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Relationship Between Media Violence and the Effects on Children

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    A plethora of research has examined the relationship between media violence and the effects on children. Media violence is ubiquitous and comes in many forms, television and film, computer and video games, internet, music and radio and newspapers and magazines. However, the media that dominates the studies are television, then computer/video games and to a lesser degree music. Three types of evidence support the hypothesis that exposure to media violence is harmful to children. First there is anecdotes and case studies, then correlational studies and third the results of numerous experiments (Bernstein et al. 006). However there are the sceptics that suggest the evidence is not conclusive in anecdotes and case studies, while correlations don’t mean causations and the experiments may not apply beyond the laboratory (Bernstein et al. 2006). Not all children are harmed by violent media, however one child harmed is one too many. To look at the hypothesis that exposure to media violence is harmful to children, first look at it using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach. This approach demonstrates the overlapping ecological systems that operate together to influence what a person becomes as they develop.

    The individual, “with their biological and psychological characteristics” (Singleman & Rider 2008), is seen as rooted within the milieu of the microsystem (Jordan 2004). The connections between the microsystems are referred to as the mesosystem (Jordan 2004). While the social setting that influences a child’s development, but do not contain the individual, is the exosystem and the expansive cultural context that defines the child’s understanding of the influences in all the systems is the macrosystem (Jordan 2004). The individual and their family are in the microsystem, and the media is in the exosystem (Jordan 2004).

    The mesosystem connects the family with the individual and the family can offer ideas about violent media, such as discussing the violence as unacceptable, or worshiping the violent character. The connection can also be viewed as the domestic situation of the family in which differentially influence children, such as the socio-economic status (SES) of the family. Jordan (2004) suggests that children from low SES spend more time watching television and playing video games then children from higher SES. As demonstrated later the amount of time spent watching or using violent media exacerbates harmful effects on he child. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach demonstrates that media violence can be harmful to children if the areas within the system converge, operating together to create aggressiveness. Bushman & Anderson (2001) make an analogy between smokers getting lung cancer and viewers becoming violent criminals. They suggest that not all smokers get lung cancer and not all viewers of violent media become violent criminals. However they do suggest that the chances of getting lung cancer increase as the person is subjected to more cigarettes.

    This is compared to the person viewing violent media, as they increase the viewing hours, the likelihood of aggressive behaviour increases. However not everyone that gets lung cancer is a smoker and not all aggressive people watch violent media (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). This analogy makes it appear very clear that increasing the time spent interacting with violent media, increases the risk of becoming a violent criminal. A major alternative to explaining long-term effects of violent media is the desensitisation theory (Huesmann et al. 003). This theory is based on the assumption that lack of response to violence indicates lack of response with planning and thinking about violence (Huesmann et al. 2003). The lack of response is as a result of “observing blood, gore and violence”, hence desensitising the violence according to Huesmann et al. (2003, p. 202). Although it would be unethical to come up with an experiment to test this theory and case studies of people faced with going to prison for such acts of violence may not be reliable (Bernstein et al. 006, p. 226).

    Observational learning, part of Bandura’s social-cognitive theory, is learning by studying the behaviour of other people, called models (Singelman & Rider 2008). The theory consists of a four-step process whereby learners must notice the model and construct and remember what was being modelled, retain the behaviour to be reproduced and finally have an incentive or motivation to do so (Singelman & Rider 2008; Peterson 2004). From an observational learning perspective Bernstein et al. 2006) suggests television, including televised violence, teaches children a great deal. Contemporary media provides a large variety of models for viewers to emulate (Huesmann et al. 2003; Konijn, Bijvank & Bushman 2007). Bushman and Anderson (2001) suggest exposure to violent television and video/computer games can play a substantial part in developing aggressive behaviour via observational learning. Therefore by modelling the character that possesses violent behaviour seen on television or playing video/computer games the child learns to reproduce that behaviour in time.

    The type of models selected to emulate depend on the individual, some will choose models that possess similar qualities to themselves, while other will choose models with qualities they wish they had. According to Konijn, Bijvank & Bushman (2007) these are referred to as ‘similarity identification’ and ‘wishful identification’. Violent video games are especially likely to increase aggression when players identify with violent game characters. (Konijn, Bijvank & Bushman, 2007).

    The types of harm that comes from exposure to violent media ranges from slight feelings of increase aggressiveness to murdering, wounding and suicide, such as those witnessed by the Columbine attackers, which Anderson and Dill (2000) suggest violent video games as a possible contributing factor. Aggressive thoughts and hostile feelings can also be increased by listening to music whose lyrics describe or endorse violence (Anderson, Carnagey & Eubanks, 2003).

    The most aggressive participants in a study conducted by Konijn, Bijvank and Bushman (2007), were the participants that played violent games and wished they were like the character in the game. These participants noise blasted their opposition, even though they were aware that their actions might permanently deafen their opponents. The harmful effects are the individuals becoming aggressive as well as the secondary effects of the victim becoming hurt. The relationship between violent television and aggression may be seen as multidirectional (Jordan 2004).

    Anderson and Dill (2000), along with Huesmann et al. (2003) suggest the consumption of violent videogames ‘prime’ children to be more aggressive. Long-term harm to repeated exposure to violent media could result in the development of aggressive related knowledge structures by over-learning and reinforcing the behaviour (Anderson & Dill 2000). The individual could become “more aggressive in outlook, perceptual biases, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior than they were before the repeated exposure or would have become without such exposure” (Anderson & Dill 2000, p. 774).

    These long-term outcomes could have detrimental affects on their social environment, such as the type of people ready to intermingle with them, the type of interactions, non-aggressive peers decrease as aggressive peers increase (Jordan 2004). The type of situations made available to them all change as a result of becoming more aggressive (Jordan 2004). This can affect all avenues in life and become a continuing downward spiral. A further harm watching violent media can have on an individual is in the prediction that watching violent media as a child can predict aggressiveness later in life.

    When children are between the age of six and ten the amount of violent substance watched on television predicts aggressiveness in them fifteen years later (Huesmann et al. , 2003). Huesmann et al. (2003) advises that adults that watched more violent television as children were more aggressive. Bernstein et al. (2006) suggest that these adults also tend to use physical punishment on their own children and these children then tend to be more aggressive than average.

    The majority of the research used for this essay has been primarily on university students. The exceptions are the longitudinal study by Huesmann et al. , (2003), where individuals were studies between the ages of six and nine and followed through to around 22, and the correlational study by Konijn, Bijvank and Bushman (2007), where adolescent boys were used. This indicates a need for further study of children, however ensuring an ethical study of aggressiveness, that is also beneficial, is something that Tremblay (2000) hopes will be a reality in 2100.

    There have also been those who argue against violent media causing aggressiveness. It has been suggested that children with aggressive tendencies are attracted or drawn to violent media (Jordan 2004). Huesmann (2003) agrees that it is hard to rule out the preferences of aggressive children as playing no role. The correlational evidence suggests a correlation between watching TV violence and aggressive behaviour, however does not necessarily mean that it causes aggressive behaviour (Bernstein et al. 2006). Violent content by itself, however, in the absence of another provocation, is likely to have little direct impact on affect” (Anderson & Dill 2000, p. 774). While Olson (2004) suggests that it is increased exposure to news coverage that leaves a sense of youthful crime escalating, rather then as a result of violent media.

    Nonetheless whatever the argument “the fact that violence on television can have a casual impact on violent behavior is reason for serious concern and continues to influence public debate about what should and should not be aired on television” (Bernstein et al. 006a, p. 226). Exposure to media violence is harmful to children. It doesn’t matter whether the aggressive person is attracted to violent media or whether violent media makes a person aggressive. There is a negative effect to some children some of the time. The ecological approach highlights the fact that violent media alone is not to blame; it overlaps with other areas of the system. The analogy to smoking allows a greater understanding of the effects violent media can have on children if continuously exposed to it.

    Observational learning explains how children can be affected by modelling the behaviour they are being exposed to via violent media. While the range of effects differs according to a range of other inputs, the results can be multidirectional. The research is not definitive, but there is a connection to exposure to media violence and harm to children. In the future it is crucial to gain further understanding of the connection, as media becomes more graphic and access more readily available, to protect the children of today and tomorrow.

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