Does the violence in films and on TV contribute to violence in society? This question has been debated for decades. During that time some 2,500 books and articles have been written on the effects of TV and film violence on human behavior. In this article we’re going to summarize some the latest thinking on this subject. The results of one of the most extensive studies ever done on the subject of violence and TV were released in 2003. Researchers followed 329 subjects over 15 years. They found that those who as children were exposed to violent TV shows were much more likely to later be convicted of crime.
Researchers said that, “Media violence can affect any child from any family,” regardless of social class or parenting. Girls who watched more than an average amount of violence tended to throw things at their husbands. Boys who grew up watching violent TV shows were more likely to be violent with their wives. Researchers concluded in Developmental Psychology that, “Every violent TV show increases a little-bit the likelihood of a child growing up to behave more aggressively. ” We’ll look at more of the research in a moment.
Canada was one of the first countries to extensively research this issue. The results of their studies prompted some of their engineers to devise the “V-Chip. ” As you may know, the V-Chip allows parents to lock out TV programming they consider objectionable to their children. Although the concern in Canada was primarily violence (hence the V-chip), in the United States there is also great concern about sexual content — probably more than in most other industrialized societies. Hence, the V-chip can be programmed to screen out both violence and sex.
Cause-Effect Proof A clear cause-effect relationship between media violence and violence in society is complicated by the fact that children are typically exposed to many stimuli as they grow up, many of which could play a role in later behavior. For example, during a child’s life we can’t discount the role of such things as violent video games, the social values of parents and peers, or general living conditions. If you eat something that you have not tried before and immediately get sick, you will probably assume there’s a direct relationship between the two.
And if at some later date you forget about your first experience and eat the same thing again, and immediately get sick again, you can be fairly sure that whatever you ate makes you sick. No rocket science here, just clear cause and effect. Unfortunately, when it comes to violence in the media, the cause and effect is not as readily apparent. A few decades ago you would see doctors in TV commercials endorsing a particular brand of cigarettes. Many medical doctors smoked. Not today.
Today the evidence is clear: smoking is the number one cause of preventable heath problems and premature death in the United States. Although for years the cigarette manufacturers suppressed evidence that linked smoking to health problems, eventually the cause-effect relationship became obvious to anyone who wanted investigate the facts. Unlike the cause and effect in the example of your eating something and immediately getting sick, the effects of cigarette smoking aren’t immediately apparent.
It’s only years later that many smokers develop lung cancer, heart problems, emphysema, sexual problems, etc. In the same way-after looking at years of accumulated data-we’re now recognizing a relationship between violence in the media and social problems. The results of a study released in March, 2002 that tracked 700 male and female youths over a seventeen-year period showed a definite relationship between TV viewing habits and acts of aggression and crime in the later life.
All other possible contributing environmental elements, such as poverty, living in a violent neighborhood, and neglect, were factored out of this study. According to one of the authors of the study, the findings help cement the link between TV and violence. The study is detailed in Science. | Violence and TV Ratings It’s well known that TV violence holds an attraction for most viewers and this attraction translates into ratings and profits. Because of this, most media executives have been reluctant to admit that media violence is in any way responsible for violence in our society.
If it weren’t for the ratings and profits involved, producers would undoubtedly be much more willing to acknowledge the harm in TV and film violence and do something about it. After many high school students died in a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April, 1999, many people were quick to blame the media. Violent video games and a well-known film were seen as contributing factors. Even so, a clear cause and effect is hard to establish. For example, millions of young people were exposed to both of these influences throughout their lives without going on a murderous rampage.
But when you add extreme anger, easy access to guns, and an indifferent and amoral attitude toward the lives of others, the results can be very different. In 1992, TV Guide commissioned a study of a typical 18-hour TV broadcast day to determine levels of violence. The networks and the more popular cable channels were monitored for “purposeful, overt, deliberate behavior involving physical force or weapons against other individuals. ” There were 1,846 acts of violence that broke down this way.
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