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. Spring 2010 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ACADEMIC CENTER OF EXCELLENCE ON YOUTH VIOLENCE PREVENTION, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE Fact Sheet MEDIA VIOLENCE by Carmela Lomonaco, Tia Kim, and Lori Ottaviano Introduction Children and adolescents have access to and consume a variety of different media forms, including television, the Internet, music and music videos, film and video games, many of which contain high levels of violent content. The concern (and the controversy) lies in whether violent content in media affects a young person’s beliefs and behaviors, and more specifically, if frequent exposure contributes to increased aggression and even violence in young people. Much of the research on the relationship between media exposure and aggression supports such a connection. Although critics have challenged the validity of these findings, suggesting that the studies focused only on short-term effects and were conducted in controlled laboratory settings, one study suggests that exposure to violent media in home environments has long-term implications.1 Promising strategies for reducing exposure to media violence are available and include limit setting by parents/guardians, technological innovations such as the v-chip (which blocks inappropriate shows or content from being viewed by children), and.

Children, Media, and Violence Essay

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Does Media Violence Lead to the Real Thing?

By VASILIS K. POZIOS, PRAVEEN R. KAMBAM and H. ERIC BENDER AUG. 23, 2013

EARLIER this summer the actor Jim Carrey, a star of the new superhero movie “Kick-Ass 2,” tweeted that he was distancing himself from the film because, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, “in all good conscience I cannot support” the movie’s extensive and graphically violent scenes.

Mark Millar, a creator of the “Kick-Ass” comic book series and one of the movie’s executive producers, responded that he has “never quite bought the notion that violence in fiction leads to violence in real life any more than Harry Potter casting a spell creates more boy wizards in real life.”

While Mr. Carrey’s point of view has its adherents, most people reflexively agree with Mr. Millar. After all, the logic goes, millions of Americans see violent imagery in films and on TV every day, but vanishingly few become killers.

But a growing body of research indicates that this reasoning may be off base. Exposure to violent imagery does not preordain violence, but it is a risk factor. We would never say: “I’ve smoked cigarettes for a long time, and I don’t have lung cancer. Therefore there’s no link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer.” So why use such flawed reasoning when it comes to media violence?

There is now consensus that exposure to media violence is linked to actual violent behavior — a link found by many scholars to be on par with the correlation of exposure to secondhand smoke and the risk of lung cancer. In a meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990, the psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik found that the short-term effect of exposure to media violence on actual physical violence against a person was moderate to large in strength.

Mr. Comstock and Ms. Paik also conducted a meta-analysis of studies that looked at the correlation between habitual viewing of violent media and aggressive behavior at a point in time. They found 200 studies showing a moderate, positive relationship between watching television violence and physical aggression against another person.

Other studies have followed consumption of violent media and its behavioral effects throughout a person’s lifetime. In a meta-analysis of 42 studies involving nearly 5,000 participants, the psychologists Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman found a statistically significant small-to-moderate-strength relationship between watching violent media and acts of aggression or violence later in life.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics this year, the researchers Lindsay A. Robertson, Helena M. McAnally and Robert J. Hancox showed that watching excessive amounts of TV as a child or adolescent — in which most of the content contains violence — was causally associated with antisocial behavior in early adulthood. (An excessive amount here means more than two hours per weekday.)

The question of causation, however, remains contested. What’s missing are studies on whether watching violent media directly leads to committing extreme violence. Because of the relative rarity of acts like school shootings and because of the ethical prohibitions on developing studies that definitively prove causation of such events, this is no surprise.

Of course, the absence of evidence of a causative link is not evidence of its absence. Indeed, in 2005, The Lancet published a comprehensive review of the literature on media violence to date. The bottom line: The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children.

In fact the surgeon general, the National Institute of Mental Health and multiple professional organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association — all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence.

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To be fair, some question whether the correlations are significant enough to justify considering media violence a substantial public health issue. And violent behavior is a complex issue with a host of other risk factors.

But although exposure to violent media isn’t the only or even the strongest risk factor for violence, it’s more easily modified than other risk factors (like being male or having a low socioeconomic status or low I.Q.).

Certainly, many questions remain and more research needs to be done to determine what specific factors drive a person to commit acts of violence and what role media violence might play.

But first we have to consider how best to address those questions. To prevent and treat public health issues like AIDS, cancer and heart disease, we focus on modifying factors correlated with an increased risk of a bad outcome. Similarly, we should strive to identify risk factors for violence and determine how they interact, who may be particularly affected by such factors and what can be done to reduce modifiable risk factors.

Naturally, debate over media violence stirs up strong emotions because it raises concerns about the balance between public safety and freedom of speech.

Even if violent media are conclusively found to cause real-life violence, we as a society may still decide that we are not willing to regulate violent content. That’s our right. But before we make that decision, we should rely on evidence, not instinct.

Vasilis K. Pozios, Praveen R. Kambam and H. Eric Bender are forensic psychiatrists and the founders of the consulting group Broadcast Thought.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 25, 2013, on Page SR12 of the New York edition with the headline: Does Media Violence Lead to the Real Thing?. Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Violence in the Media

Television and Video Violence

Virtually since the dawn of television, parents, teachers, legislators and mental health professionals have wanted to understand the impact of television programs, particularly on children. Of special concern has been the portrayal of violence, particularly given psychologist Albert Bandura’s work in the 1970s on social learning and the tendency of children to imitate what they see.

As a result of 15 years of “consistently disturbing” findings about the violent content of children’s programs, the Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior was formed in 1969 to assess the impact of violence on the attitudes, values and behavior of viewers. The resulting report and a follow-up report in 1982 by the National Institute of Mental Health identified these major effects of seeing violence on television:

  • Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
  • Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
  • Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

Research by psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron and others starting in the 1980s found that children who watched many hours of violence on television when they were in elementary school tended to show higher levels of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these participants into adulthood, Huesmann and Eron found that the ones who’d watched a lot of TV violence when they were 8 years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults.

Interestingly, being aggressive as a child did not predict watching more violent TV as a teenager, suggesting that TV watching could be a cause rather than a consequence of aggressive behavior. However, later research by psychologists Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman, among others, suggested that exposure to media violence is just one of several factors that can contribute to aggressive behavior.

Other research has found that exposure to media violence can desensitize people to violence in the real world and that, for some people, watching violence in the media becomes enjoyable and does not result in the anxious arousal that would be expected from seeing such imagery.

Video Game Violence

The advent of video games raised new questions about the potential impact of media violence, since the video game player is an active participant rather than merely a viewer. Ninety-seven percent of adolescents age 12-17 play video games — on a computer, on consoles such as the Wii, Playstation and Xbox, or on portable devices such as Gameboys, smartphones and tablets. A Pew Research Center survey in 2008 found that half of all teens reported playing a video game “yesterday,” and those who played every day typically did so for an hour or more.

Many of the most popular video games, such as “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” are violent; however, as video game technology is relatively new, there are fewer empirical studies of video game violence than other forms of media violence. Still, several meta-analytic reviews have reported negative effects of exposure to violence in video games.

A 2010 review by psychologist Craig A. Anderson and others concluded that “the evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.” Anderson’s earlier research showed that playing violent video games can increase a person’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in daily life. “One major conclusion from this and other research on violent entertainment media is that content matters,” says Anderson.

Other researchers, including psychologist Christopher J. Ferguson, have challenged the position that video game violence harms children. While his own 2009 meta–analytic review reported results similar to Anderson’s, Ferguson contends that laboratory results have not translated into real world, meaningful effects. He also claims that much of the research into video game violence

The American Psychological Association launched an analysis in 2013 of peer-reviewed research on the impact of media violence and is reviewing its policy statements in the area.

Cited Research

Anderson, C.A., Ihori, Nobuko, Bushman, B.J., Rothstein, H.R., Shibuya, A., Swing, E.L., Sakamoto, A., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, Vo. 126, No. 2.

Anderson, C. A., Carnagey, N. L. & Eubanks, J. (2003). Exposure to violent media: The effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 5.

Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 78, No. 4.

Ferguson, C.J. (2011). Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 40, No. 4.

Gentile, D.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2012). Reassessing Media Violence Effects Using a Risk and Resilience Approach to Understanding Aggression. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Vol. 1, No. 3.

Huesmann, L. R., & Eron, L. D. (1986). Television and the aggressive child: A cross-national comparison. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C. L., & Eron, L. D. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 201-221.

Huston, A. C., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Feshbach, N. D., Katz, P. A., Murray, J. P., Rubinstein, E. A., Wilcox, B. & Zuckerman, D. (1992). Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Krahe, B., Moller, I., Kirwil, L., Huesmann, L.R., Felber, J., & Berger, A. (2011). Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100, No. 4.

Murray, J. P. (1973). Television and violence: Implications of the Surgeon General’s research program. American Psychologist, Vol. 28, pp. 472-478.

National Institute of Mental Health (1982). Television and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications for the Eighties, Vol. 1. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Violence in the Media: What Effects on Behavior?

Speculation as to the causes of the recent mass shooting at a Batman movie screening in Colorado has reignited debates in the psychiatric community about media violence and its effects on human behavior.

“Violence in the media has been increasing and reaching proportions that are dangerous,” said Emanuel Tanay, MD, a retired Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University and a forensic psychiatrist for more than 50 years.

“You turn on the television, and violence is there. You go to a movie, and violence is there,” Tanay told Psychiatric Times. “Reality is distorted. If you live in a fictional world, then the fictional world becomes your reality.”

The average American watches nearly 5 hours of video each day, 98% of which is watched on a traditional television set, according to Nielsen Company. Nearly two-thirds of TV programs contain some physical violence. Most self-involving video games contain some violent content, even those for children. 1

Tanay noted, “Anything that promotes something can be called propaganda.” What we call entertainment is really propaganda for violence. If you manufacture guns, you don’t need to advertise, because it is done by our entertainment industry.”

In reality, the number of violent crimes has been falling, but the public’s perception is that violence has increased. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall violent victimization rate (eg, rape and assaults) decreased by 40% from 2001 to 2010. Similarly, the murder rate in the US has dropped by almost half, from 9.8 per 100,000 people in 1991 to 5.0 in 2009.

Yet the propaganda, Tanay said, makes people feel that crime is everywhere and that guns are needed for protection.

Asked about the hundreds of murderers he has examined and possible links to media violence, Tanay said, “Most homicides are committed by people who know each other, and who have some momentary conflict and have a weapon handy. Usually only hit men, who are very rare, kill strangers.”

Tanay did acknowledge, however, that some mentally ill individuals are vulnerable to dramatized violence. “They are naturally more vulnerable, because they are in the community, they are sick, and they may misinterpret something.”

The 2 teenage boys who murdered 12 schoolmates and a teacher and injured 21 others at Columbine High School in Colorado before killing themselves, he said, lived in a pathological environment. “Their lives centered around violent video games.”

After the 1999 Columbine tragedy, the FBI and its team of psychiatrists and psychologists concluded that both perpetrators were mentally ill—Eric Harris was a psychopath and Dylan Klebold was depressive and suicidal. Other analysts have argued that a possible causal factor may relate to the young killers’ obsessions with violent imagery in video games and movies that led them to depersonalize their victims.

While the vast majority of individuals afflicted with a psychotic disorder do not commit violence, Tanay said, “some mass killings have been perpetrated by people who are psychotic.”

He cited the example of Seung-Hui Cho, a student who in 2007 shot to death 32 students and faculty of Virginia Tech, wounded 17 more, and then killed himself. “Cho was psychotic. Twenty years ago he would have been committed to a state hospital. . . . Now, we don’t take care of psychotic patients until they do something violent,” Tanay said.

Writing about the Colorado tragedy in a July 20 Time magazine essay, Christopher Ferguson, PhD, Interim Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology and Communication at Texas A&M International University, argued there is currently no scientific proof that the mass homicides can be explained, even in part, by violent entertainment.

So what does research show?

A 2002 report by the US Secret Service and the US Department of Education, which examined 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks from 1974 to 2000 in this country, found that “over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence through movies, video games, books, and other media.” 2

In a 2009 Policy Statement on Media Violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” 3

This year, the Media Violence Commission of the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) in its report on media violence said, “Over the past 50 years, a large number of studies conducted around the world have shown that watching violent television, watching violent films, or playing violent video games increases the likelihood for aggressive behavior.” 4

According to the commission, more than 15 meta-analyses have been published examining the links between media violence and aggression. Anderson and colleagues, 5 for instance, published a comprehensive meta-analysis of violent video game effects and concluded that the “evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.”

In a Psychiatric Times interview, psychologist Craig Anderson, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University, said the evidence for the media violence–aggression link is very strong from every major type of study design: randomized experiments, cross-sectional correlation studies, and longitudinal studies.

In 2007, Anderson’s group reported on a longitudinal study of violent video games. The study queried children and their peers as well as teachers on aggressive behaviors and violent media consumption twice during a school year. The researchers found that boys and girls who played a lot of violent video games changed over the school year, becoming more aggressive. 6

“There now are numerous longitudinal studies by several different research groups around the world, and they all find significant violent video game exposure effects,” Anderson said.

In contrast, a longitudinal study published this year by Ferguson and colleagues, 7 which followed 165 boys and girls (aged 10 to 14 years) over 3 years, found no long-term link between violent video games and youth aggression or dating violence.

Studies from Japan, Singapore, Germany, Portugal, and the US show that “the association between media violence and aggression is similar across cultures,” according to Anderson.

“Most recently,” he added, “we found that within a high-risk population [incarcerated juvenile offenders], violent video games are associated with violent antisocial behavior, even after controlling for the robust influences of multiple correlates of juvenile delinquency and youth violence, most notably psychopathy.” 8

There is growing evidence, Anderson said, that high exposure to fast-paced violent games can lead to changes in brain function when processing violent images, including dampening of emotional responses to violence and decreases in certain types of executive control. But there also is some evidence that the same type of fast-paced violent games can improve some types of spatial-visual skills, basically, ability to extract visual information from a computer screen.

Despite the links between media violence and aggression, Anderson stressed, “media violence is only one of many risk factors for later aggressive and violent behavior. Furthermore, extremely violent behavior never occurs when there is only one risk factor present. Thus, a healthy, well-adjusted person with few risk factors is not going to become a school-shooter just because they start playing a lot of violent video games or watching a lot of violent movies.”

One of Anderson’s colleagues at Iowa State University, Douglas Gentile, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, along with Brad Bushman, PhD, Professor of Communication and Psychology at Ohio State University and Professor of Communication Science at the VU University in Amsterdam, recently published a study that identifies media exposure as 1 of the 6 risk factors for predicting later aggression in 430 children (aged 7 to 11, grades 3 to 5) from Minnesota schools. 9 Besides media violence, the remaining risk factors are bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, participant sex, physical victimization, and prior physical fights.

Knowing students’ risk for aggression can help school officials determine which students might be more likely to get in fights or possibly bully other students, according to Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University. He said he can get “over 80% accuracy” in predicting which child is at high risk for bullying behavior by knowing 3 things—“are they a boy, have they gotten in a fight within the past year, and do they consume a lot of media violence.”

In discussing their study findings, Gentile and Bushman wrote: “The best single predictor of future aggression in the sample of elementary schoolchildren was past aggression, followed by violent media exposure, followed by having been a victim of aggression.”

They added that their risk-factor approach can “cool down” the heated debate on the effects of media violence, since “exposure to violent media is not the only risk factor for aggression or even the most important risk factor, but it is one important risk factor.”

“We are interested in using this new approach to measuring the multiple risk factors for aggression in additional samples, and also increasing the number of risk factors we examine (there are over 100 known risk factors for aggression),” Gentile told Psychiatric Times. He and colleagues have several other studies under way in several countries.

“I am particularly hopeful that this approach will help the public and professionals realize that media violence is not different from other risk factors for aggression. It’s not the largest, nor the smallest,” he said. “If there is any important difference at all, it is simply that media violence is easier for parents to control than other risk factors, such as being bullied, having psychiatric illnesses, or living in poverty.”

1. Saleem M, Anderson CA. The good, the bad, and the ugly of electronic media. In: Dvoskin J, Skeem JL, Novaco RW, Douglas KS, eds. Applying Social Science to Reduce Violent Offending. New York: Oxford University Press; 2012:83-101.

2. Vossekuil B, Fein RA, Reddy M, et al. The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington, DC: US Secret Service, US Dept of Education; May 2002.

3. Council on Communications and Media. From the American Academy of Pediatrics: Policy statement—Media violence. Pediatrics. 2009;124:1495-1503.

4. Media Violence Commission, International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA). Report of the media violence commission. Aggress Behav. 2012;38:335-341.

5. Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, et al. Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull. 2010;136:151-173.

6. Anderson CA, Gentile DA, Buckley KE. Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy. New York: Oxford University Press; 2007.

7. Ferguson CJ, San Miguel C, Garza A, Jerabeck JM. A longitudinal test of video game violence influences on dating and aggression: a 3-year longitudinal study of adolescents. J Psychiatr Res.2012;46:141-146.

8. DeLisi M, Vaugh MG, Gentile DA, et al. Violent video games, delinquency, and youth violence: new evidence. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. In press.

9. Gentile DA, Bushman BJ. Reassessing media violence effects using a risk and resilience approach to understanding aggression. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 2012;1:138-151.

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