Do video games cause violence? Feds want more research

The Centers for Disease Control is stepping up its efforts to research a possible link between fantasy video game violence and real-world violence.

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Desiree DeNunzio
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Is there a connection between fantasy violence in games like Bulletstorm and real-world violence? James Martin/CNET

Scientists and psychologists for years have debated whether there's a connection between video games and real-world violence. Do video games refine hand-eye coordination and spur creativity -- or instead turn you into a sociopath? That question has been raised to a fever pitch following national tragedies such as the one in Newtown, Conn.

And though studies, with the exception of a few, have pointed out that a connection between fantasy video game violence and real-world violence doesn't, in fact, exist, the Centers for Disease Control is stepping up its efforts to research a possible link between the two.

The CDC has asked the Institute of Medicine to put together a committee that will look at the influence of video games and other media on real-life violence. The IOM is part of the congressionally chartered and federally funded National Academy of Sciences. In a statement Wednesday the CDC said:

In more than 50 years of research, no study has focused on firearm violence as a specific outcome of violence in media. As a result, a direct relationship between violence in media and real-life firearm violence has not been established and will require additional research.

President Obama earlier this year indicated such research would be coming when he said during a January press conference that he planned to ask Congress for $10 million to fund a study by the CDC on violence and media. He urged the CDC to "conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence."

The resulting research will focus on the characteristics of firearm violence; risk factors; interventions and strategies; gun safety technology; and the influence of video games and other media. The CDC expects the study to produce results in three to five years.

Beyond the questions surrounding video games and violence, the research is likely to stir up controversy for another reason: It's a real-world manifestation of Obama's January lifting of a longtime congressional freeze on funding for CDC research into gun violence. Any funding for such research has to come from Congress.

In the mid '90s, legislators had placed legal restrictions on CDC funding, saying "none of the funds ... may be used to advocate or promote gun control." But in January the White House said the limit didn't apply to gun-related studies across the board and that "research on gun violence is not advocacy." Today's statement from the CDC could reignite accusations from gun-rights advocates that federally funded researchers are taking sides.