TV Violence Key Facts
Since the advent of television, the effect of TV violence on society has been widely studied and vigorously debated. Based on the cumulative evidence of studies conducted over several decades, the scientific and public health communities overwhelmingly conclude that viewing violence poses a harmful risk to children. Critics of the research challenge this conclusion and dispute claims that exposure to TV violence leads to real-life aggression. As we move into the digital era with enhanced images and sound, media violence will undoubtedly continue to be a focus of public concern and scientific research.
Prevalence of Violence on TV
The National Television Violence Study is the largest content analysis undertaken to date. It analyzed programming over three consecutive TV seasons from 1994 to 1997.1 Among the findings:
- Nearly 2 out of 3 TV programs contained some violence,2 averaging about 6 violent acts per hour.3
- Fewer than 5% of these programs featured an anti-violence theme or prosocial message emphasizing alternatives to or consequences of violence.4
- Violence was found to be more prevalent in children's programming (69%) than in other types of programming (57%). In a typical hour of programming, children's shows featured more than twice as many violent incidents (14) than other types of programming (6).5
- The average child who watches 2 hours of cartoons a day may see nearly 10,000 violent incidents each year, of which the researchers estimate that at least 500 pose a high risk for learning and imitating aggression and becoming desensitized to violence.6
- The number of prime-time programs with violence increased over the three years of the study, from 53% to 67% on broadcast television and from 54% to 64% on basic cable. Premium cable networks have the highest percentage of shows with violence, averaging 92% since 1994.7
The UCLA Television Violence Monitoring Report also analyzed three years of programming from 1994 to 1997. This study relied on the qualitative judgments of a team of student monitors and staff researchers, rather than a systematic content analysis, to determine whether individual violent depictions "raised concern" for viewers.8 Among the findings:
- Children's Saturday morning TV shows that feature "sinister combat violence" raised the most serious concerns for these researchers. These are fantasy live-action shows and animated cartoons in which violence is central to the storyline, the villains and superheroes use violence as an acceptable and effective way to get what they want, and the perpetrators are valued for their combat ability. Among the most popular shows for children, the number of troubling shows in this genre decreased from seven to four over the three years of the study.9
- The number of prime time series that raised frequent concerns about violence steadily declined over the three years, from nine such series in 1994–95 to just two in 1996–97.10
- TV specials was the only category that raised new concerns at the end of the three years. In the second year five live-action reality shows featured real or re-created graphic images of animals attacking and sometimes killing people. By the third year, the number of such shows had increased again.11
Reprinted with the permission of the Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2008 The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
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