Violence in the Media, History of Research on
VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA, HISTORY OF RESEARCH ON
Public controversy about violent content in the media has a long history that extends as far back as the first decade of the twentieth century in the United States. The earliest controversies revolved around depictions of criminality in the movies, and the very first case of movie censorship occurred in 1908, when the police in Chicago refused to provide a permit for the public display of the movie The James Boys in Missouri. Authorities objected to the content of the film because it focused on violent lawbreaking (Hoberman, 1998). The scientific study of the effects of media violence may not extend as far back as 1908, but it was only a few years later that media violence became a focus of the first major investigation of the content and effects of movies.
The Payne Fund Studies
As the popularity of movies grew in the 1920s, so too did public pressure on the movie industry to do something about the widespread concerns that were being voiced about the effect that movie depictions of sex and violence had on children. In response to this pressure, William Short, the executive director of the Motion Picture Research Council (a private educational group), invited a number of the most prominent scholars across various disciplines to design and carry out a series of studies into how movies affect children. The U.S. government was not funding such research at the time, so the researchers turned to private funding sources. The Payne Fund, a privately funded philanthropic foundation, agreed to provide the needed funding, and the studies were conducted between 1929 and 1932.
The studies produced under the Payne Fund were designed to answer a variety of questions, only some of which pertained to the study of media violence. One of the studies that did pertain to media violence was a large-scale content analysis conducted by Edgar Dale (1935). The results revealed that most—more than 75 percent—of the fifteen hundred films that were studied could be categorized as dealing with crime, sex, or love. The emphasis on crime was no surprise to critics of the movie industry, and these results served to fuel the public debate over the effect that movies have on audience members. Another study conducted under the Payne Fund was even more inflammatory in terms of the public debate. Herbert Blumer (1933) asked nearly two thousand people from different demographic groups to answer questions about their own personal experiences as a result of watching movies. Blumer did not reduce this data to any type of quantitative presentation; he simply presented what people wrote in response to the questions. In many cases, people reported having imitated movie characters and having integrated movie scenarios into their play behavior as children. By contemporary standards, the exclusive reliance on retrospective self-reports is a rather weak methodological technique. Nevertheless, Blumer's study had a significant effect on the controversy and helped keep the spotlight on the movie industry. That spotlight was also intensified with occasional news reports. For example, it was reported in 1931 that after viewing a violent movie, The Secret Six, a twelve-year-old boy in New Jersey shot another child in the head (Hoberman, 1998). According to the Motion Picture Association of America Production Code, put in place in the early 1930s, movies were not supposed to "lower the moral standards of viewers" or to encourage them to identify with criminals. However, the code was not enforced. When FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover actually endorsed in the mid-1930s several movies that depicted gangsters and FBI agents, the controversy about movie violence tended to subside, but it reemerged again during the explosive growth of television. By the time the television age had arrived, research methods had matured and the U.S. government was more interested in providing funding for scientific studies. The controversy over media violence was about to enter a new era.
The Rise of Television
Television was introduced to the public in the late 1940s, but by 1950, only one in ten homes had a television set. As the proliferation of sets increased in the 1950s, another medium—comic books—was attracting attention for its violent content. In this case, a reputable psychiatrist, Frederic Wertham, wrote a book titled Seduction of the Innocent (1954), in which he reported the results of his study on the content and effects of comic books. His procedures for studying content lacked the rigor that is associated with modern scientific content analyses, and his conclusions about effects were not based on careful experimentation. Instead, the conclusions arose from Wertham's case studies of boys who had been referred to his psychiatric practice. Wertham's conclusions about the evils of violence in comic books were not necessarily shared widely among scientists. Nevertheless, they elevated the media violence problem to national attention and caused changes in the comic book industry in terms of self-censorship. Rather than risk government intervention, the industry established its own review board to review comic book content prior to publication. The "seal of approval" from the review board was given only to those comic books that were deemed acceptable for children to read. Consequently, violent content decreased and parents came to rely heavily on the appearance of the seal of approval on a comic book's front cover to indicate that it was appropriate for children.
While the public was reading about Wertham's warnings of violence in comic books, they were also beginning to read regularly about "copycat" crimes that were reported in newspapers around the country. These reports seemed to suggest a disturbing capacity of television to stimulate imitative antisocial behavior. Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle, and Edwin Parker published a book, Television in the Lives of Our Children (1961), that argued that the apparent connections between television exposure and violence were not coincidental. Among other things, they documented the numerous examples of copycat violence that were reported in the news during the 1950s. Researchers were not the only ones to take note of these incidents.
In 1954, Senator Estes Kefauver, in his role as chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, publicly questioned the need for violence on television. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) responded with a promise for research into the effects of violent content. It is not surprising that, since the NAB was not a research organization, it failed to deliver on this promise. Seven years later, not much had changed. The new chairman of the Senate subcommittee was Senator Thomas Dodd. Once again, the subcommittee raised the issue of television violence, but the broadcasting community showed little interest in contributing to any sustained research effort into the effects of media violence or in reducing violent content. In 1964, the Senate subcommittee strengthened its rhetoric and criticized the broadcasting community for the violence that was being disseminated. As the rhetoric grew hotter, the broadcast community grew even cooler to the idea of becoming involved in research. In 1969, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence submitted a report that brought television violence under careful scrutiny. Data gathered by George Gerbner was prominently featured in this report. Unfortunately, while the commission report detailed the high prevalence of violent content and the negative attitudes of the public toward such content, little insight was offered about the actual effects that viewing violence had on subsequent attitudes and behavior.
The Report of the Surgeon General
Senator John Pastore was not satisfied with the conclusions that appeared in the report released by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. He bemoaned the fact that, although there was a surge in violence in the culture, there was still little data pertaining to the possible causal role that media violence was playing in fostering aggressive behavior. At Pastore's initiative, in his role as chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, the issue of media violence remained a top concern among lawmakers. In 1969, only a week after Pastore expressed his concerns in a letter to Robert Finch, the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, the Surgeon General of the United States, William Stewart, was ordered by President Richard Nixon to initiate a new study into the effects of media violence. The project was facilitated by $1 million from the National Institute of Mental Health.
One incident that functioned to blemish the Surgeon General's eventual report on media violence (1972) concerned the naming of the advisory committee that would oversee the report. In a move that many observers found to be outrageous, the Surgeon General sent a list of forty names to the three major television networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and to the NAB, asking them all to indicate who would not be appropriate to serve on this committee that was supposed to conduct an impartial scientific investigation. According to Robert Liebert, Joyce Sprafkin, and Emily Davidson (1982), the rationale for this procedure was apparently based on the same practice that had been employed in the earlier Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. In that case, the tobacco companies were asked to eliminate the names of individuals who they thought might not be appropriate; in this way, the committee had hoped to prevent the possibility that the companies would later claim that the deck had been stacked against them from the beginning. In the case of the Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, the opportunity to exclude researchers backfired and mired the final report in controversy. Although CBS did not suggest any names for elimination, the other networks did identify the names of seven researchers deemed inappropriate. Several of these names, including Albert Bandura and Leonard Berkowitz, were some of the leading scholars in the area of media effects and aggressive behavior.
The studies conducted under the auspices of the Surgeon General's effort were not coordinated or planned to cover the topic of television violence in any systematic way. Researchers who received grant money to study the problem were encouraged to take on their own research initiatives. Nevertheless, the final report, which included the results of twenty-three different projects, permitted the examination of a number of dimensions of the media violence question.
Content Analyses of Television
Gerbner (1972) contributed data from systematic content analyses of television to the Surgeon General's report. Using the definition that violence was "the overt expression of physical force against others or self, or the compelling of action against one's will on pain of being hurt or killed," Gerbner was able to compare the quantity of violence on network television in 1969. Quantities were provided by two earlier analyses that Gerbner had contributed to the report for the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. The results of Gerbner's study indicated that violence on prime-time television occurred at the rate of about eight instances per hour— unchanged from the figures of his earlier analysis. (This rate has proven to be relatively steady over time since the study was done.) One area of concern indicated by Gerbner's data was an increase in cartoon violence during the Saturday morning time period directed at children. In fact, the data indicated that this time slot was the most violent of any on television.
One of the most important experimental studies in the Surgeon General's report was conducted by Robert Liebert and Robert Baron (1971). The purpose of the study was to investigate the potential for violent television to instigate aggressive behavior in children. Using children who ranged from five to nine years of age, the researchers randomly assigned the subjects to watch either a brief clip from a violent television show (The Untouchables) or an alternative clip of nonviolent sports programming. Following exposure to the television clip, the children were placed in a situation in which they could choose to help or hurt another child's progress at winning a game in an adjacent room. If they pressed a "help" button, they were told that it would make it easier for the child to turn a handle that would lead to success in the game. In contrast, if they pressed a "hurt" button, they were told that the handle would become hot for the other child in the adjacent room and would hinder progress toward winning. The results of the experiment revealed that children who had watched the segment from the violent show were significantly more likely to press the "hurt" button and to hold it down longer than were the children who had watched nonviolent sports program.
Aletha Huston Stein and Lynette Friedrich (1972) conducted another important experiment on young children who were from three to five years of age. In one of the relatively few longitudinal studies in the literature, these researchers observed children's free-play and classroom behavior during a two-week baseline period. They then randomly assigned children to watch either violent (Batman and Superman cartoons), prosocial (Mister Rogers' Neighborhood), or neutral programs for a period of four weeks. After the four-week treatment period, the behavior of all of the children was observed for two weeks. The major finding of the study was that children who had watched the violent cartoons were significantly more aggressive in their interactions than children in either of the other viewing groups. In a theme that resulted in much confusion in interpreting the overall findings of the Surgeon General's report, the authors reported that their result held only for children who had been rated above the median in aggressive behavior during the baseline observation period.
Reactions to the Report
The controversy that swirled around the release of the Surgeon General's report was started by the publication of a headline in The New YorkTimes on January 11, 1972, that declared that television violence was not harmful to youths. In the article that followed, the public was told that the Surgeon General's report had found evidence that the majority of young people were not adversely affected by television violence. Many of the researchers who were directly involved in the report's research took issue with the way in which the final conclusions were being communicated to the public. In view of the findings of many of the studies that showed that violence tended to increase aggressive behavior, even if the effects were sometimes limited to certain groups, the research community was upset because they thought the public was not learning what they needed to know in order to appreciate properly the risks associated with television violence. In the end, the Surgeon General's report functioned to draw close public attention to the television violence issue. It also motivated researchers to follow up on the report's findings and continue to study issues pertaining to the effects of media violence. In the decade following the publication of the report, significant progress was made in understanding the effects of media violence. As the science of media-effects research matured, there was a greater emphasis on understanding the particular theoretical mechanisms that might underlie the effects of violence.
Theories of Media Violence
The theories that have been applied to the study of violence in the media include catharsis, social learning, priming effects, arousal, desensitization, cultivation, and fear.
Even before the Surgeon General's report, Seymour Feshbach (1955) proposed a theory of media violence that, if supported, would have pleased Hollywood producers and set the public mind at rest concerning violent television. The idea of catharsis goes back to Aristotle, and Fesh-bach proposed that it might apply to the modern situation of watching violence on television. Just as Aristotle thought people could purge their feelings of grief by watching others grieve in a dramatic context, Feshbach thought that people could purge their feelings of anger and pent-up aggression by watching violence in a dramatic context. An early study by Alberta Siegel (1956), which used a Woody Woodpecker cartoon (as the example of a violent television show) to test the theory on nursery school children, failed to find any evidence for the catharsis hypothesis. The children who viewed violence tended to behave more aggressively, not less. Nevertheless, Feshbach and Robert Singer (1971) persisted with the catharsis idea and attempted to test it in a major field study that involved several institutional homes for boys. These authors accumulated some evidence that seemed to indicate that boys who were exposed to violent television programs behaved less aggressively than similar boys who watched nonviolent programs. Unfortunately for the catharsis hypothesis, this result was easily explained by noting that the boys who watched violent programs were also watching shows that they enjoyed; boys who watched nonviolent programs did not find these shows to be nearly so enjoyable and may have actually been provoked by the fact that their peers were permitted to see their favorite shows due to nothing more than the luck of the draw. Moreover, the internal validity of this experiment was also corrupted by the fact that some boys in the nonviolent program group protested so intensely about the elimination of one violent program (Batman) from their media diet that the investigators relented and permitted them to watch it. In the wake of these methodological problems, the catharsis theory was left floundering. Added to these problems was the accumulating evidence that exposure to violence was more likely to instigate violence than to diminish it.
Another early theory that was applied to the media violence controversy was Albert Bandura's theory of social learning (later referred to as social cognitive theory). Bandura (1963, 1965) emphasized that children learn behaviors from models in their environment who manage to capture a child's attention. Behaviors that the child attends to are "acquired" in the sense that children are able to reproduce these behaviors if they are motivated to do so. Not all acquired behaviors are eventually performed, however. Bandura drew upon the prevailing theory of the time and emphasized that the chief determining characteristic for the performance of a behavior was the extent to which the behavior was either rewarded or punished. In extending this notion to media violence, the theory predicted that aggressive behavior that was rewarded was much more likely to be copied or imitated than aggressive behavior that was punished. Bandura and his colleagues tested this formulation in several experiments. Children were typically exposed to a short film clip depicting aggressive behavior in a play context that was either rewarded or punished. Following exposure to the film clips, children were observed in free-play situations. Findings from these studies supported the theory in that children who saw aggressive behavior rewarded were more likely to behave aggressively than children who saw aggressive behavior punished.
Bandura faced a number of methodological criticisms from his studies that revolved around the measurement of key concepts. First, some scholars argued that the film clips used in these studies featured highly contrived scenarios that failed to resemble the sort of violent content that children might view on commercial television. Second, Bandura's definition of aggressive behavior included the number of times a child punched a large inflatable "bobo doll." The bobo doll, it was argued, existed for the sole purpose of being hit. Moreover, because the doll was inanimate, Bandura's notion of aggression was only "play" aggression. One could not assume that children who hit the bobo doll were actually under the impression that they were inflicting real pain on anyone. These limitations were addressed and overcome in subsequent research that, like the early studies, tended to show that viewing televised violence in the context of rewards could make aggressive behavior more likely in children.
A major contributor to the early literature on the effects of media violence was Leonard Berkowitz. His theoretical formulation emphasized that media violence contained "aggressive cues" that could combine with a viewer's state of anger or frustration and trigger an aggressive response. In the 1990s, Eunkyung Jo and Berkowitz revised the theoretical language of the theory of aggressive cues to take advantage of more contemporary cognitive theory. Relying on the notion of "priming," these researchers outlined a position in which media violence is seen as a stimulus that primes thoughts related to aggressive behavior. Stated succinctly, their 1994 essay clearly specifies what could happen after exposure to media violence: "Under certain conditions and for a short period of time, there is an increased chance that the viewers will (a) have hostile thoughts that can color their interpretation of other people, (b) believe other forms of aggressive conduct are justified and/or will bring them benefits, and (c) be aggressively inclined" (p. 46).
Brad Bushman and Russell Geen (1990) demonstrated the priming effect of media violence when they randomly assigned viewers to watch a movie that contained either high, moderate, or low levels of violence. Following the movie, when viewers were asked to list their thoughts, the viewers who had watched a violent film had significantly more aggressive thoughts than viewers of nonviolent film. In another study, Craig Anderson (1983) found that when people imagined themselves carrying out a particular action, they subsequently reported that they felt much more motivated to carry it out than if they had imagined someone else carrying out the action. Consistent with the idea of priming, Jo and Berkowitz (1994) commented on this result: "It is as if the thought of the particular action had, to some degree, activated the motor program linked to this action" (p. 48). It should be noted that the idea of priming effects runs directly counter to the catharsis hypothesis. Feshbach had believed that fantasizing about acting aggressively would reduce the likelihood of carrying out aggressive behavior. The priming hypothesis suggests exactly the opposite. In general, the decline of the viability of catharsis theory was directly linked to the many studies conducted by Berkowitz and his colleagues, which showed evidence for the instigating effects of exposure to media violence as well as for the priming process as a likely theoretical mechanism for these effects.
While Berkowitz focused on the violent content in media messages, another researcher, Dolf Zillmann, believed that the capacity for violence to induce heightened levels of physiological arousal was also very important. In his theory of excitation transfer, Zillmann (1991) reasoned that arousal from viewing violence could intensify emotional reactions experienced immediately after the viewing experience. In cases where viewers experience anger subsequent to viewing an arousing program, the anger will be more intensely experienced and will be more likely to result in aggressive behavior. Many studies in the media context that are designed to test the excitation transfer hypothesis have revealed strong support for this formulation. Of course, one implication of the theory is that viewing media violence may also result in the intensification of positive emotions subsequent to viewing—if those positive emotions occur in reaction to some stimulus.
While most of the theories about the effects of media violence have attempted to shed light on the question about the extent to which viewing results in increased aggressive behavior, some research has focused on the question of desensitization to violence. According to the desensitization hypothesis, repeated exposure to violence results in emotional adjustment or saturation. Under this formulation, initial levels of excitement, anxiety, tension, disgust, and so on weaken with repeated exposure to violence. One of the most important consequences of this effect could be the reduced likelihood of a desensitized viewer to respond with a sense of urgency to violence in real life. While desensitization has been studied less frequently than instigation of violence, the research that does exist supports the idea that desensitization occurs.
Ronald Drabman and Margaret Thomas (1976) studied the desensitization hypothesis with children in an experimental context. After exposing randomly selected children to either violent or nonviolent television, they asked each child to monitor the activity between two other children presented on a video monitor. The child was instructed that if the activity of the children turned violent, they should seek out the experimenter for assistance. Children who had viewed television violence just prior to the monitoring task were significantly less likely to notify the experimenter when the interaction on the monitor turned violent. In addition, those children who did notify the experimenter took a significantly longer time to do so.
Gerbner's early contributions to the violence literature in the form of content analyses helped to form the basis for his theory of media cultivation. According to this view, viewers who watch large amounts of television content become cultivated into accepting the view of social reality presented in the television messages. Because, as the content analyses had revealed, the television world was one filled with violence, viewers who watch large amounts of television should come to believe that the world was a violent place. Specifically, because the incidence of violence on television suggests a more violent world than the one that actually exists, viewers who watch large amounts of television should adopt exaggerated perceptions of the occurrence of violence and should also come to fear criminal victimization more than viewers who watch smaller amounts of television.
Gerbner and his colleagues (1994) have presented evidence from sample surveys pertaining to the cultivation hypothesis. According to the theory, because cultivation is a gradual process, it cannot be studied by the experimental method. This feature of the theory poses some methodological difficulties in terms of being able to establish clearly the cause-effect relationship that the theory posits between television viewing and fear of criminal victimization. Sample surveys are inherently incapable of controlling all possible third variables that might contribute to the relationship between television viewing and any supposed cultivated attitude. Despite the fact that the theory and research pertaining to it have come under various attacks over the years, Gerbner has been a strong advocate of the perspective, and there appears to be enough empirical support to keep the theory viable.
Joanne Cantor (1998) and her associates developed a program of research demonstrating that viewing specific programs or movies that involve violence or the threat of harm often causes children to have nightmares or intense and enduring anxieties. The research also shows that there are important differences in the types of media stimuli that frighten children of different ages. These variations are based on the viewer's level of cognitive development.
Research Evidence and the Question of Causation
If there is a pivotal issue running through all of the research on media violence, it is the issue of causality. In the end, the challenge for the research community and the consumer is to evaluate the various kinds of evidence that have been presented, with a view toward formulating a reasonable conclusion about the effects of media violence. This evidence can be naturally occurring, the result of a survey, or the result of an experiment.
Naturally Occurring Data
Brandon Centerwall's 1989 analysis of crime statistics across several countries constitutes some of the most provocative data available on the question of whether television is related to an increase in violence in society. In 1945, prior to the emergence of television in the United States, the crime statistics show three homicides per 100,000 people. By 1974, that figured had doubled. This same sort of increase emerged in Canada. According to Centerwall, the relationship between the introduction of television in any society and the increase in homicides in not accidental. Instead, Centerwall believes it is a direct causal relationship. Of course, there is no way to establish an unequivocal case for causality with this type of data. Literally hundreds of changes occurred along with the rise of television, and those other changes could theoretically be related to increases in homicides. Centerwall's approach to this problem is to compare other countries that are similar to the United States in many of the ways that are known to affect the homicide rate. For example, he argues that South Africa is quite comparable to the United States on almost any variable of interest between 1945 and 1974—except for the fact that the South African government had a ban on television during this time period. In contrast to the doubling homicide rate in the United States, the rate in South Africa dropped by 7 percent. When South Africa lifted the ban on television in 1974, the homicide rate promptly increased by 56 percent during the next nine years. By 1990, the increase had grown to 130 percent—more than doubling in less than twenty years in nearly the same way it had done in the United States. Center-wall attempted to introduce careful controls in these comparisons in order to boost the integrity of his analysis. For example, he excluded all homicides in South Africa that could be attributed to racial tensions. Even with these controls, the data still show a relationship between homicides and the introduction of television. In the end, Centerwall claims that roughly half of all homicides in the United States result, in part, from exposure to television. The problem in evaluating this claim is that the method of analysis falls short of meeting the strict criteria for making causal claims.
David Phillips (1979, 1983, 1985) has also reported the results of a series of studies that appear to show a link between mass-media violence and violence in the real world. One line of studies attempted to show a connection between widely publicized stories of suicide and subsequent increases in the suicide rate, presumably as a result of direct imitation. Another line of studies attempted to show a link between the occurrence of heavyweight prizefights and subsequent increases in the homicide rate. Phillips's analysis is provocative but controversial. In addition to failing to meet the conventional criteria for establishing a causal claim, there are various anomalies in Phillips's data, and these anomalies defy clear explanation. For example, the main increase in homicides after prizefights seems to occur on the third day after the fight, but increases also appear on the sixth and ninth days following the fight. Phillips's analyses have been the subject of some major methodological disputes in the sociological literature. In the final analysis, the naturally occurring data pertaining to the effects of media violence is suggestive, but it is not conclusive.
The best survey evidence pertaining to media violence comes from longitudinal panel studies that relate early viewing of television violence to later incidents of aggressive behavior. This method has the advantage of examining the basic relationship between viewing violence and aggressive behavior in a context where the time-order of the variables can be firmly established. L. Rowell Huesmann and Leonard Eron (1986) have collected the best evidence of this type by studying subjects from the time when they were eight years old until they were thirty years old. The most important finding in this study was that young children who watched the highest levels of television violence were more likely to be involved in serious crime when they were adults. Huesmann (1986) summarized these findings by stating, "Aggressive habits seem to be learned early in life, and once established, are resistant to change and predictive of serious adult antisocial behavior. If a child's observation of media violence promotes the learning of aggressive habits, it can have harmful lifelong consequences. Consistent with this theory, early television habits are in fact correlated with adult criminality" (pp. 129-130).
Of course, as noted in the discussion of Gerbner's cultivation theory, the survey method, similar to the studies that rely on naturally occurring data, is limited in terms of drawing unequivocal conclusions about cause and effect. Added to this limitation is the fact that some other longitudinal surveys, after controlling for several different variables, failed to find a significant correlation over time between aggressive behavior and the viewing of violence in the media. Most notable among this group of surveys was one funded by the television industry and directed by J. Ronald Milavsky (1982), who was the vice-president of News and Social Research for NBC at the time. Taken together, the available survey data do suggest a relationship between aggressive behavior and the viewing of violence in the media. However, it remains impossible for researchers to argue for a clear causal link between the two variables based on this type of data.
The experimental method is the only way, in principle, to demonstrate a causal relationship between two variables. In addition to some of the laboratory experiments mentioned above, there have been some notable field experiments that attempted to show, in more naturalistic settings, a causal relationship between aggressive behavior and media violence. One such study, by Ross Parke and his colleagues (1977), summarized the results of three field experiments that supported the notion that viewing violent films increases aggressive behavior. Although experimental research on the effects of media violence has become less prevalent than in the 1970s, the conclusions of more recent studies of this type reinforce the widely shared conclusion from earlier studies that support the idea that viewing violence causes aggressive behavior. Zillmann and James Weaver (1999) reported a study showing that violent films viewed on four consecutive days produced increased hostile behavior on the part of both males and females a day later, regardless of whether the subjects had been provoked to respond aggressively.
In the mid-1990s, a major new content analysis of violence on television was conducted. The National Television Violence Study was carried out by researchers from four U.S. universities. This analysis, which was funded by the National Cable Television Association but not subjected to industry control, reconfirmed the high levels of violence on television (including cable television). Moreover, reporting on the context features associated with violence, such as the prevalence of attractive perpetrators and the scarcity of depicted negative consequences, the report concluded that the way in which violence is typically depicted promotes imitation.
In 1994, Haejung Paik and George Comstock reinforced the causal conclusion in a meta-analysis of all studies pertaining to the question of media violence and aggressive behavior. Even researchers who have been cautious in reaching the consensus opinion among scholars lend credence to this conclusion. For example, in his review of the literature, Richard Felson (1996) was much more reluctant than most scholars to interpret the available evidence as being strongly supportive of the causal relationship. In the end, however, he stated, "I conclude that exposure to television violence probably does have a small effect on violent behavior for some viewers, possibly because the media directs viewer's attention to novel forms of violent behavior that they would not otherwise consider" (p. 103). With the causal connection being well established, the research in the late 1990s focused mainly on other types of questions, including why media violence is attractive, how program warnings affect children's desire to view violent content, how violent video games affect players, and how parents might intervene in the negative effects. These issues ensure that research on media violence will continue to be a vibrant area of scholarship.
See also:Arousal Processes and Media Effects; Catharsis Theory and Media Effects; Cultivation Theory and Media Effects; Cumulative Media Effects; Desensitization and Media Effects; Fear and the Media; National Television Violence Study; Parental Mediation of Media Effects; Ratings for Movies; Ratings for Television Programs; Social Cognitive Theory and Media Effects; Violence in the Media, Attraction to.
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Glenn G. Sparks
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