Interpreting the details

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On Monday, research performed at Wake Forest University back in 1999 was released in the August issue of Pediatrics, claiming correlation between viewership of professional wrestling and “date-fighting” among teenagers.

Such correlation is something that Robert Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, finds problematic when drawing conclusions to the findings of the Wake Forest researchers.

“What always worries me about these kinds of studies is that they imply a cause; this study claims nothing more than a correlation,” said Thompson. “So many people immediately see these studies, and they suggest that wrestling is causing these things, and I don’t think that is a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.”

Researchers conducted their initial interviews in the fall of 1999, sampling 2,228 male and female high school students. They concluded that there was an association between teenagers who watched wrestling on television and those who had a tendency toward violence, including fighting on dates and carrying weapons.

“Whether you can make the step that says people who watch wrestling become more violent…is a lot more difficult to prove, and I don’t think these studies prove it,” explained Thompson, a Syracuse University professor. “I think it would be very, very difficult to put together a study that could actually control enough variables that you could demonstrate that.”

In his own personal and admittedly “unscientific” experience, Thompson said that he can recall always having 10 or 12 students in the classes he instructed every year who were really into WWE programming.

“Invariably,” he said, “[the WWE enthusiasts] were among my smartest, geekiest students out there; always the ‘A’ students who always went the extra yard on their papers. I could certainly say that there is a correlation between really good male students and an interest in wrestling. That wouldn’t prove that watching wrestling is going to make you smart, but in my particular experience and analysis, I could demonstrate that,” Thompson said.

On Monday during CNN Headline News, news anchors Susan Hendricks and Mike Galanos discussed the study and addressed several emails received in an informal viewer response poll. Viewers did not seem to interpret the association between violent behavior and watching sports-entertainment, as claimed by Wake Forest researchers.

One viewer wrote in saying that he attended sports-entertainment events with his parents and other family members. In watching the in-ring action and backstage antics, he always knew that it was not “behavior that [he] was to repeat on [his] own.”

Another viewer asked, “Could it be that those who watch wrestling are already pre-disposed to violence in some way?”

“These studies are demonstrating a correlation,” added Thompson. “For example, if the tree in my backyard gets bigger, the hair on my head gets thinner. There’s a direct correlation there, no question about it; one happens, the other happens,” he added. “But there’s certainly no cause there, or I would’ve chopped down that tree a long time ago.”

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