Don’t Blame Video Games

Chris Ferguson, PhD, psychology professor

What is the relationship between exposure to bullying, childhood trauma and violence in video games among perpetrators of serious crimes such as mass homicides?

In his latest research, Chris Ferguson, PhD, Stetson professor of psychology at Stetson, examined the question in a co-authored study published in the Journal of Mass Violence Research (Nov. 28, 2021).

Ferguson is one of the nation’s foremost experts in video game violence and its impact on violence in society. The co-author was Miranda Sanchez ’20. She majored in psychology and was a former student of Ferguson’s. The research project was the result of her senior thesis.

The results of the new study show that perpetrators of mass homicide had experienced more abuse than other individuals, but not bullying. In addition, those perpetrators had played fewer violent video games than had matched samples. Further, the results seem to match previous data on mass homicide perpetrators.

“In short, we found no differences in exposure to bullying. They did experience more abuse in their childhood families. And, perhaps most interesting, they played fewer​ violent video games than other men,” Ferguson said.

Childhood Trauma and Other Issues

Perpetrators of mass homicides have often been believed to have experienced certain events in their childhoods that may have led to their crimes. Among the issues that were considered in this study were childhood trauma, including abuse, and the history of childhood bullying. Another issue examined was whether they played violent video games as a child.

Exposure to those variables were compared between a sample of 169 male firearm mass homicide perpetrators and preexisting research samples of the same age and gender who had not committed mass murders.

Analyses were preregistered. Hypotheses were tested. They included whether mass homicide perpetrators had experienced more childhood abuse, more childhood bullying or played more violent video games compared to matched samples.

Ferguson’s Conclusion

The frequency of mass homicides appears unlikely to abate in the near future, he said. Much of the discussion around such acts focuses on policy issues related to gun control and mental health. While he believes those are worthwhile, a “fuller understanding of etiological factors involved in the developmental pathway toward mass homicide can also be worthwhile.”

-Michael Candelaria