My time is winding down (if it hasn’t already), but before I do the final—sincere—“thanks-for-letting-me-guest” post, I wanted to flag a couple new pieces in a “science-and-law” discussion that I’ve always enjoyed.
Earlier this month two (more) studies were published linking different sorts of media with negative behavior. Both got a good chunk of press attention. One study, Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth, showed that "Listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics is related to advances in a range of sexual activities among adolescents, whereas this does not seem to be true of other sexual lyrics.” The other, The Effect of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-Life Violence, showed that “violent video game exposure can cause desensitization to real-life violence.” Both drew policy implications from their findings: “the modern entertainment media landscape could accurately be described as an effective systematic violence desensitization tool. Whether modern societies want this to continue is largely a public policy question, not an exclusively scientific one" and "Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content could help delay the onset of sexual behavior."
The media violence debate has been around for a while, of course, but these are two very interesting new studies, and I think the debate highlights issues that will be at the front of neuroethics and law discussions in the near future, especially trying to balance empirical findings with legal and policy considerations (I won't get into the juicy, equally interesting, paternalism issues they raise!).
Based on the literature I know of, my opinion is there’s a pretty well-established link between media violence and aggressive/antisocial behavior. Haejung Paik & George Comstock, The Effects of Television Violence on Antisocial Behavior: A Meta-Analysis, 21 COMM. RES. 516 (1994); see also Brad J. Bushman & Craig Anderson, Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation, 56 AM. PSYCHOL. 477 (2001). So what—I ask my Law and the Social Sciences students—do we do? Even showing that link (and let’s say it’s shown to be causal), there’s that pesky First Amendment. So, as with many other issues, we have to balance what empirical data may clearly show with other policy, legal, and constitutional factors that may militate against applying the data in the way, or to the extent, social scientists might hope. Again, I think this will be an important neuroethics-and-the-law issue—for instance, as discussion of Marc Hauser’s work (see post below) has and, I think, will continue to demonstrate.
I and others have suggested that one benefit of getting such data out there anyway, though, is the transparency it encourages: “there is a very real benefit to presenting social science research even when the law bases its decision on these alternative factors, ‘forcing’ a deciding court to articulate more precisely the legal and policy basis for its decision. Indeed, for some commentators, whether or not the proposed research is accepted by the court, the benefit inheres in ‘compel[ling] judges to act like judges, stating clearly the fundamental values and normative premises on which their decisions are grounded, rather than hiding behind empirical errors or uncertainties.’” Jeremy A. Blumenthal, Law and Social Science in the Twenty-First Century, 12 S. CAL. INTERDISCIPLINARY L.J. 1, 51 (2002) (quoting Thomas Grisso & Michael J. Saks, Psychology's Influence on Constitutional Interpretation: A Comment on How to Succeed, 15 LAW & HUM. BEHAV. 205, 208 (1991)).
So I use those media studies as examples of what I think will be quite exciting policy discussions in this burgeoning field, discussions I look forward to.