NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teaching Aggression Through Media Violence

May 3, 1999

Hundreds of studies in recent decades have revealed a strong correlation between direct exposure to media violence -- including video games -- and increased aggression.

This is demonstrated by the fact that the same techniques were used to great effect to motivate service personnel in the Vietnam War to use their weapons, according to Dave Grossman, a former Army officer and professor at West Point and the University of Arkansas. Ultraviolent media employ the same psychological techniques of desensitization, conditioning and vicarious learning, he contends.

Here are some revelations from Grossman's book, "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."

  • During the Vietnam War, conditioning techniques were used to increase the "firing rate" -- that is, the percentage of soldiers who would actually fire a weapon during an encounter -- from the 15 percent to 20 percent range experienced in Word War II to as much as 95 percent in Vietnam.
  • Soldiers were taught to kill automatically in battle encounters -- yet respect authority and make split-second distinctions between friends and enemies.
  • Not only are these conditioning techniques not tempered in ultraviolent media by considerations of respect and distinctions, they teach people to associate violence with pleasure.
  • Today's interactive video games allow inflicting pain and suffering to become a source of entertainment.

Grossman cites the case of Michael Carneal to make another point: that video games hone killing skills. Carneal is the 14-year-old who opened fire on a prayer group in a Paducah, Kentucky, school foyer in 1997. He was a video-game expert and although he had never fired a pistol before stealing the gun he used that day, he fired eight shots and hit eight people -- killing three.

The average law enforcement officer in the U.S., at a distance of seven yards, hits fewer than one target in five shots.

Source: Denise Caruso, "Digital Commerce," New York Times, April 26, 1999.


Browse more articles on Government Issues