There has been a lot of research conducted on the notions that violence portrayed in media - such as television, video, film, music, newspapers and books - can have adverse effects on the children viewing it. Many people have suggested that media has allowed violence to become so prevalent in our societies. It has also been suggested that media has been responsible in making the children violent as well. Statistics have shown that an average person watches as much as 7 hours of television every day. It does not come as any surprise that a child between the age of two and five watches approximately 28 hours of television ever week (Johnson, 1990: Hoffman, 1990). Another thing that comes to mind is that there has been a lot of allowance of violence in the media ever since broadcasting was deregulated in 1980. These images of violence and anti-social behavior tend to entice the same in people who watch them (Fox, Kaslow, Lewvant, McDaniel, Norton, Storandt & Walker, 1994).
It has been recognized that children who are continuously being exposed to violent images in the media tend to incorporate the ideas behind violence in their learning process (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963; Cannon, 1989; Wilson & Hunter, 1983). The phenomenon of violence is also very complex and there are many factors that can or cannot induce violent behavior in a human being. Many people have suggested that the individuals' personalities, their family backgrounds, their cultural, educational, and religious implications, all contribute to acts of violence. It is believed that children learn from things that happen around them and also by observing people who are important to them, e.g. parents, teachers, priests etc. This is because children start to develop a sense of themselves and others and a sense of right and wrong very early (Piaget, 1932; Sullivan, 1953; Winnicott, 1965). Children who are raised in a society where inequality is supported, they find more evidence of selfishness, competition and domination, they are more likely to grow up to be violent people (West, 1993).
From this we can derive the fact that children are more likely to be exposed to violent material in the media if they are not supervised properly and are not guided properly. Many researches have contributed to this as realizations have been made that prolonged exposure to violence and anti-social behavior in the media to children causes them to be more involved in the use of alcohol and drugs (Evans, 1987; McBee, 1982), and cheat more in school, (Greene, 1992; Greene & Saxe, 1991; McBee, 1982). Even though it has been said that there is a very positive relationship between violence in a person and violence that he/she has been exposed to in the media (Freedman, 1984; 1986), there are many other factors that also have to be considered when viewing the exact effect of violence in media on a child or a person. Although almost everyone would agree that children who view violence in media might turn out to be violent in their real lives, this cannot be the only factor that must be considered when drawing such a conclusion.
That is to say that some of the evidence that has been gathered from the laboratory experiments and other correlational research tend to point otherwise. Some of the laboratory findings have suggested that watching violent images on television can increase the probability of subsequent maladaptive behavior (Evans & McCandless, 1978). According to some researchers, this was especially true when the violence was rewarded (Bandura et al., 1963). Andison (1977) found that the effects on aggression by viewing violence on television are not necessarily more in children as compared to the adult viewers. This research, even though inconclusive, also found that the effects of violence in media were slightly stronger on adults than they were on preschool children. These findings are very different from those that have suggested that media can have more effects on children since they are more susceptible in their growing years.
Research that has been conducted in the field and also by correlation also provides some other important perspectives on this issue. These researches show that the images of violence viewed on television can have various different kinds of effects on the viewer and these effects largely depend on the personality of the viewer. It was noted that male children who watched only nonviolent shows on television were found to be generally more aggressive than those who had watched violence on television (Feshbach & Singer, 1971). Findings by Friedrich and Stein (1973), however, have suggested that there exists a complex relationship between interpersonal aggression and the watching of violent television programs. It was also found that people who were high on the aggression list and those who saw violence in the media, took a longer time in coming down from their aggressive state than did high-aggressors who saw neutral or nonviolent images. On the other hand, those who were low on aggression and who saw nonviolent images became more aggressive than those who saw violence on television. This means that even those images that were nonviolent evoked an aggressive response under certain conditions (Gadow Sprafkin. 1989). The programs that were used to determine this included Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (Coates, Pusser & Goodman, 1976).
These findings have made many researchers question the true nature of violence in the media and how it can or cannot affect the child in various ways. Some studies have also suggested that it is not the nature of the programs but the number of hours that a child spends in front of the television that is the cause of the adverse effects. This is so according to Belson (1978), who believes that aggression could be derived from watching violent television as often as it could be derived from watching nonviolent images.
The research on children has been restricted to because of many factors. It is believed that children are a special audience (Dorr, 1986). They are generally considered to be more vulnerable to the exposure of various contents on television, more than adults are known to be affected. This is because the minds of children are in a stage of cognitive immaturity and the cognitive pathways in their minds can easily be shaped by various media that are fed into it. It has been found that television is a particularly attractive thing for the children and the children tend to view television more than they indulge in other activities. This is why television has an enormous potential of shaping the way a child might think and act. There are many kinds of programs that come on the television and many of them have been specifically designed to mold and nurture the minds of children. Thus it is also very possible that children who view violent images on television can have certain adverse affects on their brains. This can in turn affect their personalities and instill a fascination with violence for the rest of their lives.
As discussed above, there is much disagreement as to exactly how television viewing can or cannot affect the minds of children. One that that is for sure is that children do tend to watch a whole lot of television. Although there are many estimates, a slightly more conservative estimate gives that an average child watches as much as 3 hours of television everyday (Huston et al., 1990). The effects of viewing tend to depend largely on the nature of the programs but this is also debatable since the factors involving individual personalities are also to be considered.
Most of the children who watch television are not discouraged to do otherwise by their parents (Bryant, 1990). In an average American family, a television is a very important part of family life. Families sit together and watch many television shows and most of the times young children are watching television in front of their parents. One study concluded that children watched television with children more than seventy percent of the time (St. Peters, Fitch, Huston, Wright, & Eakins, 1991). It has also been determined that television habits are formed in the early years of a child. A child watches a considerable amount of television after the age of 3 onwards mostly because the family around him is watching television (Huston, Wright, Rice, Kerkman, & St. Peters, 1990). The parents are mostly blamed for not regulating their children's television viewing habits. This has also been found that not many parents put in an effort to regulate their children's television viewing patterns. Children learn by their parents' examples and if the parents watch a lot of television, so do the children. (St. Peters et al.,1991).
The parents also play an integral role in the children's mind about the contents of what they view on television. If the parents also enjoy watching violent images on television, the children are also more likely to like and thus view more violence on television. Many studies have indicated that explaining what the child just saw on television can greatly help resolve many issues in the child's mind and also helps them to make better and informed decisions later on. It is believed that if the parents discuss the ideas behind the aggression shown on television with their children, the violent images tend to have a considerably less affect on the child (Desmond, Singer, & Singer, 1990; Wright, St. Peters, & Huston, 1990). It has also been theorized that television may also affect the whole family as a group, that is, in the way that they spend their time and events together (Bryant, 1990). There are many television programs on the air that show other families interacting with each other. These families have served as role models for many American families all over the nation for many years. It is very likely that your normal average family is akin to these families and takes up and adopts many or some of the patterns that they see being interacted on television. These patterns can be considered as what defines normality for these people.
For the most part, it is very relevant to study the literature that is on the topic of the effects of televised violence on aggression (Geen & Thomas, 1986; Hearold, 1986; Roberts & Maccoby, 1985). The fact that keeps recurring is that it is only the televised viewing that brings about an increased aggressive state but it other factors also have to be considered. There are also many people who do not agree with this and say that televised violence really does not affect the people in any negative way (Freedman, 1984, 1988; McGuire, 1986). Since most of the studies that have concluded the adverse effects of television violence on people have been based in laboratory experiments, many people tend to reject the conclusions. “Critics of laboratory research base their arguments on allegations that such studies represent only analogs of aggressive behavior and not cross-sections of it (e.g., Freedman, 1984). Partly because of such arguments, interest in laboratory experiments began to wane in the 1970s as research on the effects of televised violence became based more and more on studies in natural settings. Some of these studies, usually called field experiments, involved the use of experimental methodology in natural settings. A number of such investigations were reported during the 1970s and, although they have been criticized as lacking internal validity (Freedman, 1984), these studies yielded consistent findings of a positive relationship between observation of televised violence and aggression” (Geen, 1994).
Friedrich-Cofer and Huston (1986) provide a detailed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these studies. Also, Wood, Wong & Chachere (1991) also reported the results and meta-analysis of 28 filed experiments that were conducted between 1956 and 1988. “The studies included in this analysis were chosen because they investigated the effects of media violence on aggression among children and adolescents during unconstrained social interaction with strangers, classmates, and friends. Wood and her colleagues concluded that media violence does enhance aggression in such settings and that, because all the experiments involved short-term immediate reactions to observed violence, the effects may be due to temporary changes in affect and arousal as well as to long-term processes like modeling” (Geen, 1994).
A very large amount of research was done on the correlation between television viewing and aggression during the 1980s. “One such investigation was the final phase of a longitudinal project begun in the late 1950s by Eron and his associates (Eron, Walder, & Lefkowitz, 1971). The research began with the study of third-grade students in a rural county in upstate New York. Each child's level of aggressiveness was assessed through ratings made by parents, peers, and the children themselves; each child's preference for violent television programs was also measured. Measures of the same variables were obtained 10 and 22 years later from many of the same children. The method of cross-lagged panel correlation was used for analysis of the data. The results of the 10-year follow-up (Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, & Huesmann, 1977) revealed that among boys the amount of televised violence watched during third grade was positively correlated with aggressiveness 10 years later, whereas the correlation between aggressiveness during Grade 3 and the amount of violent television watched a decade later was essentially zero. Following the assumptions of cross-lagged correlation analysis, Eron and his associates inferred a causal relation between observing violence and aggressiveness from these data. For girls, both correlations were not significantly greater than zero. In 1984, Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz, and Walder reported the results of the 22-year follow-up. A positive relationship between childhood television viewing and subsequent aggressiveness was again suggested: The seriousness of crimes for which males were convicted by age 30 was significantly correlated with the amount of television that they had watched and their liking for violent programs as 8-year-olds. Again, aggressiveness at age 8 was not related to either overall viewing practices or preference for violent programs at age 30” (Geen, 1994).
Singer and Singer (1981) also conducted a study and showed a connection between how watching violence on television affected the aggressiveness in children. This study was conducted on nursery school age children for 1-year. “At four times during the year, 2-week periods were designated as probes during which parents kept logs of their children's television viewing. Meanwhile, observers recorded instances of aggressive behavior by the children during school hours. When data were combined across all four probes, aggressive behavior was found to be significantly correlated with the total amount of time spent in watching “action-adventure” programs, all of which manifested high levels of violence. This effect was found for both boys and girls.
The pattern of cross-lagged correlations over the four probe periods led the Singers to conclude that the television viewing was leading to the aggressive behavior over the first two comparisons (i.e., from probe 1 to probe 2 and from probe 2 to probe 3). Over the final comparison (from probe 3 to probe 4), however, the cross-lagged pattern showed that not only was earlier viewing correlated with subsequent aggression, but also that earlier aggression was correlated with subsequent viewing. In other words, by the latter phase of the study a reciprocal effect was being shown. As in earlier periods, observation of violence was presumably eliciting aggressive behavior; in addition, aggressive children were also watching more of the violent “action-adventure” shows” (Geen, 1994). This second finding, that people who are high on the aggressiveness scale might like to watch more violence on television is consistent with the results of the laboratory experiments conducted by Fenigstein (1979). In this experiment, people who had had a history of physical aggression against others tended to select television viewing material that was more violent in nature than compared to those who were not as aggressive. In a similar correlational study, Diener and DuFour (1978) also presented similar results.
Media has always provided children with entertainment and visual imagery and imagination that have worked to enhance their minds and also develop their brains. Media has also helped the children in keeping their fears in check and controlling their anxieties. “Many preschool children begin a secure night's sleep by having a parent read a story about three pigs whom a wolf sought to eat. The two pigs who quickly built shelters of straw and of wood so that they could play the rest of the day were devoured by the wolf. The third built his house of brick and would go out early in the mornings to obtain food while the wolf was still asleep. He eventually scalded to death and ate the big bad wolf. According to Bettelheim (1975), this story “teaches the nursery age child in a most enjoyable and dramatic form that we must not be lazy and take things easy, for if we do we may perish. Intelligence, planning, and foresight, combined with hard labor, will make us victorious over even our most ferocious enemy--the wolf!” (pp. 41-42). It may at first seem odd that a child would choose to be frightened at bedtime, a time often already characterized by anxiety brought on by darkness and by the prospect of being alone. The fairy tale initially increases that anxiety, then provides a mechanism for relief. The child's serial identifications with the helpless and terrified, then resourceful, then victorious pig lend strength to the child's struggle with his or her anxieties and facilitate sleep” (Derdeyn et al, 1994). Thus some researchers stress the fact that violent images in the media are necessary for children since it helps them deal with many things and to motivate the mastery of their own emotions and states of mind.
So what is the conclusion that we come to? Is the violence in media bad for the children, or is some of it necessary? Does viewing violence on television have any adverse affects on the children? Is it the nature of television programming that is more harmful or just watching any kind of television bad? Although many of the laboratory experiments that have been reviewed herein suggest that there is a positive relationship between aggressiveness and television viewing, the research remains inconclusive. But it will not be wrong to face the direction of thought that violence in the media does lead to aggressive behavior, as pointed out by the longitudinal studies that were conducted during the 1980s. “The issue may never be settled to everyone's satisfaction, and certainly more research, using state-of-the-art methodology, is needed to settle the many remaining problems before conclusive evidence may be forthcoming. Even so, at the present time we do appear to have a fairly large amount of what Cook and his colleagues (1983) have called “circumstantial evidence” for a hypothesis that observation of violence on television produces some increase in aggressiveness of the viewers” (Geen, 1994)
Various scholars and researchers have tried to explain the relationship between television violence and aggression in different ways. “Until recently, such explanations were based on theoretical concepts that were popular during the 1960s, such as disinhibition, arousal, and activation of conditioned responses. During the 1980s, two new theoretical explanations emerged, both of which are based on more recent cognitive models of behavior” (Geen, 1994).
So far, the evidence that has been collected from various types of studies, including laboratory experiments, field experiments, longitudinal studies, and archival studies, are in favor of the notion that viewing violence on television does have adverse affects on the aggressiveness of the subjects who are watching the programs. These studies have focused on children, adolescents and young adults, and a wide range of constrained and unconstrained behaviors. Even though there might be many limitations to these studies due to the large number of population and the small number of sample, the results from so many researchers have seemed to point to the same direction. “Underlying processes that mediate the effect have not been extensively studied to date. However, some promising developments in theory are taking place, involving the development of models derived from affective, cognitive, and motivational psychology. The debate over the consequences of television violence for aggression is by no means over, and future studies of the problem will benefit from both the large literature on the subject and the emergence of the new theoretical approaches” (Geen, 1994).
A comprehensive literature review has been presented herein that has purported the role that media can play in the aggressiveness of the viewers. It can be concluded that even though media can play a big role in the way a person grows up to react in a negative way, it is not the only factor that is to be taken in consideration. “But to the extent to which the media can influence behavior and facilitate the expression of violence in certain individuals, it is important that carefully designed interventions be implemented. This is particularly the case since the media can also have clear educational influences in teaching a prosocial message and the complexity of human motivation as shown in our analysis” (Herron et al, 1998) of the various literature presented above. Television is a very popular media and it is expected that people, especially children, will continue to watch television and their lives will continue to be affected by the various programs and shows that they watch. It is very important today, for all the parents, teachers, and model citizens, to get involved and try to make the affects of media as non-violent on our children as possible.
All the parents must monitor the television watching activities of their children. The parents must make sure that they sit and watch television with their children and keep explaining to them what is going on. The children need to know how the violent images shown on television are not real and that they should not try to emulate what they see on television. Parents should not use television as a 'babysitter' and must make the television viewing experience a family affair with the children. “It is our contention that the abdication of parental responsibilities and the erosion of the family are major contributors to the increasing number and the severity of the societal problems we face, including our subject, violent behavior” (Herron et al, 1998).
The teachers in schools must also actively participate in educating the children about what they see on television. “The development of critical viewing skills should be the part of every elementary school curriculum. Curricula for the development of critical viewing skills already exists and has been shown to be effective (e.g., Singer, Singer & Zuckerman, 1981). Teaching children how to watch television more productively is extremely important because the use of educational television and other media appears to be growing in all educational levels” (Herron et al, 1998).
Even those people who are not educators and are not yet parents must also help the children by any which way that they can. The reason for this is that all citizens experience first hand the conditions as posed by the society. The children of today are going to grow up to form the societies of tomorrow. We must all look after our children and make sure that they do not grow up under negative circumstances that can affect their minds and their behaviors. “Our concerns about violence should not only include the need to monitor the kinds of programs our children watch but to advocate an understanding of the personal, family and societal issues which cause violence and determine what role television can play in reaching that understanding” (Herron et al, 1998).
This means that everybody in the community must become involved if we are all to minimize the affects of violence in media on our children. There is a large chance that the violence in the media can propagate the interface and can directly, or indirectly, affect the viewers, especially children. At the same time, however, the same media can also be used to negate the harmful affects. There should be more awareness shows on television that teach children the hazards of violence and these must try to grab their attention without the use of violence or other objectionable material. “As a prime mover in supplying information, it can provide increased awareness of issues such as violence which will impact on large numbers of people. It is our hope that many will seek solutions to such problems by becoming more sophisticated users of what is available to them in the media. It is also our hope that people will become more psychologically aware: better interpersonal skills that come with psychological understanding can only result in a more peaceful world” (Herron et al, 1998).
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