Mental Illness And Video Games Do Not Cause Mass Shootings

By Lindsey Weedston 08/06/19

While politicians suggest video games and mental illness are responsible for these tragic events, research presents no direct links. 

boy playing video games

Some individuals are once again looking to mental illness and violent video games as possible causes of gun violence in the U.S., in the wake of a weekend of severe mass shootings that left at least 31 dead.

However, according to multiple studies on both topics, there is little—if any—connection between mental illness or video games and mass gun violence.

In terms of mental illness, surveys of past incidents in the country have found that only a fraction of the shooters had been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.

According to The Washington Post, a 2018 report looking at 63 active shooter assailants found that one in four had any mental illness, and only three had a psychotic disorder. An early study that took data from 235 shooters found that 22% were mentally ill.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 20% of the general U.S. population has a mental illness in any given year. 

“It’s tempting to try to find one simple solution and point the finger at that,” said Duke University School of Medicine Professor Jeffrey Swanson. “The fact that somebody would go out and massacre a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind, but that doesn’t mean they have a mental illness.”

At the same time, politicians have pointed to video games as a cause of violence for decades. President Trump himself has attacked video games multiple times, including in a speech Monday about the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” he said. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately.”

No Direct Links

But again, the research does not back up these claims. Studies on the link between violent video games and violent behavior after playing them consistently find no direct link or find that any effects are temporary.

Western Michigan University Professor of Sociology, Whitney DeCamp, looked at data from a 2008 study that surveyed 6,567 eighth graders about their taste in violent video games and found that “playing video games, no matter how bloody, did not predict violent behavior.”

“I found that just by themselves, even without any controls, violent video games were a poor predictor of violent behavior," DeCamp said. "Even in the best model, it only explained about 3% of the variation in violent behavior."

Better predictors for violence included parental involvement in activities and whether the kids grew up in violent neighborhoods.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: