Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Does media violence promote violent behavior in young people?

 
This is a term paper that I wrote for an Abnormal Psychology college course in 2006.

In 1997, the Institute for Alternative Media reported, "The average American child will witness. . . 200,000 acts of [television] violence by the time that child graduates from high school."  A substantial body of research has been conducted to determine whether a child's exposure to media violence contributes to an increased likelihood of physical aggression and a general desensitization to real-life violence.  The results of the studies have been mixed and the interpretations have generated a great deal of debate.



In the last 40 years, hundreds of lab studies have been directed to find if children exposed to visual depictions of dramatic violence are more likely to behave aggressively toward other children.  Typically, one group of children is shown a violent program and another is shown a nonviolent program.  Afterwards, both groups are tested on their aggressiveness.  The tests have taken several forms.  Judith Levine summarized the tests as follows: "After watching a film of a teacher kicking a blow-up Bobo doll, children battered Bobo, too.  Students who watched boxing films were more willing than those who didn't to administer shocks to an errant research assistant.  In other studies, people who watched media with violent content responded to questions about hypothetical provocative situations and, more than those in the control group, imagined themselves striking or punishing others."



Researchers have claimed that, in their analysis of children exposed to violent media, they found aggressiveness increased at rates as high as 16%.  However, the rates in general have varied significantly, usually close to 10% and sometimes as low as 1%.  Rates and every other aspect of the studies have brought about an unending storm of controversy.

It has been argued that the lab experiments, which are controlled and scientific, are unnatural experiences, the results of which cannot be generalized to the real world.  Levine wrote, "In real life, a video gamer may desire the kill-or-be-killed thrill of Quake 11 for 20 minutes, then feel like rebuilding civilization with Civilization.  He's also probably playing with other kids, joking, competing, commenting and resting.  Similarly, a violent TV show is interrupted by commercials, channel surfing, chats with family members and trips to the kitchen.  All these activities alter the messages, mood and effects of the media experience."  

Also, it is impossible to determine whether the aggressive behavior observed is a reaction to the violent television show or an attempt on the part of the child to meet the adult researchers' expectations.  As Kevin Durkin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia, stated, "Even quite young children are good at working out what adults want them to do."  It take slight prompting to get a small boy to strike a doll.   

Simulations of physical aggression in a lab do not have the weight of evidence accumulated from a field study.  Field studies, though, present a problem for researchers.  Joanne Cantor, who insists that the relationship holds in real-world situations, acknowledged the methodological constraints of social science research in this complex area.  She argued, "We can't randomly assign children early in their lives to watch different doses of violence on television and then 20 years later see which children committed violent crimes."

Undaunted, researchers have gone out into the field to collect information on children's viewing habits and behavior.  Huesmann and Moise wrote, "More than 50 field studies over the last 20 years have also shown that children who habitually watch more media violence behave more aggressively and accept aggression more readily as a way to solve problems."  The best known of these studies was conducted by Leonard Eron of the University of Illinois.  Eron originally surveyed a group of eight-year-old boys in 1960.  The U. S. Surgeon General arranged for Eron to conduct a follow-up survey in 1970 and then again in 1981.  In 1981, Eron identified in the subjects a high rate of alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, and violent crimes.  Barbour explained in 1970, "[T]he boys who had watched the most violent television at age eight were the most violent at age nineteen."  However, this violence didn't show up in psychological testing, only in the assessment of the subjects by their peers.

A backlash has occurred against these studies in the last fifteen years.  It is during this period that the researchers' methods have been found flawed, their reasoning has been criticized, and their results have been contradicted. 

In the nineties, separate research studies by Derek Scott and Akira Sakamoto found little support for the theory that playing violent video games induces aggressive behavior or can be associated with social maladjustment.  Susan Villani added on the topic, "Shimai et al. (1990), in a study of kindergarten children who played video games, found them to have superior development in several areas of social skills compared with nonplayers. In another study, Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (1994) found video games useful in teaching spatial performance, particularly for children with relatively poor skills in this area."  A four-year study by the Australian government showed that, more than anything, children and teens playing these games at the mall arcade benefited from the enjoyment, challenge and social interaction.

Over the years, the experiments have become varied and creative.  In 1982, research was conducted by Karen Hennigan to determine if violent crime rates increased after television was introduced in the United States.  The rates, it was concluded, did not increase.  The following year, David Phillips examined homicide rates to see if homicides increased following a heavyweight prizefight.  Phillips could only identify an increase if he allowed for a 3-day time lag between the fight and the homicides.  Even then, the numbers he cited weren't significant. 

Brandon Centerwall, a psychiatrist in Seattle, correlated rates of homicide with rates of television ownership in Canada, the United States and South Africa.  But Centerwall's findings were contradicted by other researchers.  Richard Rhodes wrote, "As Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California at Berkeley subsequently pointed out, homicide rates in France, Germany, Italy and Japan either failed to change with increasing television ownership in the same period or actually declined, and American homicide rates have more recently been sharply declining despite a proliferation of popular media outlets - not only movies and television, but also video games and the Internet."

Levine pointed to a 1995 study in which researchers Irwin and Gross allowed boys to play violent video games and reported afterwards that the boys acted rowdy and treated toys roughly.  The researchers reported high levels of aggression although the boys never became violent with one another and simply displayed harmless aggression towards inanimate objects.  Levin finds Irwin and Gross' overstatements to be common for these type of studies and believes such overstatements have greatly diminished the researchers' credibility.

The most widely cited criticism of these studies is that, while these studies show that exposure to violent media correlates with aggressiveness, the correlations do not prove causality.  Just because a child who watches violent television shows behaves aggressively does not prove that the violent television programs caused the violent behavior.  Children with an aggressive temperament are drawn to aggressive entertainment.  A child can have a preexisting tendency to shove, kick or hit, removing responsibility from television for their actions.  Jonathan Freedman, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, indicated,  "Boys watch more TV football than girls, and they play more football than girls, but no one, so far as I know, believes that television is what makes boys more interested in football."  A child will seek out shows that express feelings they already have or satisfy their longings for mayhem. 

Others are concerned that media violence not only teaches children how they should act but that it teaches them how society operates and how other people behave.  L. Rowell Huesmann and Jessica Moise contend, "It causes children to expect others to act violently and therefore be justified to react with violence in frustrating and threatening situations." 

British scholar Martin Barker strongly disagrees.  He thinks it's wrong to assume that "horrible things will make us horrible - not horrified" and "terrifying things will make us terrifying - not terrified."


Mimicking

Children do not give indication that they mindlessly mimic the behavior they see in a television show.  Sales figures show that seeing Joe Camel light up a cigarette didn't convince teenagers to buy Camel cigarettes.  Teenagers, rather than buying into cute cartoon images, tend to smoke if their parents smoke.  Males' survey of 400 Los Angeles middle schoolers found children of smoking parents three times more likely to smoke by age fifteen than children of nonsmokers.  In 1989, the Centers for Disease Control reported, "75 percent of all teenage smokers come from homes where parents smoke."

The theory of social learning maintains that children imitate the actions of parents and peers.  In observing role models, children internalize cognitive scripts to deal with people and situations.  This is a generally accepted idea.  However, debate arises when a social scientist extends the theory to give television characters the same influence as parents and peers.  Cutler wrote, "[U]nmediated interpersonal experience all shape kids' lives, minds and behavior more powerfully than any entertainment products."  Others disagree.  They believe that, as a result of media violence, these scripts contain the underlying view that violence is the right way to solve problems.  The media, in this way, severely reduces a child's empathy and guilt.

Interactive video games like Grand Theft Auto heightened the fervor of this debate.  These games, in which children are immersed in realistic environments and make choices to kill characters, can potentially have a greater effect on cognitive development.  This issue received great attention when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who were said to have played hours of violent video games, killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-four others at Columbine High School.

It needs to be noted that nonviolent games, which often have funny animal characters racing and flying through candy-colored environments, can still increase arousal or aggressive affect.  Riding a stationary bicycle for miles can similarly stimulate adrenaline and create an aggressive effect such as hitting a doll.  The real question, posed by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, is whether violent games can stimulate the long-term development of aggressive knowledge structures.  This allows for, what Anderson and Bushman called, "a rehearsal of violent reactions." 

In contrast, a study conducted at the University of Western Sydney showed that people tend to rewrite messages of movies to suit their own views.  Children, unless they are seriously troubled or deficient, react critically to television shows.  Cutler wrote, "[K]ids understand early that cartoon violence is a joke, not a model.  Even wrestling, once kids figure out that it's staged, gets processed differently from, say, a schoolyard beating." 

The matter is, perhaps, too complex to study conclusively or define simply.  Youth violence is caused by poverty, poor parenting, poor education, drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, divorce, biology, cognitive impairment, a deficiency of good role models, and many other factors.  Durkin sees parenting as the greatest factor.  He explains, "High television is correlated with lax parenting; aggressive behaviour in children is also correlated with lax parenting; hence, it is possible that the real source of the problem is family management." 

Many other researchers believe that it is bad parenting combined with maladaptive beliefs that produces behavior disorders.  Jeanne Funk wrote, "For younger children, in the absence of counterbalancing influence from parents, other adults, or peers, the messages of violent video games could be internalized as moral imperatives: violence is fun, violence is acceptable, violence is without negative consequences, violence is necessary."


Catharsis

Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim didn't believe so much that war games purge impulses as they helped boys to confront, channel and ultimately control their impulses.  Bettelheim insisted that forbidding war toys would be like suppressing sexual feelings in children and creating guilt feelings in them.

Seymour Feshbach, an American psychologist, asserted in the early 1970's that hostile fantasies act as a substitute for action, producing gratification and lowering drive states.  In 1971, he studied boys living in three private schools and four homes for boys in California and New York.  Boys were randomly assigned to watch violent or nonviolent television over a 6-week period.  He found among the control group more than twice as many instances of physical aggression, defined as "fistfighting, hitting, and kicking," compared to the treatment group.

Wendy Josephson did a similar field study in 1987.  She found that, overall, the boys who watched violent programs were less aggressive.  However, it was the specific results of the study that interested her more.  According to this information, the boys with higher initial aggression became more aggressive and the boys with lower initial aggression became less aggressive.  

In some quarters, the debate has shifted to whether violent characteristics are strengthened by violent media.  Cutler wrote, "Media violence is a risk factor that, working in concert with others, can exacerbate bad behavior.” 

Bushman has argued heatedly against the longstanding notion of catharsis.  He puts particular blame on A. A. Brill, the psychiatrist who introduced Freud's psychoanalytic techniques to the United States.  Brill, according to Bushman and Anderson, "prescribed that his patients watch a prizefight once a month to purge their angry, aggressive feelings into harmless channels."  Brill is quoted to have said, "Children, too, have plenty of bottled up protest against life's little tyrannies - keeping clean, learning lessons, behaving themselves and the screen is the great medium for giving the child an outlet for this revolt." 

Bushman, with fellow researchers Roy F. Baumeister and Angela D. Stack, wrote in "Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-fulfilling or Self-defeating Prophecies?": "The continued widespread belief in catharsis is that the mass media continue to endorse the view that expressing anger or aggressive feelings is healthy, constructive, and relaxing, whereas restraining oneself creates internal tension that is unhealthy and bound to lead to an eventual blowup.  Because activities considered to be cathartic also are aggressive, they could lead to the activation of other aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behavioral tendencies, which in turn could lead to greater anger and aggression." 


Context


It matters, to a large degree, the context in which violence is presented.  Levine wrote, "[This] larger world of relationships and meanings in which the child views a show, associates the images in it with things he knows and feels, and behaves when the picture is turned off.  This is the context.  The first part of the context of media violence is what happens inside the story and how the story is told. . . [T]he context affects every viewer and determines whether she comes away seared, angry, amused, excited or altogether unaffected." 

Author Laurence Jarvik contends that television programs, much like an old Bible story, frequently use violence to teach moral lessons.  Jarvik wrote, "[G]ood cannot be taught unless evil - including acts of violence - is also depicted. . . When Cain slew Abel, it did not have the same moral dimension as when David slew Goliath." 

Javick referred to a Masterpiece Theatre episode, "Dandelion Dead," in which a person caught poisoning people is tried, convicted and hanged.  Jarvik wrote, "The hanging was the triumph of good over evil - a violent triumph.  In fact, the violence of the hanging was greater than the violence of the poisonings. Yet the poisonings were the crime, and the hanging restored the moral order."  The author reasoned that it would be impossible to impart moral lessons without depicting immorality.

Freedman wrote, "In most violent television programs villains start the fight and are punished. . .  If children are learning anything from these programs, it is that the forces of good will overcome evil assailants who are the first to use violence. . .  [I]t hardly encourages the children themselves to initiate aggression." 

The rap song "Cop Killer" became problematic as, its detractors said, it gave youth justification, guidance and instruction to shoot police officers.  It put violence in a moral context in which it was encouraged.  Defendants on trial for shooting police officers did, in fact, claim to have been influenced by the song. 

Mariann and Charles Winick, authors of "The Television Experience: What Children See," found that young children whose parents fought a lot responded with more distress to the dramatic depiction of people yelling and screaming.  This is because the child, in their perception of the scene, draws from a real frame of reference.  The scene, in this type of context, takes on meaning and power, which it needs to have an emotional impact on the child.


Closing commentary


Parents who are convinced that media violence is worthy of condemnation have to wonder what steps they can take to protect their children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has a long list of recommendations, from the v-chip and content-based media ratings to a simple parenting strategy of keeping children's bedrooms media free.  Pediatricians are advised to suggest healthy alternatives, such as sports, art and reading, for children at risk.  The academy noted, in a 2001 policy statement, "Video games should not use human or other living targets or award points for killing, because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others."  The child specialists are particularly concerned with the glamorization of war, what some have called "the John Wayne syndrome," and the promotion of "hateful, racist, misogynistic, or homophobic language." 

This, in effect, becomes an ideological argument rather than a medical one.  Political factions, on the left and right, have turned this into their own personal kick ball.

Cantor wrote, "Boys find out when they are very young that war is respectable through endless role models of great conquerors, heroic warriors, and brave soldiers.  It is not only patriotism that leads so many parents to acquiesce in the sacrifice of their sons in unnecessary wars but also pride in their sons' manhood.  The problem is compounded because many young women raised with the image of men as tough and dominant find men in uniform sexy, thus further reinforcing the values of the masculine mystique."

It is purely a value judgment as to whether or not the type of aggressive physical behavior epitomized by war is an acceptable solution to conflict.  War has a moral context, after all, and these researchers seem ardently opposed to war for any reason.  They do not see brute, coercive force as an acceptable substitute for ways to resolve conflicts and satisfy needs.  Cantor finds it patently wrong to give children permission to release aggressive behavior even if it is to allow good to triumph over evil. 

I am in no way an advocate of war, but I am uncomfortable with the phobia some researchers express towards masculine aggression.  It makes it worse that they do not differentiate different forms of aggression.  Aggression, as part of every man's nature, is innate, integral, and inextricable.  The human race survived and flourished by being ambitious and competitive.  Our aggressive traits, so often cited as antisocial, are in fact what built society.  Man, according to President Andrew Jackson, would be a "sluggish beast" without it. 

These studies appear at times to be an attack on boys, who leftist social engineers want drugged into submission with Ritalin.  They want the masses, in general, to be pacified so that they can be freely controlled by big government.

This social engineering, which seeks to feminize boys, threatens to drive aggressive impulses towards expressions less outward but, perhaps, more insidious and damaging.  Rachel Simmons examined, in her book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, the deep psychological abuse inflicted on schoolgirls by their counterparts.  Simmons, following visits to 30 schools and discussions with 300 girls, catalogued chilling and heartbreaking acts of torment as disparate as gossiping and the silent treatment.  The schoolgirl bully will single out a girl as a victim and set out to systematically destroy the girl.  They will turn classmates against her and exclude her from social activities.  They will gang up on her to make fun of her clothes.  They will pass notes in class to make fun of her weight.  On a quiet day, they will simply glare at her.  It is similarly described in the book Girl Wars how girls go on a campaign of gossip, teasing and exclusion against other girls. 

Women are as aggressive as men, even though not always as overt in expressing it.  Another study, this one by Wesleyan University, discovered that the culprit of conflict and hurtful behavior is most often a girl.  Nearly 20% of the girls reported that their peers engaged in some form of social aggression, compared with nearly 5% of the boys.  More than 30% of girls described social ostracism, compared with less than 6% of boys, and 27% of girls reported malicious rumors, compared with 11% of boys. 

The girls are allowed to be aggressive and coercive, regardless of who they hurt, as long as they do it in a nonphysical way.  However, they are a lot more dangerous than the boy bully, who pushes down your son and takes his milk money.  The trauma they create goes deeper and lasts longer than a black eye or a bloody nose.

Generally, it is hypocritical to single out physical aggression from other forms of malicious aggression.  Anyone who has spent time in a courthouse knows that our formally restrained attempts at conflict resolution are dominated by malicious aggression.  A legal battle is often more vicious, damaging and unjust than any schoolyard beating.  William the Conqueror, a warrior who created this adversarial system, originally called it "trial by battle."  These were not inquiries to find the truth.  The aggrieved and the accused, dressed in full battle garb, had to bash in each other's heads to decide the outcome.  The premise was that the man of valor, the one with the righteousness of cause, would be directed by God and have the divine strength to be victorious.  I have been in court and I would prefer a barroom brawl.  

Society is filled with perverse messengers and poor role models, violent or otherwise, who can best be countered by loving, involved parents.  I have no complaint with ratings, which allow parents to make informed decisions, but these researchers aren't satisfied with rating systems and continue to work vigorously for much greater control.  

Let me add, I am not persuaded against the catharsis theory.  Excessive emotional stress stimulates several chemical responses in the body.  The pituitary gland releases beta-endorphin, ACTH, and prolactin.  The adrenal gland releases epinephrine.  The sympathetic nervous system releases norepinephrine.  This activity, which prepares the body to perform physical activity with greater speed, strength, and agility, was helpful at a time when man was mostly stressed by furry, fanged beasts and simply had to make a decision to fight or flee.  Now, we are trapped in living situations which create chronic states of stress.  Repressing that stress can lead to depression and, in extreme cases, suicide.  A person cannot manage this overload of emotion and stress without creative release mechanisms.  They can shout at a basketball game.  They can laugh at a funny movie.  They can bicycle to work.  The pillow, which they can use to punch or they can use to cry into, might be a good tool for at least short term relief.  Shedding a few tears will make a person feel better for a few minutes, which is all the time that they might need to call a friend and invite them to a movie.  Sometimes, that little momentum is all that a person needs to get going again.

As a child, I derived satisfaction from westerns, spy adventures, and horror movies.  I was able to identify with the hero.  I felt great relief when the good guy killed the bad guys.  It had a calming effect.  It comforted me to think that villains come to the bad ends they deserve. 

Aggressive behavior is more likely to be inspired by exposure to real violence than media violence.  This real violence is something that children cannot avoid.  It is not something a rating labelling can protect them against.  The many children growing up in unsafe neighborhoods will see real violence outside their window.  They will read about relentless bloodshed in their history textbooks.  They will turn on the television and see news about an ongoing war or a death penalty execution, which is sure to have a brutalizing effect.

Males asserts, "[D]uring the eighteen years between a child's birth and graduation from high school, there will be fifteen million cases of real violence in American homes grave enough to require hospital emergency treatment.  These assaults will cause ten million serious injuries and 40,000 deaths to children.  In October 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 565,000 serious injuries that abusive parents inflicted on children and youths in 1993. The number is up four-fold since 1986."  Children need only to open a book and newspaper to acquire a generally negative world outlook.  Our world contains more sharks than puppy dogs. 

It is presumptuous and alarmist to believe that violent behavior can be spread as easily as a cold, transported into a child's system from highly contagious electronic waves sneezed out of a television set.  However, politicians like to create demons when they can't make progress against real social problems.  Researchers are able to satisfy grant providers by making aggressive claims that favor liberal causes.  This is the kind of aggression that brings about misinformation and bad social policy.  This is the type of aggression that really makes life difficult for the rest of us. 


Reference Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, November).  Media Violence, Policy Statement from the Committee on Public Education.  Pediatrics, vol. 108, No. 5, pp. 1222-1226.

Barbour, Scott (2003) Media Violence Does Not Cause Teen Violence. "Teen Violence: Opposing Viewpoints Digests."  Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group. 

Brad J. Bushman, Brad J., Baumeister, Roy F., & Stack, Angela D. (1999).  Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-fulfilling or Self-defeating Prophecies?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 76, pp. 367-376. 

Cantor, Joanne (2000).  Media Violence and Children's Emotions: Beyond the 'Smoking Gun'.  Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.  Downloaded on March 16, 2006, from www.nwresponsiblemedia.org/articles/MediaViolence.pdf.

Dellasega, Cheryl, & Nixon, Charisse (2003).  Girl Wars : 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying.  New York, N.Y.: Fireside. 

Cutler, Maggie (2001, March).  Whodunit - the Media?  It's Easy to Blame Cartoons for Gun-Toting Kids, but the Truth Isn't So Tidy.  The Nation.

Eron, L.D., Huesmann, L.R., Lefkowitz, M.M., & Walder, L.O. (1972).  Does television violence cause aggression? American Psychologist, volume 27, pp. 253-263.

Freedman, Jonathan L. (1996, May).  Violence in the Mass Media and Violence in Society: The Link Is Unproven.  Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 12, issue 11, pp. 4-6.

Funk, Jeanne B. (2002, October).  Children and Violent Video Games: Are There "High Risk" Players?  Paper presented at “Playing by the Rules: Video Games and Cultural Policy, conference sponsored by the Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago.

Huesmann, L. Rowell, & Moise, Jessica (1996, June).  Media Violence: A Demonstrated Public Health Threat to Children.  Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 12, issue 12. 

Jarvik, Laurence (1994, December 19).  Violence in Pursuit of Justice Is No Vice.  Insight, The Washington Times Corporation.  Downloaded March 15, 2006, from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_n51_v10/ai_15981038.

Levine, Judith (2000).  Shooting The Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence.  Report prepared for Media Coalition.  Downloaded March 15, 2006, from http://www.mediacoalition.org/stm/stm_individual_aggression.htm

Males, Mike (1997, October 1).  Who Us?  Stop Blaming Kids and TV (for Crime and Substance Abuse).  The Progressive

O'Connor, Tom (2000).  Juvenile Offenders and Troubled Teens.  MegaLinks in Criminal Justice.  Downloaded on March 16, 2006, from http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/juvjusp.htm. Last updated 3/1/00. 

Rhodes, Richard (2000, September 17).  Hollow Claims About Fantasy Violence.  The New York Times.

Savage, Joanne (2003).  Does viewing violent media really cause criminal violence? A methodological review.  Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington, DC.

Simmons, Rachel (2003).  Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.  San Diego, CA: First Harvest Books.

Villani, M.D., Susan (2001, April 4).  Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40:4, pp. 392-401.

Winick, M. P., and Winick, C. (1979). The Television Experience: What Children See.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.


I was never entirely satisfied with the findings that I presented in this paper.  Common sense tells me that depraved media violence can have a damaging psychological effect on the viewer.  I can, without a doubt, feel an unpleasant feeling whenever I watch a violent scene.  It is like biting into a piece of fruit and finding that the taste is bitter.  I know immediately that this isn't something that I should be consuming.  Why would I want to bring something as rotten as that inside me?  But dark tendrils uncoil from the blood-splattered images and they can, if we let them, find a warm and ready home inside us.


Not much new research has been conducted in the field since 2006.  An extensive article on Wikipedia expounds upon the many flaws identified in the field's best known studies.  Let's look at four of the most common complaints.


  1. The researchers fail to adequately define "aggression."  Jeffrey H. Goldstein, a psychology professor and author of "Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment," identifies a particular fault in the fact that researchers fail to differentiate between "aggression," which is aimed at causing harm to another person, and "aggressive play," which involves people (usually children) engaging in aggressive behavior for mutual enjoyment.

  2. The next complaint turned up often in my own research.  Wikipedia notes, "[The researchers'] measurement techniques are sloppy and evidence suggests that the researchers manipulate the results to support their conclusions.  There is also a problem with selective reporting, which is when a reporter fails to report findings that do not support their conclusions."  Realizing that researchers blatantly manipulated data to promote the prohibition of violent media had the greatest impact on my conclusions.  These were the actions of desperately frustrated men.  The researchers' frustration made the point better than anything else that, though violent media might very well cause violent behavior, this theory was in the end unprovable.  Also, I find it distasteful to side with cheaters.

  3. The third complaint is defined by Wikipedia as follows: "Some scholars contend that media violence studies regularly fail to account for other variables such as genetics, personality and exposure to family violence that may explain both why some people become violent and why those same people may choose to expose themselves to violent media.  Several recent studies have found that, when factors such as mental health, family environment and personality are controlled, no predictive relationship between either video games or television violence and youth violence remain (Ferguson, San Miguel & Hartley, 2009; Ybarra et al., 2008)."  This is without a doubt a complex issue.  Many factors certainly contribute to violent behavior.  But I have to wonder if, after biology and family life predispose a person to violent behavior, it isn't violent media that can act as the final trigger.  Violent media has certainly provided instruction and guidance to those who are pondering what to do with their violent urges.

  4. The final complaint is the one that I must dispute.  Wikipedia reported, "Large spikes in violent crime in the United States occurred without associated media violence spikes at times.  Similarly, this theory fails to explain why violent crime rates (including among juveniles) dramatically fell in the mid 1990s and have stayed low, during a time when media violence has continued to increase, and saw the addition of violent video games."  I noted in my paper that the various correlation studies do not agree.
The context of media violence has changed greatly in the last ten years.  In absence of parental guidance, a child can be susceptible to the influences of Hollywood's axe-wielding serial killers and sadistic hit men, especially if those characters work in concert to spread a particular violent ideology.  This is simply a matter of context, which I discussed in my paper.  The specific circumstances of a violent scene does in fact, teach a child how society operates or should operate.  What is a child to think if a television character displays ecstasy while committing a violent act?  What if, as in the case of No Country for Old Men's (2007), a character obtains a substantial financial profit for committing multiple murders and then he escapes punishment for his crimes?  The message is that violence is pleasurable.  The message is that violence is rewarding.  Hollywood films bombard children and adults with the most perverse and brutal violence, which cannot possibly wash through them without having an effect. 

You can tell children the wrong type of stories. . .


. . . and it is bound to have a bad effect.


Many people insist that, if media violence rates do not correlate with violent crime rates, it must be concluded without further debate that media violence is not harmful.  Let us pretend for the moment that every researcher agrees that this is a wholly verified and indisputable correlation.  I maintain even then that this point could not withstand fair and comprehensive scrutiny.  It would be an act of cruelty to show the grotesquely violent Martyrs (2008) to a group of five-year-old children.  We should at least be able to agree on that.  Would the film necessarily make these children commit a murder or would it have other adverse effects that are not as easy to measure?  Just because something doesn't increase the murder rate does not mean it does not have a harmful effect on society.  The murder rates are unable to tell us if violent media makes children more fearful of the world around them or less empathetic towards others.

If we look clearly at the changing world around us, it would be difficult to deny that our culture has been coarsened by the vulgarity and violence of modern media.  I look at the violent demonstrations that have occurred during the present presidential election and I believe that this is all proof that anyone needs of society's increasing descent into barbarism.  Another problem with focusing on the bare crime rates is that too many variables affect the increase and decrease of crime rates.

I have to, in the end, get back to the common sense argument.  A horribly violent film does not provide a cathartic effect.  Why else would people toss and turn in bed because they're having nightmares about a film they saw the day before?  Why would people refuse to go to the beach after seeing Jaws?  Violent scenes inhibit and disturb us.  They do not make us feel relieved and refreshed.  Quentin Tarantino, the most moronic director in film history, said in his defense of hyper-violent Django Unchained (2012), "I do think it's a cultural catharsis, and it's a cinematic catharsis.  Even — it can even be good for the soul, actually."

I want to ask yourself a question the next time you see a person being butchered in a film: "Is this good for my soul?"


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