Mass School Shootings More Likely to Be Blamed on Video Games When the Perpetrator Is White: 'A Racial Issue'

People are more likely to say violent video games led to a mass school shooting if the perpetrator is white, research has revealed.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, stressed there is little scientific evidence to show violent video games lead to real-world acts of violence, and therefore argue racial stereotypes about who is more likely to commit violent crime likely underlies this attitude.

The 1999 Columbine High School massacre, for instance, was partly blamed on violent video games, the researchers highlighted. However, evidence shows 42 percent of school shootings, not related to gangs or drugs, are committed by members of racial minority groups—yet video games are rarely cited as a cause by the media or public figures in these cases, the authors said.

The team, from Villanova University, Virginia Tech and Pennsylvania State University, carried out two studies. The first study involved 169 undergraduate students aged around 19, the majority of whom were white. They were asked to read a mock newspaper article about a deadly mass high school shooting by an 18-year-old.

The piece described the shooter as an "avid" fan of violent video games, but didn't overtly link this to the attack. The researchers showed half of the participants an article with the shooter appearing as white, while others were shown a black suspect. The respondents were then asked whether they felt violent video games played a role in motivating the shooter.

The participants were more likely to blame video games if the perpetrator was white than if he was black, the authors found.

In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at 204,796 news reports on 204 mass shootings. The incidents involved at least three victims, not including the shooter, were not related to gangs, drugs or organized crime, and took place after 1977: when computer games became commercially available in the home. Of the total, 131 shooters were white and 73 were black.

When a shooting took place at a school with a white gunman, games were cited 6.8 percent of the time, dropping to 0.5 percent for incidents involving a black individual. In cases in locations other than schools, video games were mentioned 1.8 percent of the times when the violence was carried by a white individual, compared with 1.7 when the person was black.

Asked what lead the team to carry out the study, co-author Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, told Newsweek: "There is no scientific evidence linking playing violent video games to horrific acts of violence like homicides or school shootings.

"In fact, research done by numerous scholars from psychology, communication, criminology, sociology, and economics examining such violence have found that when people are consuming violent video games, societal violence decreases. Despite this, the media, politicians, and even some scholars—who should really know better—often link school shootings to video games. The current study was conducted to examine whether racial stereotyping might be one reason some continue to erroneously blame video games for school shootings."

Commenting on the significance of the study, Markey continued: "Because video games are disproportionately blamed as a culprit for mass shootings with white perpetrators, video game 'blaming' can be viewed as flagging a racial issue. Such 'blaming' serves as a symptom of a broader racial problem. This problem is one in which media sources and audiences are more receptive to alternate causes for mass shootings perpetrated by whites than by members of minority groups.

"This disparity may have dire consequences, affecting not only perceptions of video games' effects, but also reflecting disparities in the culpability we assign to criminals depending on their race."

However, he acknowledged the study was limited because it focused solely on male perpetrators. Markey said he hopes the findings will encourage people to be more careful when discussing the role of media in the context of school shootings.

Kimberly Kahn, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Portland State University, is an expert in stereotyping and prejudice who did not work on the paper. She told Newsweek the results are consistent with social psychological research on how conscious and unconscious stereotypes impact our judgments, decisions and behaviors.

"The stereotype that links racial minorities with violence is one of the more pervasive and long-held societal stereotypes," she said. "Stereotypes shape our perceptions to be in line with the stereotype, often in ways we are unaware or may not intend. Stereotypes are particularly influential when information is ambiguous or the cause of a behavior is unclear, such as determining the cause of a particular shooting."

"When a behavior or action is stereotype-consistent, we process that information quicker and we often attribute that behavior to something internal to the individual—that is, something about them as a person or their character," Khan explained.

"When the same behavior is inconsistent with stereotypes, it takes us longer to process and understand the cause of that behavior. We look to the external environment, something outside of the person like violent video games, to attribute the behavior to, often something that is temporary or changeable to deflect internal blame," she said.

This is often the case when the perpetrator is a member of one's own ingroup, such as when the reader and the shooter are both white, as finding an external cause of the action helps to protect the group, she argued.

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Researchers have investigated whether video games are more often blamed for shootings if a perpetrator is white. A stock image shows a gamer. Getty