Films linked to violent crime

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Home Office told of draft research into movies and young offenders this week, reports Nadene Ghouri

Violent films do contribute to violent crime, say Government researchers.

The full details of a Home Office-funded study into the effects of film violence on juvenile delinquents will not be published until early next year. However, The TES has learned that the report is expected to reveal that violent films do influence some young offenders, even when classified as suitable viewing for teenagers as young as 15.

Dr Kevin Browne of Birmingham University, who led the research, has confirmed the report will show "some link" between violence in movies and in society.

His report is expected to suggest that youngsters who already have a predisposition to violence - those from abusive family backgrounds, for instance - are the most likely to be affected by film or TV.

Earlier this week Dr Browne met Home Office officials to present a draft of the findings. He and Amanda Pennell of the university's school of psychology were commissioned by the Home Office two years ago to investigate the "effect of video violence on young offenders".

In the study, 40 violent offenders, 40 non-violent offenders and 40 non-offenders were split into two age groups, 15-17 years and 18-21 years, and each shown a violent film they had never seen before. The chosen films were all widely available in video shops and had been certified by the British Board of Film Classification as suitable for each age group.

Immediately after watching the film the youths were interviewed. Three months and nine months later their impressions and memories were again monitored. The criminal records of the offenders were also compared to their normal viewing behaviour.

The research aimed to examine whether violent offenders view scenes of aggression differently: if, for example, they identify more closely with a violent character.

The Browne research is likely to reinforce the findings of another study published recently, which showed how some 12-year-olds had fantasies about controlling people through violence after watching Pulp Fiction. Dr Greg Philo of Glasgow University questioned 10 children, some of whom had seen the 18-certificate film up to 11 times.

Dr Philo said: "It seemed very unlikely that violent films would have no influence. The children saw the killers as cool and exciting, while victims were uncool." One child said he thought it "would be cool to blow someone away". Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, was shown on Channel 4 last month.

Both reports reflect the Government's growing concern with violence in society at a time when Home Secretary Jack Straw is cracking down on juvenile crime.

Estelle Morris, the education junior minister, recently contacted Dr Philo about his work. Dr Philo is also discussing the possibility of anti-violence education programmes with the Scottish Office and the National Society for the Protection of Children. He said: "The children didn't like the drugs scenes in the film. They were very clued up on drug dangers because of what they've learned in school. But, as they themselves pointed out, nobody talks to them about violence."

He continued: "It doesn't mean that all children will become copycat killers after watching a violent film. Children develop complex value systems gradually. Clearly these films do affect their thoughts and ideas."

It is estimated that around a third of 8 to 11-year-olds have watched at least one adult movie. The National Viewers and Listeners Association estimates that children watch more than 1,000 shootings on television each year.

In 1994, research into the viewing habits of young offenders by the Policy Studies Institute concluded that television and film had little influence on their lives, when compared to experiences of life in care or in custody. Their most-watched television programme was The Bill.

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