they grow up they are going to be interested in films that have non-violent sex in and they also like action movies and some violent movies, but this is in proportion to a varied diet.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q479  Mr Streeter: I am not sure how many other colleagues watched the DVD that was sent round to us but it was pretty horrific. I watched it this morning. One of the things I noted in the video games was that it is not just the violence to the victim but the sense of power you felt from the person actually carrying the knife and sticking it in someone's face or that sort of thing. You have talked about the link between video games and films and violent behaviour. What about carrying knives? Is there any evidence that there is a link between these kind of power films and carrying knives?

  Professor Browne: Yes. We know that children and young people are influenced by heroes in the film and less so by villains. If you live on a diet of violent movies that hit first and ask questions afterwards, which fits in with a violent offender's frame of mind, then you are likely to copy what that violent hero does. Violent heroes in movies are people like Claude Van Damme, Stephen Siegel and to a certain extent Arnold Swarzenegger. They play heroes that are violent first and they will copy those heroes in that violence if they come from a violent family background. The thing I wanted to emphasise about our research for the Home Office in the late 1990s is we found a distinct difference between children who grew up in a violent environment and children who did not. Children who grew up in a violent environment and who witnessed real violence in their community or family were very prone to copy and imitate what they see on the screen, but this is not direct imitation. This is what confuses people who ask the question about whether films have an effect. A child or a teenager that copies something from a movie will put it within their own behavioural repertoire; they will not copy it directly. For example, there is a computer game called Carmageddon which is about running down pedestrians in a car. It is a game where you drive a car and the more pedestrians you knock down the higher the score. A teenager watching this who has not yet got a driving licence will not obviously get in a car and start mowing people down in a car because he will not have access to a car, but he will interpret what he sees in the film, if he comes from a violent background, and perhaps get on a bicycle and run over people on the bicycle. So you have got to see film being used within the behavioural repertoire of the child or the young person. They would not directly copycat. It is the expectation of the media that the only evidence that they see as valid is where they see direct copycatting.



 
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