Nav: Home

'Media contagion' is factor in mass shootings, study says

August 04, 2016

DENVER - People who commit mass shootings in America tend to share three traits: rampant depression, social isolation and pathological narcissism, according to a paper presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention that calls on the media to deny such shooters the fame they seek.

"Mass shootings are on the rise and so is media coverage of them," said Jennifer B. Johnston, PhD, of Western New Mexico University. "At this point, can we determine which came first? Is the relationship merely unidirectional: More shootings lead to more coverage? Or is it possible that more coverage leads to more shootings?"

Johnston and her coauthor, Andrew Joy, BS, also of Western New Mexico University, reviewed data on mass shootings amassed by media outlets, the FBI and advocacy organizations, as well as scholarly articles, to conclude that "media contagion" is largely responsible for the increase in these often deadly outbursts. They defined mass shootings as either attempts to kill multiple people who are not relatives or those resulting in injuries or fatalities in public places.

The prevalence of these crimes has risen in relation to the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims, Johnston said.

"We suggest that the media cry to cling to 'the public's right to know' covers up a greedier agenda to keep eyeballs glued to screens, since they know that frightening homicides are their No. 1 ratings and advertising boosters," she said.

The demographic profile of mass shooters is fairly consistent, she said. Most are white, ostensibly heterosexual males, largely between the ages of 20 and 50. They tend to see themselves as "victims of injustice," and share a belief that they have been cheated out of their rightful dominant place as white, middle class males.

"Unfortunately, we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame," she said. This quest for fame among mass shooters skyrocketed since the mid-1990s "in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hour news coverage on cable news programs, and the rise of the internet during the same period."

She cited several media contagion models, most notably one proposed by Towers et al. (2015), which found the rate of mass shootings has escalated to an average of one every 12.5 days, and one school shooting on average every 31.6 days, compared to a pre-2000 level of about three events per year. "A possibility is that news of shooting is spread through social media in addition to mass media," she said.

"If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years," she said. "Even conservatively, if the calculations of contagion modelers are correct, we should see at least a one-third reduction in shootings if the contagion is removed."

She said this approach could be adopted in much the same way as the media stopped reporting celebrity suicides in the mid-1990s after it was corroborated that suicide was contagious. Johnston noted that there was "a clear decline" in suicide by 1997, a couple of years after the Centers for Disease Control convened a working group of suicidologists, researchers and the media, and then made recommendations to the media.

"The media has come together before to work for good, to incite social change," she said. "They have done, and they can do it. It is time. It is enough."

Session 1246: "Mass Shooters and the Media Contagion Effect," Symposium, Thursday, Aug. 4, 1 - 2:50 p.m. MDT, Mile High Ballroom 4F Level 3, Ballroom Level, Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street, Denver.
-end-
Presentations are available from the APA Public Affairs Office.

Contact: Jennifer Johnston at Johnstonjenny40@gmail.com or by phone at (575) 654-0052.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 117,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

http://www.apa.org

American Psychological Association

Related Social Media Articles:

Can seeing the Facebook logo make you crave social media?
A new study examined how social media cues such as the Facebook logo may affect frequent and less frequent social media users differently, sparking spontaneous hedonic reactions that make it difficult to resist social media cravings.
People could be genetically predisposed to social media use
Chance York (Kent State University) used a behavior genetics framework and twin study data from the 2013 Midlife in the United States survey, York examined how both environmental and genetic factors contribute to social media use by applying an analytical model called Defries-Fulker Regression.
New survey reveals almost 6 in 10 teens take a break from social media
A new survey reveals that 58 percent of American teens report taking significant breaks from social media, and that many of these breaks are voluntary.
Who are you on social media? New research examines norms of online personas
According to the Pew Research center, the majority of adults on the internet have more than one social networking profile on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Social media tools can reinforce stigma and stereotypes
Researchers have developed new software to analyze social media comments, and used this tool in a recent study to better understand attitudes that can cause emotional pain, stigmatize people and reinforce stereotypes.
Floods and hurricanes predicted with social media
Social media can warn us about extreme weather events before they happen -- such as hurricanes, storms and floods - according to new research by the University of Warwick.
Why is some social media content interpreted as bragging?
People who post personal content on social networking sites such as Facebook and try to present themselves in a positive light may be perceived as bragging, and therefore be less attractive to others, according to a new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Your (social media) votes matter
Tim Weninger, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, conducted two large-scale experiments on Reddit and the results provide insight into how a single up/down vote can influence what content users see on the site.
Multi-social millennials more likely depressed than social(media)ly conservative peers
Compared with the total time spent on social media, use of multiple platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health found in a national survey.
Computers can take social media data and make marketing personas
Computers may be able to group consumers into marketing segments in real time just by observing how they respond to online videos and other social media data, according to a team of researchers.

Related Social Media Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...