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An introduction to the issue of aggression in the media

What do We Know About Media Violence?

Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews Volume 5, Chapter 10: Social Learning, the Media and Violence North America has long been concerned about the possible effects of media violence and most especially, its effects on youth. The leading concern is that media violence may cause aggressive or violent and criminal behaviour. Various scholars, political groups, and organizations have reported that there is clear and consistent evidence that violence in the media causes real-life aggression and violence.

According to these groups, evidence points to a causal association between media violence and aggressive behaviour in some children. Some scholars have evalualated the magnitude of media violence effects on violent behaviour as almost as important as gang membership Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007. However, there is ongoing debate as to whether there is a causal relation between media violence and aggression.

Furthermore, the importance of this relation, and whether it warrants widespread concern, is highly disputed. Attempts to censor violent media or media that has the potential to stoke crime e. Ultimately, however, Jackson was allowed entry. Defining Media Violence and Aggression Concerns about the effect of media violence on aggression are not restricted to any specific media type, and frequently apply to television, film, music, video, and computer games.

However, others have argued that even violent lyrics can lead to aggression see Barongan and Nagayama Hall, 1995; Fischer and Greitemeyer, 2006.

Aggression is commonly defined by psychologists as any behaviour that is intended to harm another person Anderson et al. Aggressive behaviour may take various forms.

Physical aggression includes a variety of acts ranging from shoving and pushing to more serious physical assaults, including violent acts which may cause serious injury e. Less serious forms of aggression include verbal aggression e. Aggressive and violent behaviour is said to be caused by multiple factors which converge over time. It has been argued that influences that promote aggressive behaviour in children, such as media violence, can effectively contribute to increasingly aggressive and violent behaviour years later Anderson et al.

Theoretical Explanations of Media Effects To answer the question of whether media violence can lead to aggression, one must first have an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of such claims.

Additional theories, however, suggest that media violence can lead to aggression. The most straightforward explanation of media effects is social learning theory Cantor, 2003. Social learning theory suggests that individuals learn from direct experience and from behaviour modelled by others, which can occur via the media. Proponents of the media effects argument, such as L. Rowell Huesmann 2007therefore suggest that media violence has short-term and long-term effects, both of which can be accounted for by various related theories.

  1. Individual Factors and the General Aggression Model The processes outlined above represent basic learning and behavioural mechanisms and are also applicable to real-life experiences as opposed to media-based experiences. Desensitization itself is said to lead individuals to have the capability of acting aggressively without experiencing the negative emotions that would, under normal circumstances, circumscribe aggressive behaviour Huesmann, 2007.
  2. As such, the alleged underlying messages of violent content may not emphatically reach youth until they are somewhat older, effectively casting doubt on claims that young children learn long-term social messages from media violence.
  3. Aggression is commonly defined by psychologists as any behaviour that is intended to harm another person Anderson et al.

Theoretical Explanations of Short-Term Media-Effects The short-term effects of media violence are largely attributed to priming, mimicry or arousal Huesmann, 2007. Priming processes suggest that external stimulus can be inherently linked to cognition e. Primed concepts thus make behaviours linked to them more likely to occur.

In this perspective, media violence is purported to prime aggressive concepts, which in turn increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Even more simplistic, mimicry suggests that merely viewing media violence can lead to imitating the observed behaviour. Arousal theory is also referred to as excitation-transfer theory, and was first proposed by Dolf Zillmann Bryant, Roskos-Ewoldsen and Cantor, 2003.

The theory is based on a number of assumptions about emotional responding. For example, emotions such as anger, fear, and sexual arousal are said to involve a substantial increase in sympathetic activation and have similar peripheral indices of arousal, such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure Cantor, 2003.

According to excitation-transfer theory, physiological arousal that occurs due to an emotion decays relatively slowly and can linger on for some time after the cause of the emotion. The intensity with which an emotion is felt also depends on the level of arousal existing at the time.

As individuals have relatively poor insight into why they are physiologically aroused, an individual can confuse residual arousal with a new emotion i. Applying this theory to media effects suggests that the arousal induced by media violence could linger and make people who are angered feel their anger more intensely, as well as potentially make them react more violently if provided the opportunity to retaliate against their provoker Cantor, 2003.

Although arousal theory is supported by a great deal of evidence, some research suggests that imitating media violence can occur in the absence of elevated arousal or provocation Cantor, 2003.

This led Zillmann to revise his theory to account for what he believed were long-term media effects. If, then, media violence makes aggression scripts i.

Other theories also account for purported long-term media effects. Theoretical Explanations of Long-Term Media Effects The long-term effects of media violence are said to be due to observational learning and to the activation and desensitization of emotional processes i.

As children age, normative beliefs about appropriate social an introduction to the issue of aggression in the media become entrenched and act as filters to limit inappropriate social behaviour.

The theory therefore suggests that children who are developing scripts and normative beliefs can become aggressive if they observe violent behaviours depicted in the media. According to desensitization theory, repeated exposure to emotionally activating media leads individuals to become habituated to these emotions, and consequently leads to a decline in their negative emotional reactions e.

Desensitization itself is said to lead individuals to have the capability of acting aggressively without experiencing the negative emotions that would, under normal circumstances, circumscribe aggressive behaviour Huesmann, 2007. Individual Factors and the General Aggression Model The processes outlined above represent basic learning and behavioural mechanisms and are also applicable to real-life experiences as opposed to media-based experiences.

The aforementioned theories also largely present media effects as affecting all individuals equally. However, such broad, overarching theories may be criticized as dubious given the widespread appeal of media violence and the comparatively scant number of people who engage in aggressive or violent behaviour.

Some scholars have therefore proposed more attenuated media-effects theories. Anderson another strong proponent of the media effects argument and his colleagues have proposed the general aggression model GAMwhich integrates many of the aforementioned theoretical models and takes into consideration developmental factors see Anderson and Bushman, 2002a; Anderson and Carnagey, 2004; Anderson and Huesmann, 2003, as cited in Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

The model also distinguishes between variables and processes that operate in the current situation e. The long-term variables e. According to the GAM, media violence is both an environmental factor i. The model also assimilates advances in developmental theories that explain individual differences in development via a risk and resilience perspective Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

Risk factors are life experiences that may put children at risk for future maladaptation, whereas resilience factors protect children from this risk exposure. Anderson and colleagues 2007 suggest that risk and resilience factors may explain why media effects affect some children to a greater degree than others, although they argue that media effects are likely a risk factor for all children. Risk factors that have been studied include marital discord, low socio-economic status, maternal psychological distress, single-parent status or divorce, low maternal education, and exposure to violence, as well as genetic risk factors for psychopathology or aggression Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

Resilience factors include good self-regulation, close relationships with caregivers and other adults, and effective schools Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007. It is typically acknowledged that exposure to media violence will likely not, in itself, lead to extreme and rare violent behaviour e.

However, Anderson and colleagues 2007 suggest that someone who has other risk factors for violent behaviour, and who, for example, is already verbally aggressive, may become more aggressive e.

Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

They note, however, that media effects are also likely influenced by the developmental tasks children face as they mature e. For example, in middle childhood, learning social rules and norms takes on increased importance. As such, media effects may have short-term or long-term effects and may be very different depending on the age of the child. Based on previous reviews of the literature, they claim that the debate over media effects on violence is over. Studies using various methodologies e.

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Each methodological approach to the study of media effects provides its own strongpoints, while triangulation e. The following discussion will outline three methodological approaches to the study of media effects e.

Experimental studies allow researchers to observe whether exposure to media violence leads to short-term increases in aggression.

In these studies, participants are typically randomly assigned to groups who either watch a violent video or a non-violent video. Anderson and colleagues 2003 report that these types of studies typically find that viewing violent media content leads both children and older youth to behave more aggressively and have more aggressive thoughts and emotions. They additionally report that youth who are predisposed to being aggressive, or who have been aroused or provoked, especially demonstrate these effects.

They conclude that the average effect sizes generated by experimental studies are large enough to warrant social concern Anderson et al. The size of these correlations is typically small to moderate and tends to be higher for elementary-school children than for adolescents and adults Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

Surveys are said to provide support for the causal conclusions of experimental studies, in that they demonstrate that the short-term effects identified in experimental studies are also generalizable to real-life violence Huesmann, 2007.

Still, surveys do not indicate whether media violence causes aggression or whether some other factor leads the same individuals who watch more violence to behave more aggressively than their peers Anderson et al. Longitudinal studies are said to be especially useful in the media effects debate, as they provide grounds to discredit arguments that it is aggressive individuals who seek out violent media, as opposed to the preferred argument that violent media leads to aggression.

Longitudinal studies typically measure how much violent television children watch at time A e. It is important, however, that longitudinal studies of media effects focus on the time spent viewing violent television, as opposed to total television viewing time, as the latter is said to likely underestimate the effects of violent television Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

Given the expense and difficulty of conducting longitudinal studies, they are few and far between.

Still, some studies suggest that while youth media violence exposure predicts later aggression, high aggressiveness in childhood does not lead to frequent viewing of television violence later in life Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, 2007.

Anderson and colleagues 2003 report that on average, the size of media effects in longitudinal studies are small to moderate, depending on the time lag e.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that suggests that more aggressive children tend to watch more violence than their less aggressive peers Anderson et al.

It has also been found that total time watching television can also predict later aggressive behaviour, even after controlling for factors such as childhood neglect and neighbourhood characteristics Johnson, Cohen, Smailes, Kasen and Brook, 2002.

Still, Anderson and colleagues 2003 state that there is stronger evidence that suggests that seeing a lot of media violence is a precursor of increased aggression, even when other factors are controlled for statistically e. Three New Studies and Their Implications Although for the purpose of this report only the findings of a few specific studies have been detailed, it seems important and relevant to provide some of the latest findings generated by three studies conducted by Anderson and colleagues 2007.

They used the general aggression model to conduct an experimental, a cross-sectional and a longitudinal study with a lag-time period of two to six months. Their primary focus was on the effect of playing violent video games on short-term aggressive behaviour, the correlation between violent video game exposure and aggressive behaviours among high school students, and the long-term effects of violent video games on aggression and pro-social behaviour among elementary school children.

First, their findings suggest that when statistically controlling for other factors that may moderate the relation between exposure to violent video games and aggression, the effect of media violence exposure on aggression becomes non-significant. In their experimental study, they observed the effects of playing violent video games on aggressive behaviour e.

While they report that their experimental manipulation i. This finding is contrary to what one would expect based on their prior arguments e. An introduction to the issue of aggression in the media found similar results for their cross-sectional survey and longitudinal study.

They found that when controlling for these factors, exposure to media violence in television and film was no longer related to violent behaviour and physical aggression. Similarly, in the analyses of their longitudinal study, they found that when controlling for other factors e.

Note that two additional criticisms may also be lodged against their longitudinal study. First, one may criticize their characterization of this study as longitudinal because, in some cases, their initial and secondary measures occurred within the span of two months.

  • Rap music genres and deviant behaviors in French Canadian adolescents;
  • However, the frustration aggression hypothesis has since been incorporated into larger theories that address some of its theoretically limitations e.

Second, although they report that exposure to video game violence leads to physical aggression, their statistical analyses failed to provide key information i. Surprisingly, the authors chalk up the lack of a significant relation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behaviour to the fact that the violent video game effect seems to be outweighing the media effects e.