Television, which was only in nine percent of American households in 1950, is now in ninety-eight percent of them. America is the world leader in real crime and violence, which some scientists attribute to the imaginary violence we see on TV. All Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, age, or social economic group, have been bound together by the shared cultural experience of television, but how does mass media influence people? In particular, does television violence cause aggression? There are many different points of view concerning aggression caused from television violence. A few of these social psychology theories include the “Arousal” theory, the “Social Learning” theory, the “Disinhibition” theory, and the “Aggression Reduction” theory. On the other hand, some believe the children who are prone to brutality are also drawn to violent shows because they are predisposed to aggression.
The “Arousal” theory states that exposure to television violence increases aggression because violence increases excitation, or “arouses” its viewers.
The “Social Learning” theory says that ways of behaving are learned by observing others, and that this is a major means by which children acquire unfamiliar behavior. This theory also leads us to expect that children who see fictional characters on television glamorized or rewarded for their violent conduct will not only learn those behaviors but will also be more likely to perform them themselves when given the chance.
The “Disinhibition” theory declares that television violence in certain circumstances will result in increased interpersonal aggression because it weakens inhibitions against such behavior. The last point of view, “Aggression Reduction” states that under certain conditions exposure to television violence will reduce subsequent aggression.
Children are watching, on average, close to twenty-eight hours of television every week. On an average that is 1,456 hours in a single year. By the time a child leaves elementary school, they have witnessed approximately 8,000 murders on television. Surprisingly, cartoons contain the most violence, roughly eighteen acts of aggression every hour. The most recent evidence suggests that by the time they are twelve years old, the average child will have witnessed 100,000 acts of violence on TV. Children’s programs are the least likely of all television programs to show the long-term negative consequences of violence. Children who view shows, in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or left unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. The negative consequences of violence are not often portrayed in violent programming. In fact, only four percent of violent programs emphasize and anti-violent theme. Violence prevails in eight out of every ten shows. Moreover, an average of five or six violent incidents occurs each hour. On the positive side however, television violence is usually not explicit or graphic.
Forty-four percent of the shows on network stations contain at least some violence compared with fifty-nine percent on basic cable, and eighty-five percent on premium cannels like HBO and ShowTime. According to a survey conducted by U.S. News and the University of California of Los Angeles with many top level Hollywood figures, forty-five percent of the Hollywood elite say the overall quality of TV programming has worsened in the past decade. Ironically, there is presently little evidence indicating that violence enhances program popularity.
America is the world leader in real crime and violence. Some scientists attribute this to the imaginary violence we see on TV. The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in a child’s behavior, as was the case a few years ago in which a five year old boy set his home on fire, killing his two year old sister because of an episode of Bevis and Buthead or may surface years later. According to research, media violence causes children to act more aggressively, cultivates attitudes that are excessively distorted, frightening, and pessimistic, and desensitizes children to violence. Children who view shows, in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated, of left unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. There is a general consensus among social scientists that television violence increases the propensity to real life aggression among some viewers. Evidence suggests that violence on television is potentially dangerous, in that it serves as a model for behavior, especially for children. Children who spend their after school time alone because parents work will find themselves learning behaviors not from their parents, but from television.
Leonard Earon, in 1960 in Hudson New York, found that those third grade kids who watched a lot of TV were most likely to be the more violent ones. Earon also discovered that the kids, who had watched a lot of violent television, as young children were most likely to have gotten into trouble when they got older, age nineteen. Earon visited these same people when they were thirty. He discovered that the more aggressive they were at age eight, the more aggressive they were at age thirty, the more criminal convictions they had, the more serious their convictions were, the more traffic violations they received, the more arrests for DUI’s they got, the more aggressive they were at hove, and the more aggressive their children became. During the mid 1950’s at Stanford University, a scientist named Albert Van Buera showed some children a video of a person beating a plastic doll. The children were then left alone in a room with a similar doll. The children best the dolls as they saw it in the video. Van Buera believed they demonstrated that violent images might induce real violence.
Television has a significant influence on children’s development. All television is not damaging and can a very educational tool. It displays both good and bad models for them to imitate, and it provides unlimited amounts of information. However violence levels should be cut to a minimum. Children should not have such easy access to violent movies, television, and news.
Open Questions on the Correlation between TV & Violence
Jonathan Vos Post
(1995): 31 pages online
Internet March 12, 1995
New Studies on Television Violence & their significance for the kid’s TV Debate
Center for Education Priorities
(1996): 3 pages online
Internet February 1996
Does TV Kill?
Documentary Consortion of Public television stations, 1984-1992
Print materials, PBS 1992