Television Violence Essay Research Paper The Effects

Television Violence Essay, Research Paper

The Effects of Television Violence on Children

Throughout the history of television, producers have always been challenged with the task of capturing an audience in hopes of keeping the television ratings high, thus maintaining financial advertising. Subsequently, the pressure to keep audiences entertained resorts broadcasters to programming shows with random acts of violence. Whether in seemingly innocent cartoons or dramatic television shows, many children s television programs involve a substantial amount of violence in one form or another. Since the advent of television there has been a growing concern about the apparent effects of violence on the attitudes, values and behaviors of children. Psychological research has found that televised violence has numerous effects on children’s behavior at different ages. Much of the research studied has mainly focused on the effects of violence on television and aggression expressed by children. “From a biological perspective, it may be that children who are predisposed to aggression watch violent television. That is, there could be a bi-directional relationship between violence viewed on television and levels of aggression in children.” (Freedman 1984). Consequently, violence shown on television is unhealthy for children because the violence shown causes children to more likely behave aggressively,

become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others and become more fearful of the world around them,

Yet, in spite of all the data collected and researched by prominent psychologists and sociologists alike, many critics argue that violence does not have any effect on children. They do not believe a conclusive body of evidence exists to justify all the research and data collected. According to the American Psychological Association, “In spite of this accumulated evidence, broadcasters and scientists continue to debate the link between the viewing TV violence and children’s aggressive behavior. Some broadcasters believe that there is not enough evidence to prove that TV violence is harmful.” (American Psychological Association’s 1992). Critics such as Todd Gitlin, a leading U.S. commentator and author on media and culture issues, publicly deny television violence as having any correlation with children aggression. “Television violence is mainly redundant, stupid, and ugly. The deepest problem with TV violence is not that it causes violence – the evidence for this is very thin. The problem is that the profiteers of television in the United States – the networks, the program suppliers, and the advertisers – are essentially subsidized (e.g., via tax write-offs) to program this formulaic stuff.” (Media-Awareness Network 1997). However, the “social learning theory” manages to successfully address these criticisms while maintaining its status as the major single theory used to explain the influence of viewing violent programs on children s levels of aggression.

Social learning theory defines human behavior as a continuous interaction between cognitive, behavioral and environmental influences of the individual. The social learning theory claims that children mimic violent scenes from television, believing that this type of behavior is acceptable. This theory is the main argument for the side arguing that violence on television leads to aggression in children. A prominent advocate of the social learning theory is Albert Bandura. The social learning theory of Bandura emphasizes the importance of observing and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Acquisition and performance are two basic principles that are involved with observational learning. Acquisition describes the learned behavior through observation. Performance is the process by which the observer acts out the learned behavior. Although it must be noted that acquisition of a behavior does not automatically lead to its performance. (Bandura 1965).

As children “acquire” the action performed by their favorite actors, they are more likely to perform these aggressive acts if their hero or the antagonist in the program is rewarded. One of the most noted studies to prove this theory is a series of “bobo doll” studies that were conducted by Bandura in 1963. Bandura demonstrated just how easily viewing aggression influences a child. He and his colleagues observed preschoolers in a contrived situation, which included aggressive behavior. His study consisted of four groups. A control group set up for this experiment contained children who had not witnessed any

events involving a bobo doll. The other three groups had witnessed bobo being verbally and/or physically abused by different figures. These figures included a live model, a filmed model, and a female dressed in a cat costume. All the children had been irritated beforehand, by having their toys taken away from them. This made the children more prone to use aggressive behavior. The children were then put into a playroom with the bobo doll. Out of the four groups that were involved, three exemplified aggressive behavior toward the bobo doll. The exception was the control group that had not witnessed any violence. This experiment supports the theory that after observing violent behavior, children are more likely to imitate the aggressive acts of the characters involved. Banduras findings definitely have direct bearing on the implications for the effect of violence shown on television.

In a study done on television shows and just how much violence is carried out the results are alarming. Of all violent acts, 40% were committed by attractive characters, and 75% of violent actions went unpenalized and the perpetrators showed no remorse. In 37% of the programs, the “bad guys” were not punished, and more than half of all violent incidents did not show the suffering of the victim.( ERIC Digest) This survey suggests that violence viewed on television by children may lead to increased levels of aggression if social learning theory comes into play. Acting out these acts of violence or mimicking their favorite character after viewing these seemingly acceptable acts of violence seems to be innocent enough to the children. This mimicking behavior justifies Bandura s research and

implies that environmental influences such as television violence can indeed moderate and control the expression of aggression.

Regardless of all the research that has been collected, experiments that have been carried out, and studies that have conclusive evidence that television violence has an effect on children, violence still increases on television. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement on media violence and children (1990) reports that violence in the media has increased since 1980 and continues to increase, particularly since the Federal Communication Commission’s decision to deregulate children’s commercial television in 1982. The NAEYC statement cites the following examples: * Air time for war cartoons increased from 1.5 hours per week in 1982 to 43 hours per week in 1986. * In 1980, children’s programs featured 18.6 violent acts per hour and now have about 26.4 violent acts each hour. (ERIC Digest 1993) This much violence absorbed has an effect on a childs moral development in the way that he or she views violence in a real-life situations.

After so much is viewed, the violence in the childs mind becomes a natural occurrence, which may cause the child to become non-compassionate or insensitive towards others as he or she grows older. Consequently, children can become desensitized to aggressive behavior. In other words, the television violence absorbed can also make children more accepting of aggressive behavior. Studies have shown that the children tend to act differently after viewing acts of violence on television.

Children often behave differently after they’ve been watching violent programs on television. In one study done at Pennsylvania State University, about 100 preschool children were observed both before and after watching television; some watched cartoons that had many aggressive and violent acts; others watched shows that didn’t have any kind of violence. The researchers noticed real differences between the kids who watched the violent shows and those who watched nonviolent ones. Children who watched the violent shows were more likely to strike out at playmates, argue, disobey authority and were less willing to wait for things than those children who watched nonviolent programs. (American Psychological Association’s 1992).

Another early study investigated young children’s willingness to hurt another child after viewing videotaped sections of aggressive or neutral television programs. The boys and girls were in two age groups, five to six and eight to nine-years-old. The aggressive program consisted of segments of The Untouchables, while the neutral program featured a track race. Following viewing, the children were placed in a setting in which they could either facilitate or disrupt the game-playing performance of an ostensible child playing in an adjoining room. The main findings were that the children who viewed the aggressive program demonstrated a greater willingness to hurt another child. (Liebert & Baron, 1972)

Action is definitely played out in an aggressive manner by characters that children can relate to. Children may view characters they see as role models in real life. Whether that character is a policeman from NYPD Blue or COPS, a fireman, or even an actor playing the

role of a doctor as seen on shows such as ER or Chicago Hope, the child eventually

develops a view of the world as a more fearful place to live in. Also, surprisingly enough, this view has carried on into adulthood. Since the 1970s, researchers have known that children who watch a great deal of television see the world as a meaner, scarier, and more dangerous place than children who do not watch a lot of television. Similar patterns have been found with adults . experimental evidence shows that heavy exposure to “slasher” movies like Friday the 13th series actually does increase young adults’ fears and their tendency to see the world as a meaner, scarier place, so this might be the case with violent television and younger children, too. It is quite conceivable that both of these things are happening. (Media Awareness Network 1997).

Children imitate what they see whether in real life or on television. As the child grows older and begins to understand the concept of resolution, the concept of a peaceful means of resolution may not be maturely developed due to the absorption of violent or aggressive acts seen on television. There is a corresponding increased acceptance of violence as an appropriate means of conflict resolution (Collins 216). Despite the views of many critics and broadcasters, statistically speaking, the reality is that television is unhealthy for children because the violence shown causes children to more likely behave aggressively, become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others and become more fearful of the world around them. Control needs to be taken by parents to limit how much and what type of programs their child is watching. Parental control can definitely help develop the young minds to expand their capabilities, stay focused and learn non-violent ways of living.


Some of the specifics and statistics that all parents should know include:

* Children watch an average of over 28 hours of television per week. By the time the average child reaches the age of 12, he or she has witnessed over 8,000 murders.

* Children’s television programs actually contain five times more violence than the average prime time hour of TV.

* By the age of eight, aggression becomes so ingrained in a child that it predicts adult aggression.

* Children who spend more time watching violent TV programming are rated more poorly by their teachers, rated more poorly by their peers, have few problem-solving skills, and are more likely to get into trouble with the law as teenagers and young adults.

* Those children most at risk are the ones who most prefer television violence. More aggressive children watch more violent television and actually prefer more violent television than their less aggressive peers.

* Parents often worry that their children will not be able to fit in with their friends if they do not watch popular children’s television programs. The research, however, tells us that children who watch more violent television programs are actually rated more poorly by their peers.

* Researchers have determined that the high level of violence in our society is being made worse by so many children having a regular habit of watching media violence.

Source: (National Parent Information Network. Article provided by Jeanne Beckman, Ph.D.


1. Through doing my extensive research on this subject matter, and little did I know that this topic is so “extensive”, I kept finding out about newer and more current data and statistics. I tried to include the most recent statistics which seem to be put out by the government affiliate ERIC Digest.

2. One observation that I noted is that many of the same scientists have been working and studying this subject matter for many years. So fortunately, after becoming familiar with the names of the leading psychologists including Albert Bandura, it made my research less difficult when scouring for information on the topic.

Works Cited

Gerbner, George. Ph.D., “Violence on Television.” American Psychological Association . April 1992.

Bandura, A. “‘Influence of Models Re-enforcement Contingencies on the Acquisition of Imitative Responses.” Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 1965. (589-595.)

Beckman, Jeanne. Ph.D. “Some of the Specifics and Statistics That All Parents Should Know.” National Parent Information Network. 1998. NPIN.

Collins, W. A. “Effects of Temporal Separation Between Motivation, Aggression and Consequences: A Developmental Study.” Developmental Psychology, (1973). 215-221.

ERIC Digests. Dec. 1997, “Television Violence: Content, Context, and Consequences. ERIC Digest.” Dec.1993.

ERIC Digests. Dec. 1993, “Television Violence and Behavior: A Research Summary. ERIC Digest.” Dec.1993.

Freedman, J. L. “Effect of Television Violence On Aggressiveness.” Psychological Bulletin. (1984). 227-246.

Josephson, Wendy L. Ph.D., “Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages”. Child & Family Canada. September 1997.

Liebert, R.M. & Baron, R.A. “Short Term Effects of Television Aggression On Children’s Aggressive Behavior.” In J.P. Murray E.A. Rubinstein, & G.A. Comstock (eds.) Television and Social Behavior, vol. 2, Television and Social Learning. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. (1972).

Media Awareness Network. “Is Media Violence Free Speech?.A debate between George Gerbner and Todd Gitlin.” June 1997.



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