Are We Creating Monsters?: TV and Aggression
The amount of violence portrayed on television is staggering. Researchers estimate that by the time the average child in the United States leaves elementary school, that child will have viewed more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 other violent acts on network TV alone. This doesn't include cable channels or movies on videotapes or DVDs! Saturday-morning cartoons and late-afternoon and early-evening programs, all aired at times when children are most likely to be watching, have the highest rates of violent acts (Comstock & Paik, 1991; Huston et al., 1992). In addition, TV often portrays violence as good, without consequence, causing no pain or suffering, and even funny: In short, TV portrayals are very different from real-life violence.
But even if children view violence regularly on television, does it affect their behavior? Meta-analyses of the many studies investigating this issue conclude that TV violence has a moderate negative impact on children's behavior. The effect is similar for boys and girls, and it is larger for children than adults (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Hogben, 1998; Huston & Wright, 1998; Paik & Comstock, 1994). In general, then, violence on television is related to later aggressive behavior, and the relationship may be of particular concern for children.
One well-known study followed a sample of boys and girls for 22 years. The researchers looked at the relationship between the amount and level of violence of the television they watched as children and their aggressive behavior in adulthood (Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1972; Huesmann & Miller, 1994). For boys, watching TV violence at age 8 was the best predictor of aggressiveness at age 18, and those who watched the most TV at age 8 were most likely to engage in violent criminal behavior by age 30. But couldn't it be that children who had aggressive tendencies chose to watch more violent TV and engaged in more violent behavior, so the violence of TV was not a causative factor? Boys who were already aggressive at age 8 did watch more TV. But even among these already aggressive children, the boys who watched more TV had committed more serious criminal offenses by age 30 than those who watched less. It seems there is a bidirectional effect: More aggressive children prefer more violent TV, but TV violence increases their aggression even more. Later studies showed similar relationships between TV violence and later aggression in women and in several countries (though not in all countries studied), even after researchers statistically controlled for the influences of earlier aggression, intelligence level, and social class (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Huesmann, Moise-Titus, Podolski, & Eron, 2003).
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