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The effect of violence in the media

Updated on May 1, 2016

Reflections of violence in the media

A person’s knowledge of how the world works comes from many sources, one of the primary observations one makes comes from their surrounding culture. In American culture, violence, exposed by the media has become a constant presence. Such a hostile outlook can create the hostile world that is expected due to it’s prominence (Saleern). “The average American watches nearly 5 hours of video each day day... two-thirds of which contain physical violence (Kaplan).” Researched evidence over many years suggests that exposure to violence on television and in films increases the risk of violent behavior on the viewer, just as growing up in an environment filled with real violence increases the risk of violent behavior. The influence of violent media is one of the many potential factors that influence the risk for violence. Researchers do not claim that violence is the sole reason for violence, only that it is a strong contributor, due to the migration in our social environment towards media. A 1994 poll found that more than half of the children questioned said they were afraid of a violent crime against them or a family member, many are curious to wether this is a real problem (Anderson). Even within the business, actors are beginning to question the ethics of film making and the messages they are sending. In 2013, Jim Carrey backed out of the film Kick Ass 2, “in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre” the actor tweeted “in all good conscience I cannot support the movies extensive and graphically violent scenes (Pozios).” Mark Millar, the creator of the “Kick-Ass’’ comic books responded to Carrey by claiming “violence in fiction does not lead to violence in real life any more than Harry Potter casting spells creates more boy wizards in real life” (Pozios). Most people genuinely agree with Mr. Millar. It’s arguemented that violence in films is simply fiction on a TV screen. Yet growing research indicates exposure to violence in the media is a strong factor towards violent reactions in society. The influx of violent media can make people believe that crime is everywhere and that guns are needed for protection. Emanuel Tanay, a retired clinical Professor of Psychiatry says “violence in the media has been increasing and reaching proportions that are dangerous” yet he notes most homicides are committed by people who know each other, there are rarely hit men running around as the media promotes (Kaplan). Tanay acknowledges that “mentally ill individuals are vulnerable to dramatized violence, and they may misinterpret something.” He cites the examples of the Columbine tragedy in 1999, and Seungi-Hui Cho, who in 2007 shot 37 people at Virginia Tech. Tanay interprets this as psychotic patients who should have been committed to hospitals. Christopher Ferguson PhD, Professor of Phycology argues that “there is no proof that the mass homicides can be explained even in part, by violent entertainment” (Kaplan). The public tends to agree, “the logic goes, millions of Americans see violent imagery in films and on TV everyday, but vanishingly few become killers. (Pozios)” If all violent film viewers became victims of aggression and violent, murderous behavior, then their would be no TV viewers left. Contrary to this ideology, research has showed this reasoning is off base. “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. (Kaplan)” Modern families are exposed to a distinctly greater amount of violence than previous generations due to the media, in a met-analysis looking at the correlation between habitual viewing of violent media and aggressive behavior it was found their is a moderate to strong relationship between exposure to violent images and physical aggression towards another person (Anderson) . It is true that violence on the screen has stronger of an impact on the mentally ill, but it is not limited to one type of personality. Generally, experiments have demonstrated that exposing people, especially children, to violent behavior on film and TV increases the risk factor that they will behave aggressively immediately afterwards. Two recent studies show that “prolonged exposure to gratuitous violence in the media can escalate subsequent hostile behaviors and, among some viewers, foster greater acceptance of violence as a means of conflict resolution. (Harris)” In one study, the researchers wanted to see if frequent, consistent exposure to violence in films initiates violence as a solution to solve social problems. In an experiment with equal girls and boys and an assortment of personality types, the researchers were “surprised at the strong effect media violence had on the responses of non-provoked persons(Harris).” The researchers found, that no matter what type of film the students were set up to see, they reacted in a hostile manner if they were provoked. Exposure to the gratuitously violent film produced this effect without provocation by the experimenter (Harris). In other studies, researchers from Virginia Tech took a more global approach to see how violence in the media affected participants reactions to things that didn’t involve them personally. They gave the experiment participants tests to determine their personality types and levels of psychoticism. The researchers found that men who perceived themselves as socially deviant and egocentric were very likely to adopt violence as they saw on the screen to solve conflicts and psychotic men were strongly endorsed in the death penalty after watching violent westerns. Women, wether high or low in psychoticism preferred to negotiate settlements to problems (Saleern). The fact that observational learning is a key component of every “theoretical account of media violence effects” (Saleern). A prominent worry about the rise of media is it’s effect on children and the younger the generations who are more likely to copy the violence they are being exposed to. A september 2000 FTC report showed 80 percent of R rated movies and 100 percent of explicit music was being marketed to children 16 and under (Katz). What is most powerful to consider, is what the entire media product is teaching kids. “Long-term content effects of violent images seem to be due to more lasting observational learning of cognitions and behaviors and activation and desensitization of emotional processes (Gustafson).” A violent experience or exposure to violence for a child can lead to lasting phsyical, mental, and emotional harm. Violence exposure at ages 3-9 can affect children by “disrupting the developing brain” (Katz). In a study published in the journal ‘Pediactrics’, researchers Lindsay A. Robertson, Helena McAnally and Robert Hancox determined that watching excessive amounts of TV as a child or adolescent -- in which most of the content contains violence-- is associated with antisocial behavior in early adulthood (Pozios). Antisocial both in the short term and across the life span can be linked back to excessive use of media. Television news violence also contributes to increased violence, principally in the form of imitative suicides and acts of aggression. Video games are clearly capable of producing an increase in aggression and violence in the short term, although no longterm longitudinal studies capable of demonstrating long-term effects have been conducted. The relationship between media violence and real-world violence and aggression is moderated by the nature of the media content and characteristics of and social influences on the individual exposed to that content. Still, the average overall size of the effect is large enough to place it in the category of known threats to public health. Media violence seems to pose a threat to public health because it leads to an increase in behavioral aggression and violent reactions. Research clearly shows that violence on television and in film contributes to an increase in aggression and violence, both in the short term and across the life span. Television news violence also contributes to increased violence, principally in the form of imitative suicides and acts of aggression. Video games are capable of producing an increase in aggression and violence in the short term, although no long-term longitudinal studies have been conducted. The relationship between media violence and real-world violence and aggression is controlled by the media content and characteristics and of “social influences on the individual exposed to that content (Saleern).” Still, it is obvious that violence in the media prompts aggressive behaviors, illustrating this is multitudes of research studies and experiments that have been done.


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