The Effects of Mass Media on Violence
The effect of mass media on various aspects of the society is a contentious issue among academicians, social scientists, and other interested parties such as politicians, citizen groups, and parents, with the basic question being whether the media is beneficial to the society or leads to destruction. One of the most addressed mass media topic is its impact on violence, whereby one considers the violent content in the mass media and its influence on the society especially children and adolescents.
Mass media is thought to influence violence tendencies when much of the content shown leans towards violence, although others believe the media can also deter violence by denouncing it or showing the negative impact rendered by violence on the society. This discussion seeks to determine the effect of mass media on violence considering the positive outcomes and negative outcomes, especially on children, adolescents, and young adults.
Mass media includes sections of communication designed to reach a very large audience comprising of radio networks, newspapers and magazines, television, and other electronic media such as films and the internet.
However, when considering media and violence, the causation factor is exemplified in visual media such as television programmes and news, movies, and sometimes in interactive visual media such as video games and the internet (Anderson et al, 2003, p.84). Therefore, the negative and positive causes of mass media are discussed in light of visual media and interactive media with additional emphasis on television and movies because they are in the capacity to influence people to avoid violence or lead them towards violence.
The effect of mass media on violence may be understood through an exploration of criminology theories that expound on the causation factors to crime. In this case, the social process theories that include social learning theory, social control theory, and social reaction theory form the background for the study on mass media effect on violence. The social process theories stipulate that criminal or violent behavior arises as a social process reinforced by negative or positive aspects of the society, whereby positive reinforcement encourages the continuation of the behavior while negative reinforcement discourage the behavior (Siegel and McCormick, 2010). In attribute to the social process theories, a person is likely to discontinue criminal behavior if their family or peers shun the behavior or continue making it stronger if encouraged. Further, people may learn the behavior through modeling, whereby a child observes the behavior of others, sees the rewards attributed to the behavior, and seek to imitate the behavior. The imitation is mostly the child or person’s desire to have an association with their model.
Considering the implications of the social process theories, violence and other deviant behavior grow as a response to reinforcement over alternative behavior, where the reinforcement shows the desirable aspects of the behavior. When connecting theory to practice, one may surmise that mass media acts to reinforce certain behavior, showing that the behavior is acceptable thus desirable or showing the behavior is rewarding. For example, some video game programmes encourage fighting and other forms of violence such as bombing through which the player earns credit; a child may construct the technicalities of the game to mean that violence may be acceptable and rewarding. In this example, the mass media will have encouraged violent behavior. However, in some instances the media also shows the negative attributes of criminality such as through movies where the culprits ends up in prison, acting as a deterrence for violence. Therefore, the mass media may reinforce behavior positively or negatively.
Various research efforts have been committed towards determining the effect of mass media content towards the society with special emphasis on children and adolescents. The research efforts have shown that violent television shows and films, video games, and music increases the likelihood of people developing aggressive and violent behavior in the short- and long-term (Kotrla, 2007, p.51). Most research has been in the domain of television and films with violence, although other bodies of research in video fames and music videos are becoming common. In both research domains, evidence continues to rise showing short-term and long-term exposure to mass media violence has an impact on both physical and verbal aggressiveness and violence.
The positive effects of mass media on violence though not as highly discussed as the negative effects are present beginning with the caution function of media. The caution function is based on the notion that if children are entirely protected from media violence, they may tend to imagine the world was perfectly peaceful place and assume people are always nice to each other thus grow up ignorance and naïve, and aware of the harsh reality of life (Da-wei, 2007, p.68). However, when they are exposed to mass media violence, they learn ways of dealing with dangerous circumstances and are less vulnerable. An example of how mass media act as a caution is the case of a research comprising of 100 children aged 6-9 approached by a stranger looking for help, some of children gave the help readily, others hesitated, some tried to contact their parents, while others refused to talk to the stranger (Da-wei, 2007, p.68). The children that refused the stranger stated that they had learnt form the media that people cheat children or kidnap them meaning mass media can positively influence children’s behavior in case of potential or actual violence.
Another positive effect of mass media on violence is facilitating attitude change by providing knowledge regarding violent behavior (Gottfredson and Bauer, 2008, p.161). Effective use of media campaigns could act as an intervention for violence and aggressiveness whereby the media becomes a source of knowledge in showing the negative impact of youth violence. Arguably, mass media content usually contain a significant amount of violence; hence, some researchers argue that a reduction of the violent content will help facilitate a reduction in aggressiveness; nevertheless, the same media avenues could be use to provide a counter-communication showing the effect of violence (Gottfredson and Bauer, 2008, p.162). Therefore, mass media is useful in reinforcing positive behavior although it is highly associated with a negative effect on violence.
Another proposed positive effect of mass media on violence is based on the Catharsis Theory, whereby mass media is understood as an avenue or outlet for aggression or violence, thus decrease of real-world violence (Da-wei, 2007, p.68). The cathartic effect means that through exposure to media violence, instead of developing violent tendencies, the exposure purges the audience of the strong emotions associated with violence. The violence and aggression experienced through the media therefore serves to give the viewer a catharsis towards aggression, meaning watching violence leads to less violence. In effect, the proponents of the catharsis theory argue that violent media such as through video games help channel a child’s aggression thus topping them from real life violence (Da-wei, 2007, p.68). The positive impact of mass media thus implies that although media may be partially responsible for violence, other factors also play an active role such as child upbringing, home environment, and peers.
The negative effects of mass media on violence are highly supported by research compared to the positive effects, and imply that mass media has a primary role in violent tendencies amongst persons exposed to media violence. Negative mass media effect on violence are initially realized on short-term through increase of existing aggressive tendencies and cognitions, an increase in physiological arousal and triggering an automatic tendency to imitate observed behavior (Anderson et al, 2003, p.81). For example, children because of their high vulnerability to suggestions are likely to suffer immediate or short-term influences of media on violence, where they imitate the actions of their movie of video game heroes that is unfortunately violent in some instances. The short-term impact of mass media results from its ability to excite the viewers leading to an increase in aggressive thinking such as in children actively engaged in a violent video game, increase in aggressive feelings and psychological arousal, which may lead to aggressive behavior, and eventually long-term behavioral problems.
On the long-term, mass media influence may be experienced through a creation of decrease in inhibition such as in instances where violence is rewarded, when violence occurs in a situation similar to current environment, or where a person’s environment is presented as the target (De-wei, 2007, p.67). In such cases, violence occurs as a response because the inhibition against such behavior has been weakened, which may be seen as an opposite of the catharsis theory. An example of how decrease in inhibition occurs is a case of children constantly talking about certain violent programs in school thus gradually learning to accept violence as a way of solving problems. In effect, the children are more inclined to hit their playmates, argue, disrupt their classrooms, and become disobedient and impatient to appropriate what they want.
Furthermore, mass media seems to legitimize violence marking another of its effects felt through the pervasive nature of violence in television programs, video games, music videos, films, and the internet. According to Short and Wolfgang (2009), visual media is one of the primary sources of violence exposure where millions of people are exposed to violence, observing and indirectly participating in real and fictional violent events (p.109). Legitimization of violence occurs in visual media through real violent events such as wars, football games, while other incidences of illegitimate violence also occur through assaults or murder. In both case, the visual mass media serves the legitimization process of violence through observational learning that portray violence to the viewers. Through the legitimization process, mass media portrays attributes that support beliefs of aggression either in individuals or socially. Therefore, the mass media can be a source of positive behavior learning as well as negative learning as exemplified by the positive and negative effects on violence.
In conclusion, the effects of mass media on violence forms a complex analysis of positive and negative influences where some seem to a contradiction of the other such as in the case of mass media producing a catharsis effect while also leading to a decrease in inhibition. Nevertheless, mass media effect on violence has a high negative connotation whereby it causes a decrease in inhibition, legitimizes violence, and causes an array of short-term influences such as aggressive thinking, increase in aggressive feelings, increase in psychological arousal, leading to behavioral problem that includes being antisocial. Among the positive effect of media are providing caution, acing as a catharsis, and facilitating attitude change. Despite the seemingly clear distinction of positive and negative effects, the available research on the effect of mass media on violence concentrates highly on the negative requiring more research and clarity on potential positive impact. Therefore, future research should focus on the positive aspects of mass media influence on violence, as well as consider other populations instead children and the youth, which is the current focus.
Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., et al. (2003). The Influence of Media Violence on Youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp.81-110
Da-wei, W. (2007). A Study on Media Culture’s Negative Influence on Children. Sino-US English Teaching, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp.65-70.
Gottfredson, D. C., and Bauer, E. L. (2008). Interventions to Prevent Youth Violence. In L. S. Doll, S. E. Bonzon, E. N. Haas, et al (Eds), Handbook of Injury and Violence Prevention. Springer.
Kotrla, B. (2007). Sex and Violence: Is Exposure to Media Content Harmful to Children? Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, pp.50-52.
Short, J., and Wolfgang, M. (2009). Collective Violence. Aldine Transaction.
Spiegel, L. J., and McCormick, C. R. (2010). Criminology in Canada, Theories, Patterns, and Typologies (4th Ed). Nelson Thomson Learning.
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