A study of 430 elementary school children in Minnesota found six key risk factors -- including heavy exposure to violent media content -- that together predict future violent behavior in children.
Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State professor who led the research, said his study isn't an indictment of violent media in and of itself. But when combined with the other risk factors, it increases the risk that a child will engage in bullying or fighting. The other five risk factors are: bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, gender, physical victimization and prior physical fights.
The presence of three of these risk factors increases a child's propensity toward future violence. The combination of being a boy who plays a lot of violent video games and has been in a fight in the last year suggests an 80 percent chance of a child committing a violent act, Gentile found. If all six risk factors are present, the research suggests with 94% certainty that a child will commit a violent act.
The study was among the first to view these risk factors in combination, rather than one by one. While not offering specific prevention strategies, Gentile said these risk factors could be used by parents and schools do identify and work with at-risk kids. Media consumption, he added, is one of the easiest for parents to manage.
"Until now, we haven't really had a very good way of predicting who is likely to be more physically aggressive," said Gentile in a Youtube post explaining his research. "So if we use these in schools, we might be able to profile kids, figure out who the higher risk kids are, and target some programming directly towards them that actually may end up having a larger effect."
Gentile previously worked in Minneapolis with an institute that studied the impact of the media on children and families, and much of his prior research has focused on the impact of media consumption. The study was based on survey responses from students in the third through fifth grades and their teachers. Participating schools included a suburban Catholic school, an urban school and a rural school.
Gentile's latest study is being published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. He hopes it will help schools make better use of their anti-bullying funding and create more effective strategies.
"Some of the programs haven't been as effective as they could be, partly because of this scattershot approach," he said. "We bring all of the kids into an auditorium and we talk to them about bullying for an hour."
The trouble with that approach? "They think it's not about them," Gentile said. "Even the bullies, they don't think were talking about them."