Screen Violence: Impact on Self as Relational Being
In my book with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence, (highlight and link to book on amazon) I outline the research from 1950 to 1999 that demonstrates unequivocally that media violence plays a significant role in creating aggressive behaviors and desensitizing people to real-life human suffering. Eron and Huesmann’s 22-year longitudinal study released in 1984, discussed in detail in that book, showed that exposure to television violence was particularly deleterious before the age of eight. A new longitudinal study performed by Huesmann, Eron and colleagues at the University of Michigan, 1977-1992 and released in March 2003 adds evidence to previous findings that watching television violence increases aggression in the long run. This study, like its 1984 predecessor, also shows that the effects of children’s viewing of TV violence last into adulthood and increase aggressive behavior for both males and females. (1)
The study examined the relations between watching TV violence at ages 6 to 10 (557 children growing up in the Chicago area during the 1970’s and the 1980’s) and adult aggressive behavior about 15 years later, when the individual’s were 20-25 years old. This follow-up consisted of data from the state archives (for 450 of the former children) and interview data (for 329 of the former children, and also for spouses and friends). Aggression was measured by both self-reported variables, ranging from verbal and indirect aggression over various kinds of physical aggression to arrests and criminal acts. TV Viewing variables were: TV violence viewing; perceived realism of TV violence; and identification with aggressive female and male characters, respectively. (2)
The analyses reveal that children’s TV-violence viewing, children’s identification with aggressive same-sex TV characters, and children’s perceptions that TV violence is realistic (tells about life “just like it is”) were significantly correlated with their adult aggression. More viewing, greater identification, and stronger belief also predicted more adult aggression regardless of how aggressive participants were as children. (3)
Another conclusion of the study is that more aggressive children are more likely to watch media violence because it makes their own behavior seem normal; however, their subsequent viewing of violence then increases their aggressive scripts, schemas, and beliefs through observational learning and makes subsequent aggression more likely. Although several parenting factors also correlate with aggression, the relations between watching TV violence and later aggression persist when the effects of socio-economic status, intellectual ability, and parenting factors are controlled. And even if watching TV violence is not the only factor predicting later aggression, there were few other factors shown to have larger effects. (4)
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