Violence in the Media
Turn on the television set during prime time, and, unless you select your programs carefully, you’re likely to see an act of violence within five minutes and several more not too long afterward. Saturday morning is even worse. Eight of 10 programs contain violence, with prime-time programs averaging five violent acts per hour and Saturday morning cartoons averaging about 20 per hour. The average child in the United States has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other violent acts during childhood (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major associations warn parents to keep their children away from mass media violence. Video programs, televison programs, and the nightly news all contain content that’s not good for children. Why so much violence and sex? Those things are interesting—and interest sells products—so we get exposed to a good deal of it. The question is: What does all this do to children?
For one thing, research shows that viewing violence influences children in a way that makes them more likely to become violent (Anderson et al., 2003; Singer & Singer, 2005). Watching violence eventually desensitizes us all. If it didn’t, how could people sit and eat a meal while watching people in living color be tortured, mutilated, shot, and even blown sky-high before their very eyes? That’s enough to turn one’s stomach, yet children get used to it by watching television, DVDs, and playing video games.
Years of studies show that television watching and aggression go together. Children who watch more television are more aggressive. However, it’s hard to tell whether television causes the aggression or whether children who are more aggressive just tend to watch more television. However, some experimental studies show that children who are exposed to a violent televised episode are more aggressive when they are put immediately into a real-life anger-provoking situation. These children show more physical aggression than children who watch something nonviolent before being put into the same situation. In a classic study by Bandura and Walters (1963), children modeled the behavior of adults they saw on films punching an inflated “knock-down” figure. Many other studies since have shown similar results.
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