I blogged a few months ago about empirical evidence suggesting that pornography might reduce sexual assault (not increase it, as most media and political commentators seem to assume). In a similar vein, a new study on video games seems to suggest that they too have a negative effect on crime rates.
Patents and Antitrust: Video Games and Violent Crime
Psychology studies of the effects of playing video games have found emotional responses and physical reactions associated with reinforced violent and anti-social attitudes. It is not clear, however, whether these markers are associated with increases in one’s preferences for anti-social behaviors or whether virtual behaviors act to partially sate one’s desire for actual antisocial behaviors. Violent or criminal behaviors in the virtual world and in the physical world could plausibly be either complements or substitutes. A finding of one versus the other would have diametrically opposing policy implications. I study the incidence of criminal activity as related to a proxy for increased gaming, the number of game stores, from a panel of US counties from 1994 to 2004. With fixed county and year effects, I can examine if changes relative increases in gaming in an area are associated with relative increases or decreases in criminal activity. For six of eight categories of crime, more game stores are associated with significant declines in crime rates. Proxies for other leisure activities, sports and movie viewing, do not have a similar effect. For confirmation, I also find that mortality rates, especially mortality rates stemming from injuries, also are negatively related to the number of game stores.
And it turns out that the same goes for violent movies.
Does Movie Violence Increase Violent Crime?
Gordon Dahl & Stefano DellaVigna
Laboratory experiments in psychology find that media violence increases aggression in the short run. We analyze whether media violence affects violent crime in the field. We exploit variation in the violence of blockbuster movies from 1995 to 2004, and study the effect on same-day assaults. We find that violent crime decreases on days with larger theater audiences for violent movies. The effect is partly due to voluntary incapacitation: between 6PM and 12AM, a one million increase in the audience for violent movies reduces violent crime by 1.1 to 1.3 percent. After exposure to the movie, between 12AM and 6AM, violent crime is reduced by an even larger percent. This finding can be explained by the self-selection of violent individuals into violent movie attendance, leading to substitution away from more volatile activities. In particular, movie attendance appears to reduce alcohol consumption. We find suggestive evidence that strongly violent movies trigger an increase in violence; however, this increase is dominated by a substitution away from more dangerous activities. Overall, our estimates suggest that in the short-run violent movies deter almost 1,000 assaults on an average weekend. While our design does not allow us to estimate long-run effects, we find no evidence of medium-run effects up to three weeks after initial exposure.
It’ll be interesting to see whether these studies have any impact on the way policymakers think about regulation of violent movies and video games. I’m guessing that the strong distaste that policymakers have for the subject matter will continue to dominate empirical evidence.