Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

Watching Violence in the Media Does Not Cause Crime

The personality of the viewer is key

It has long been asserted that watching crime on television or playing violent video games contributes to violent behavior. In other words, it is what a person watches that allegedly influences and desensitizes him. Thus he becomes violent. Consider the absurdity of such a thesis!

1. People who are fascinated and excited by violence and other crimes gravitate to particular types of programs and games and immerse themselves in them, some for hours each day. Their absorption with violence reflects their personality.

2. Millions of people view violence in television programming... It is entertainment or news. That's it! The viewers do not consider for a moment enacting what they see. The same is true with playing video games. They are solely for recreation.

3. There is such a thing as a "copycat" crime. A person watches a crime enacted in detail on television and then does the same thing. His decision to do so reflects a mind that has long been fascinated and excited by crime and violence. For every person who might fantasize about, then replicate the crime, millions of people who saw the very same thing reject it, are repulsed by it, and never would be tempted to enact what they watched.

Critical is not what is on the screen or in the game but what already resides in the mind of the viewer, reader, game player, or listener. A "not guilty by reason of television" defense failed many years ago in a Florida courtroom. Violent tendencies reside within the personality, whether or not the person watches programming depicting violence. The television program, the movie, or the videogame do not turn him into something alien to his basic personality.

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.,is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

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