Politicians and activists of various stripes frequently claim that watching violent movies and TV shows contributes to criminal behavior in adulthood, but a study by a Texas professor finds it's not so.
“We basically find that genetics and some social issues combine to predict later adult arrests,” said Texas A&M International University chair and associate professor of psychology Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson. “Despite ongoing concerns about media influences, media exposure does not seem to function as a risk factor for adult criminality.”
Being raised in a loving and supportive environment may be the best way to decrease the odds that children will grow up to be crooks. Or as Ferguson's report put it: "Results demonstrate that exposure to maternal affection can have the potential to decrease criminal behaviors in those who might otherwise be at risk."
In the study, genetics accounted for more variance in criminal behavior among women, 58 percent, than men, 20 percent, although for both sexes, the genetic contribution was significant.
“Genetics was overall one of the strongest predictors of adult criminality among variables we considered in our analysis,” Ferguson said.
No one cause
Other factors such as family environment, peers and socioeconomic status can also be predictors of adult criminality. He explained that no one thing by itself determines negative outcomes, but rather a confluence of unfortunate factors.
“Genetics alone don’t seem to trigger criminal behavior, but in combination with harsh upbringing, you can see negative outcomes. In our sample, experiencing maternal warmth seemed to reduce the impact of genetics on adult criminality,” Ferguson said.
He added that this research can help focus on issues which really matter, such as family environment, and those that don’t — like media consumption.
“People may object morally to some of the content that exists in the media, but the question is whether the media can predict criminal behavior. The answer seems to be no,” Ferguson said.
The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included a representative sample of U.S. adolescents.