This past Wednesday, Alvaro Castillo drove a 1997 Dodge Caravan into the parking lot of Orange High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Today’s Charlotte Observer has the rest of the story:
He threw a smoke bomb onto a vehicle in the parking lot, then got two guns and ammunition out of the van and started shooting…
About 10 shots hit the school’s walls in the courtyard near the cafeteria…
Two students were injured. A bullet grazed one in the shoulder, and another was hit by broken glass…
At Castillo’s home, a more gruesome scene was found: his father’s dead body, shot four times, covered with a sheet. After killing his father, Castillo had recorded his thoughts on video: “Look at me. I’m not even crying. I just killed him and I feel fine,” he said. In the video, Castillo spends most of his time offering commentary on violent movies playing on his small TV. Did these violent films, which he says he’s been watching since he was eight years old, have anything to do with the murder and shooting?
We’ve reported a lot about media violence here at Cognitive Daily, and it’s always been one of our most controversial topics. Avid gamers will swear that playing violent games doesn’t cause them to be more aggressive. Or they’ll just swear. I would like to point readers to some research we discussed briefly last year:
One Belgian study split boys in a home for delinquents into two cottages. One cottage was shown violent films every night for 5 days, while the other cottage ran nonviolent films. The “frequency of hitting, choking, slapping, and kicking their cottage-mates” was significantly higher in the violent movie cottage than in the nonviolent cottage. Even in another study of children in ordinary schools, exposure to violent films led to an increase in physical attacks in a game of floor hockey afterward.
These are just a couple of examples of studies that demonstrate a causal relationship between exposure to violent media and violence. And then there’s this tidbit:
When children were exposed to violent TV at a young age, they were significantly more likely to be aggressive as adults. For example, 42 percent of men who watched a lot of violent TV as children reported pushing, grabbing, or shoving their spouses, compared to only 22 percent of those who watched less violent TV.
This data doesn’t show a causal link, but it’s indeed a dramatic result. But can violent media itself be held to blame? Maybe these men were just raised badly. And indeed, some of the research backs this up:
Parents do appear to have a significant role in the child’s response to media violence: if parents express disapproval or restrict children’s exposure to it, those children are likely to display lower levels of aggression.
The evidence from the Castillo adds support to the notion that parenting may be a significant — perhaps the most significant — part of the equation. From the Observer article:
Castillo also says on the video that his father slapped — but never punched — his head, back and rear. His father disciplined his mother “like a child,” he says.
Clearly Castillo’s abusive upbringing had a lot to do with his shooting spree. But did violent movies help egg him on? It’s difficult to say where one influence began and the next one ended. It’s certainly likely that viewing so much violence at such a young age desensitized Castillo.
It’s equally clear that turning a blind eye to the violence that pervades our society will do little to prevent future Castillos from emerging. Should we censor violent media? Probably not. But parents should be aware that violent media isn’t benign.
Finally, while few children grow up to be mass murderers, many more grow up to be spouse- and child-abusers. The pervasiveness of violent movies, games, and TV shows may be part of the reason.