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Violent Cartoons and Aggressive Behavior: A Literature Review

Updated on May 21, 2016
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Victor Kwok is a local of Hawaii with a degree in Sociology and Psychology. His main forte is fiction writing, but dabbles a bit in poetry.

Author's Note

Hey, so if you're one of my followers, you know that I normally write fiction stories in hubs separated as chapters. Lately, I've been kept busy with other things so progress in my writing has slowed. Thus, I'm posting one of my old papers for college assignments. Just my way of assuring people I'm still around. I might do this again from time to time. Maybe even frequently. At least until I run out of old papers to post. Anyway. Here's my first one, which is a literature review on the topic of violent cartoons and its relationship with aggressive behavior.


The topic of this paper is the influence of violence in cartoons on the aggressiveness in adolescents. This topic fits into the field of psychology as it is research on aggressive behavior. I will be reviewing literature related to the topic.

Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri (1998)

Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri (1998) conducted a study on the relationship between violent television, personality, and academic achievement. This study is relevant to the research because it looks into aggressiveness in the personality of adolescents in relation to violent cartoons.

An equal number of 235 boys and 235 girls were used in the study, coming from twelve different schools, chosen at random from 43 different schools. Their ages range from thirteen to fourteen years. The participants’ personalities are evaluated with a self-report Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Teachers also evaluate the participants on how aggressive they are, how excitable they are, and how interested they are in studies through the use of a scale of one to ten. Participants were also exposed to seven videos of cartoons with scenes that were especially violent. After each video, the participants rated how they felt about the videos on a scale of one to ten. Their student reports were used to measure academic achievement.

It was found that boys who rate violent cartoons more thrilling and funny were considered more aggressive by the teachers. Those who rated violent cartoons interesting had lower academic achievement. Children who thought that violent cartoons were funny and thrilling had higher neuroticism and psychoticism (Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri, 1998).

In his article, Kirsh (2005) noted some weaknesses in Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri’s study. Mainly that nothing significant for girls was found. This could be because Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri’s measure of aggression is biased to more obvious forms like fighting which teachers can more easily catch than more subtle forms of aggression that girls are more likely to act on (Kirsh, 2005). There was also not a lot of detail on the explanation of the results on girls. In the future, more subtle acts of aggression should be considered for the study and girls should have a greater focus than they did in this one.

One ethical concern that comes up is the use of the students’ reports of academic achievement. Although permission was obtained by school authorities to conduct the study, and the participation was voluntary, students’ academic reports hold private information. If information from the students’ reports are exposed to the public, such as bad grades and notes of negative behavior, it could be harmful to the participants. Parents and guardians should give their consent first before the students participate and give permission to use the student reports. The researchers should maintain confidentiality and also provide counseling for participants because of the violent nature of the videos they were exposed to. Some participants might be uncomfortable by the level of violence they were exposed to.

Blumberg et al. (2008)

Blumberg et al. (2008) reviews research on cartoon violence and its effects on the morals of children and their behavior in an article. The main focus of her article is to oppose the view that violent cartoons can inspire aggressive behavior, using literature of other studies to provide alternative explanation to the behavior of children. For example, although some of the research literature reviewed in the article show that action cartoons can inspire aggressiveness, the article talks about how distinguishing between reality and fantasy can be a factor. Blumberg et al. (2008) discusses what children understand about cartoon violence and what they think while viewing cartoon violence,

Some of the studies reviewed by Blumberg et al. (2008) were conducted by Blumberg, which raises concerns about objectivity. The article is also biased, as is clear in the title of the article, which is “Does Cartoon Violence Beget Aggressive Behavior in Real Life? An Opposing View”. There was also an ethical concern from one of the research Blumberg et al. (2008) reviewed. Children were shown pictures of aggressive behavior and were asked how far punishment should go for these acts. This could be harmful because it got the children thinking about punishment and exposed children to aggressive behaviors. The issue of harm violates the APA Code of Ethics.

Cantor and Wilson (2003)

Cantor and Wilson (2003) reviews literature on research in reducing the effect of media violence on aggression. They introduce ways to approach research on the effects of media violence, such as longitudinal studies on lifestyle choices, and experimental studies where influence can be controlled. They also discussed on how media violence inspire aggressive behavior, one of which is observation and imitation, how the way violence is portrayed can influence attitudes towards violence, and how repeated exposure to media violence diminishes emotional responses to violence.

In their article, they reviewed literature on intervention as a way to reduce the effects of media violence on aggression, such as a parent commenting on a television show while and after viewing the show. However, the article stated in review of an experiment that the presence of the adult can influence the behavior of the child, where the child plays less aggressively while the adult was present, and more aggressively when the adult was not. Promotion of understanding and evaluation of mass media was another proposed solution. Research was also done on reducing exposure to media such as television, and using media to promote anti-violent behavior (Cantor and Wilson, 2003).

An ethical concern rises from one of the research reviewed in their article. In an experiment, in a part of the experiment adults made no comments about behavior in television while watching television. To the child, the adult seems to endorse violent behavior on television (Cantor and Wilson, 2003). This can be harmful since if the child assumes that the adult endorses the behavior, then the child is more likely to mimic the behavior.

The article implies that parental intervention, promotion of media understanding, and prosocial programs should be explored further (Cantor and Wilson, 2003).

Guntor and Harrison (1997)

Guntor and Harrison (1997) presents a study on violent British children’s TV shows, taken from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Journalism Studies. The study investigates the amount of violence in television in the United Kingdom and note the kind of violence shown. Twenty-five people from the ages of eighteen to sixty, trained before the start of the study, will monitor the shows and answer questions about the shows and the kinds of violence they depicted. Over nine-hundred and forty children’s shows over four weeks of monitoring were found to have violence.

Guntor and Harrison (1997) discuss how violence in children’s television could have a negative effect on children. They said that since these shows attract a lot of children as an audience, they should teach children about more acceptable behavior. Their research is relevant to the study because it relates to both cartoon violence and children’s behavior.

Although the topic is related, the main focus of their research was the content of children’s television shows. Their research into the influences of violent television comes from literature of other researchers. The location their research is focused on is the United Kingdom, so the results of their research may not apply to the United States. One ethical issue would be the participants viewing of violent television for four weeks. This would cost the participants time and effort that some might not be able to afford. To avoid this issue, the participants should be compensated for their participation in the study.

Hapkiewicz (1979)

Hapkiewicz (1979) reviews research focused on the effects of violent cartoons on human behavior. People have been concerned about the presence of violence in cartoons for years. Cartoons have more violence than in adult dramas, and almost every child watches these cartoons. Studies into the effects of cartoon violence on children’s behavior have been conducted both on the field and in laboratories. They looked into age (three to ten years), sex, how long a treatment lasts, and different kinds of dependent variables. Age, sex, and how long the treatments lasted had no effects. However, there were different results with the different kinds of dependent variables.

One experiment had children pair up, with one that watches a violent cartoon, while the other watches a non-violent one. Both eventually watches both kinds of cartoons. During free play, researchers observed no significant effects. Some other studies that used cartoons that showed violence against peers also failed to show any effect from violent cartoons on children’s aggression. Some other experiments did show, however, that after watching a violent cartoon, the children played more aggressively (Hapkiewicz, 1979).

In a field study experiment, where children were exposed to five minutes of violent cartoons, it was shown that the children were more aggressive in the classroom, such as pushing, throwing, making faces, name calling, and shouting. Another field study has researchers observing five children who viewed violent cartoons, while another five children viewed non-violent cartoons over eleven days, The group who watched the violent cartoons were more aggressive than the group who watched the non-violent cartoons, and this gap in aggression level increased over time during the observation period. Another study which used “Batman and Superman” and “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” showed no significant changes (Hapkiewicz, 1979).

There are three problems that Hapkiewicz discusses that pose future opportunities for research. The first is the content of the cartoons, such as maybe it was because the characters were humans, so the violence is more like in adult shows, or it’s because the storyline is more dramatic. The second is that the children could relate to the characters in some way, so the children are more likely to be affected. Finally, the third problem is about if children could tell the difference between fantasy and reality (Hapkiewicz, 1979).

Although the research happened decades ago, and Hapkiewicz’s article is a review of other’s research, it nonetheless gives excellent and relevant information to the topic of cartoon violence and aggressive behavior. However, the age focus is younger than the aim of the study, which is the effects on cartoon violence on the behaviors of adolescents and young adults. There are also ethical issues with the laboratory and field study research reviewed in the article, mainly with the safety of the children, because of the aggressive behavior increasing, especially in the field study. Pushing and shoving was involved for one of the studies at least, and that could lead to physical harm (Hapkiewicz, 1979). The subjects of the research are also human beings, and children so they require more protection. This issue can be avoided of the children in the study are properly monitored and preventative measures are made so the children do not hurt others or themselves in aggressive play.

Kirsh (2005)

Kirsh (2005) reviews literature on the relationship between violence in cartoons and aggressive behavior. He first overviews research on how children view cartoon violence. His article then moves on to the literature on how aggressive behavior and cartoon violence relate, with a section in the article about the experimental research on children. There is plenty of research that showed that children from preschool to adolescent years do show more aggression. However, for adolescents, more research is still needed. Kirsh (2005) also provides a review of studies in reducing the effects of cartoon violence on children and youth.

The article concludes that further research is necessary in the influence of comedy in cartoon violence on youth, as well as further research on adolescents. No differences were found on the aggression in participants of a laboratory experiment. However, it is found that youth exposed to cartoon violence without comedy are increasingly aggressive. (Kirsh, 2005).

In his article, Kirsh (2005) reviewed literature on laboratory experiments in which children are exposed to violent cartoons. There is an ethical concern in the first study, in which after a child is exposed to violent cartoons, while another is exposed to nonviolent ones and then their free-play is observed. During free play, the observers looked for aggressive acts on peer-partners and the self as well as on toys. This shows that the lab experiment had the risk of the participants’ harming others and themselves.

Although the article by Kirsh (2005) is not a direct study and is a secondary source, it does provide good references and introduction to the studies of others into the topic of cartoon violence and aggressive behavior. His review of the literature is objective and notes the flaws of each literature and where they can improve for future research. Although he included his own literature in his article, it is only to tell the reader where they can find more detailed review on a related topic.

Nathanson and Cantor (2000)

Nathanson and Cantor (2000) studies the effectiveness of getting children to think about the victims of violence in cartoons as a way of reducing the effects of cartoon violence on aggressive behavior. Children from the second grade to sixth grade participated in the experiment with consent from their parents. The population of the study numbered to three-hundred and fifty-one. They answered surveys to determine baseline aggression, They were then divided into different treatment groups. Children were exposed to a violent episode of Woody Woodpecker and later answered a survey to measure their aggressiveness and how they felt. Prior to viewing the cartoon, about over a hundred and thirty of the children were told to think about the victim of the violence.

The result was that the majority, close to eighty percent, of the mediation group thought of the victim’s feelings while only close to forty percent of the other group thought about the victim’s feelings. Children who involved themselves in the cartoon found it less funny and sympathized more with the victim. It shows that consideration for the victim changes the perception of the children on violence in cartoons (Nathanson and Cantor, 2000).

One of the limits of the study was how media violence and aggression can differ between male and female. Other limits include demographics. Most of the children are from middle-class, educated families, so the results may not apply to children of lower economic class or education. In the future, the studies could be conducted on children of lower class families (Nathanson and Cantor, 2000).

An ethical concern from the study would be the children’s exposure to the violent cartoon, since it runs the risk of inspiring aggressive behavior. This risk can be avoided with the use of the intervention used in the experiment if it is successful after the experiment is over. There is also the concern about the children’s assent. The researchers gained consent from the parents of the children, and promised the children confidentiality, but the procedures did not state if the researchers told the children that they could leave the experiment at any time during it (Nathanson and Cantor, 2000). Next time around, the researchers should inform their participants that they could drop participation in the experiment anytime they want.

Nathanson and Yang (2003)

Nathanson and Yang (2003) researches the role of mediation in how children react to watching violent television. Previous research shows that mediation can reduce the negative effects of watching violent television. Their research focuses on the effectiveness of active mediation on children. A hundred and three children, ages five to twelve, participated in the study, chosen from various day care centers at Midwestern United States. The majority of them were from Caucasian, well-educated parents.

The children participated in two sessions. In the first session, the children answered a survey about their media use, attitude towards media, aggressiveness, stereotypes and knowledge. In the second session, the children were divided into five different groups for five different conditions, labeled: statement, social reality and statement, factual reality and question, social reality and question, and factual reality and control. The children would watch a children’s show about superhero wrestlers fighting evil. While the show played, there will be pauses in between for a researcher to use the mediation for each group. After watching the show, thee children answered a questionnaire (Nathanson and Yang, 2003).

The results of the research show that age does not affect the effects of mediation. The younger children in the mediation group had decreased positive orientations to the show through mediation statements. However, the mediation questions were more effective for the older children (Nathanson and Yang, 2003).

There are a few ethical issues with Nathanson and Yang’s (2003) article. One of which was the children’s perception of the researcher’s attitude toward the television show. It could be taken as a form of manipulation of the results and also pose an issue towards validity. The researchers answered that issue by questioning the children on the perceived attitudes of the researcher who read them their questions (Nathanson and Yang, 2003). Another way this issue could be avoided would be if the researcher did not ask the question in person, and instead, ask the questions to the children from a different room.

Another issue to validity is the demographic of the participants. The majority of the children came from educated, Caucasian families. This implies that for future research, the researchers can focus on children with different ethnic backgrounds and lower social classes.


In all, results are mixed with different experiments and studies. However, evidence suggests that violent cartoons do affect aggressive behavior in children. More research needs to be conducted on adolescents and young adults, as well as focus on more subtle forms of aggression, and explore other possible explanations to the increase in aggressive behavior.


Aluja-Fabregat, A., & Torrubia-Beltri, R. (1998). Viewing of mass media violence, perception of violence, personality, and academic achievement. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 973−989. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00122-6

Blumberg, Fran C., Bieworth, Kristen P., & Schwartz, Allison J. (2008). Does Cartoon Violence Beget Aggressive Behavior in Real Life? An Opposing View. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36, 101-104. doi: 10.1007/s10643-008-0280-1

Cantor, J., & Wilson, B. J. (2003). Media and Violence: Intervention Strategies for Reducing Aggression. Media Psychology, 5(4), 363-403. doi:10.1207/S1532785XMEP0504_03

Gunter, B., & Harrison, J. (1997). Violence in children's programmes on British television. Children & Society, 11(3), 143-156.

Hapkiewicz, W. G. (1979). Children's Reactions to Cartoon Violence. Journal Of Clinical Child Psychology, 8(1), 30.

Kirsh, Steven J. (2005). Cartoon violence and aggression in youth. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11(6), 547-557. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2005.10.002

Nathanson, A. I., & Cantor, J. (2000). Reducing the aggression-promoting effect of violent cartoons by increasing children's fictional involvement with the victim: A study of active mediation. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(1), 125-142. DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem4401_9

Nathanson, A. I., & Yang, M. (2003). The effects of mediation content and form on children's responses to violent television. Human Communication Research, 29(1), 111-134. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2003.tb00833.x


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    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 10 months ago from Hawaii

      Hey, Nadia. You're welcome. This article was actually part of a paper I wrote while studying for a Master's in Psychology.

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      nadia 10 months ago

      it would definately help me in my thesis work thanks :)