NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 25, 2008

A lot has been written over the years on the link between violent culture and violent crime. Most of this has focused on the possibility that playing violent games or watching violent movies makes you more aggressive, a finding backed by some lab studies but not others.

Now researchers have found the opposite is true -- at least in the short term. It seems that when violent movies come out violent people go and see them, meaning they're not on the streets drinking, fighting and generally running amok.

Researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) looked at the relationship between blockbuster movies and assaults on the days these movies are released.  They found:

  • Violent crime decreased on days when larger numbers of people went to see violent movies, compared to days with less violent movies showing.
  • If the audience for violent movies went up by a million people, violent crime dropped by about 1.2 percent.

"This finding is explained by the self-selection of violent individuals into violent movie attendance, leading to a substitution away from more volatile activities," say Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna.  "In particular, movie attendance appears to reduce alcohol consumption. ... Overall, our estimates suggest that in the short-run violent movies deter almost 1,000 assaults on an average weekend."

What about in the long-run?  Well their estimates don't allow them to calculate this, but the found no evidence for medium-term effects up to three weeks after watching films.

There's still no answer here to the question of whether watching a violent movie makes non-violent people violent.  In the meantime though here's an easy way to cut street crime: show all four Die Hard films continually in all cinemas.

Source: "Watching Die Hard cuts street crime,", January 22, 2008; based upon: Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna, "Does Movie Violence Increase Violent Crime?" National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 13718, January 2008.

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