ERIC Identifier: ED366329
Publication Date: 1993-12-00
Author: Smith, Marilyn E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology Syracuse NY.
Television Violence and Behavior: A Research Summary. ERIC
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position
statement on media violence and children (1990) reports that violence in the
media has increased since 1980 and continues to increase, particularly since the
Federal Communication Commission's decision to deregulate children's commercial
television in 1982. The NAEYC statement cites the following examples: * Air time
for war cartoons increased from 1.5 hours per week in 1982 to 43 hours per week
in 1986. * In 1980, children's programs featured 18.6 violent acts per hour and
now have about 26.4 violent acts each hour.
According to an American Psychological Association task force report on
television and American society (Huston, et al., 1992), by the time the average
child (i.e., one who watches two to four hours of television daily) leaves
elementary school, he or she will have witnessed at least 8,000 murders and more
than 100,000 other assorted acts of violence on television.
Indicating growing concern regarding the issue of television violence, recent
commentaries in the Washington Post (Harwood, 1993; Will, 1993; "Televiolence,"
1993) highlight: * a paper by Centerwall (1993) that examines several studies
and argues that television violence increases violent and aggressive tendencies
in young people and contributes to the growth of violent crime in the United
States; * and a Times Mirror poll, reported in March 1993, that found that the
majority of Americans feels that "entertainment television is too violent...that
this is harmful to society...that we as a society have become desensitized to
This digest describes the overall pattern of the results of research on
television violence and behavior. Several variables in the relationship between
television violence and aggression related to characteristics of the viewers and
to the portrayal of violence are identified. Finally, concerns regarding the
effects of television violence are summarized.
The overall pattern of research findings
indicates a positive association between television violence and aggressive
behavior. A Washington Post article (Oldenburg, 1992), states that "the
preponderance of evidence from more than 3,000 research studies over two decades
shows that the violence portrayed on television influences the attitudes and
behavior of children who watch it." Signorielli (1991) finds that: "Most of the
scientific evidence...reveals a relationship between television and aggressive
behavior. While few would say that there is absolute proof that watching
television caused aggressive behavior, the overall cumulative weight of all the
studies gives credence to the position that they are related. Essentially,
television violence is one of the things that may lead to aggressive,
antisocial, or criminal behavior; it does, however, usually work in conjunction
with other factors. As aptly put by Dorr and Kovaric (1980), television violence
may influence 'some of the people some of the time'" (pp. 94-95).
CHARACTERISTICS OF VIEWERS
The following characteristics of
viewers, summarized by Clapp (1988), have been shown to affect the influence of
television violence on behavior.
Age. "A relationship between television violence and aggression has been
observed in children as young as 3 (Singer & Singer, 1981). Longitudinal
data suggest that the relationship is much more consistent and substantial for
children in middle childhood than at earlier ages (Eron and Huesmann, 1986).
Aggression in early adulthood is also related to the amount of violence watched
in middle childhood, although it is not related to the amount watched in early
adulthood (Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1972). It has been proposed
that there is a sensitive period between ages 8 and 12 during which children are
particularly susceptible to the influence of television violence (Eron &
Huesmann, 1986)" (pp. 64-65).
Amount of television watched. "Aggressive behavior is related to the total
amount of television watched, not only to the amount of violent television
watched. Aggressive behavior can be stimulated also by frenetic, hectic
programming that creates a high level of arousal in children (Eron &
Huesmann, 1986; Wright & Huston, 1983)" (p. 65).
Identification with television personalities. "Especially for boys,
identification with a character substantially increases the likelihood that the
character's aggressive behavior will be modeled (Huesmann & Eron, 1986;
Huesmann, Lagerspetz, & Eron, 1984)" (p. 65).
Belief that television violence is realistic. "Significant relationships have
been found between children's belief that television violence is realistic,
their aggressive behavior, and the amount of violence that they watch (Huesmann,
1986; Huesmann & Eron, 1986)" (p. 65).
Intellectual achievement. "Children of lower intellectual achievement generally
(1) watch more television, (2) watch more violent television, (3) believe
violent television reflects real life, and (4) behave more aggressively
(Huesmann, 1986)" (p. 65).
Comstock and Paik (1987, 1991) also identify the following factors that may
increase the likelihood of television influence:
Viewers who are in a state of anger or provocation before seeing a violent
Viewers who are in a state of frustration after viewing a violent portrayal,
whether from an extraneous source or as a consequence of viewing the portrayal.
PORTRAYAL OF VIOLENCE
The following are factors related to
how the violence is portrayed which may heighten the likelihood of television
influence. Research on these factors is summarized by Comstock and Paik (1987,
Reward or lack of punishment for the portrayed perpetrator of violence.
Portrayal of the violence as justified.
Cues in the portrayal of violence that resemble those likely to be encountered
in real life. For example, a victim in the portrayal with the same name or
characteristics as someone towards whom the viewer holds animosity.
Portrayal of the perpetrator of violence as similar to the viewer.
Violence portrayed so that its consequences do not stir distaste or arouse
Violence portrayed as real events rather than events concocted for a fictional
Portrayed violence that is not the subject of critical or disparaging
Portrayals of violent acts that please the viewer.
Portrayals in which violence is not interrupted by violence in a light or
Portrayed abuse that includes physical violence and aggression instead of or in
addition to verbal abuse.
Portrayals, violent or otherwise, that leave the viewer in a state of unresolved
Comstock and Paik (1991) argue that "these contingencies represent four
dimensions: (a) efficacy (reward or lack of punishment); (b) normativeness
(justified, consequenceless, intentionally hurtful, physical violence); (c)
pertinence (commonality of cues, similarity to the viewer, absence of humorous
violence); and (d) susceptibility (pleasure, anger, frustration, absence of
criticism)" (pp. 255-256).
Three major areas of concern regarding the effects
of television violence are identified and discussed by the National Association
for the Education of Young Children (1990):
Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
They may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.
They may become more fearful of the world around them.
Of these, Signorielli (1991) considers the third scenario to be the most
insidious: "Research...has revealed that violence on television plays an
important role in communicating the social order and in leading to perceptions
of the world as a mean and dangerous place. Symbolic victimization on television
and real world fear among women and minorities, even if contrary to the facts,
are highly related (Morgan, 1983). Analysis also reveals that in most subgroups
those who watch more television tend to express a heightened sense of living in
a mean world of danger and mistrust as well as alienation and gloom" (p. 96).
Another concern addressed by the National Association for the Education of
Young Children (1990) is the negative effect on children's play of viewing
violent television: "In short, children who are frequent viewers of media
violence learn that aggression is a successful and acceptable way to achieve
goals and solve problems; they are less likely to benefit from creative,
imaginative play as the natural means to express feelings, overcome anger, and
gain self-control" (p. 19).
Centerwall, B. S. (1993). Television and violent
crime. THE PUBLIC INTEREST, 111, pp. 56-77.
Clapp, G. (1988). CHILD STUDY RESEARCH: CURRENT PERSPECTIVES AND
APPLICATIONS. Lexington, MA: Lexington.
Comstock, G. & Paik, H. (1987). TELEVISION AND CHILDREN: A REVIEW OF
RECENT RESEARCH. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. (ED
Comstock, G. & Paik, H. (1991). TELEVISION AND THE AMERICAN CHILD. San
Diego, CA: Academic.
Dorr, A., & Kovaric, P. (1980). Some of the people some of the time--But
which people? In E. L. Palmer & A. Dorr (eds.), CHILDREN AND THE FACES OF
TELEVISION: TEACHING, VIOLENCE, SELLING (pp. 183-199). New York: Academic.
Eron, L. D. & Huesmann, L. R. (1986). The role of television in the
development of prosocial and antisocial behavior. In D. Olweus, J. Block, &
M. Radke-Yarrow (eds.), THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANTISOCIAL AND PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR: RESEARCH, THEORIES, AND ISSUES. New York: Academic.
Eron, L. D., Huesmann, L. R., Lefkowitz, M. M., & Walder, L. D. (1972).
Does television violence cause aggression? AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, 27, 253-63.
Harwood, R. (1993, April 17). Is TV to blame for violence? WASHINGTON POST,
Huesmann, L. R. (1986). Psychological processes promoting the relation
between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior by the viewer.
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES, 42, 125-139. (EJ 355 099) Huesmann, L. R. & Eron,
L. D. (1986). TELEVISION AND THE AGGRESSIVE CHILD: A CROSS-NATIONAL COMPARISON.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Huesmann, L. R., Lagerspetz, K., & Eron, L. D. (1984). Intervening
variables in the TV violence-aggression relation: Evidence from two countries.
DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 20(5), 746-777. (EJ 308 850)
Huston, A. C., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Fashbach, N. D., Katz, P. A.,
Murray, J. P., Rubinstein, E. A., Wilcox, B. L., Zuckerman, D., (1992). BIG
WORLD, SMALL SCREEN: THE ROLE OF TELEVISION IN AMERICAN SOCIETY. Lincoln, NE:
University of Nebraska.
Morgan, M. (1983). Symbolic victimization and real-world fear. HUMAN
COMMUNICATION RESEARCH, 9(2), 146-157. (EJ 272 383)
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1990). NAEYC
position statement on media violence in children's lives. YOUNG CHILDREN, 45(5),
18-21. (EJ 415 397)
Oldenburg, D. (1992, April 7). Primal screen-kids: TV violence and real-life
behavior. WASHINGTON POST, p. E5.
Signorielli, N. (1991). A SOURCEBOOK ON CHILDREN AND TELEVISION. New York:
Singer, J. L., & Singer, D. G. (1981). TELEVISION, IMAGINATION AND
AGGRESSION: A STUDY OF PRESCHOOLERS. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Televiolence.
(1993, April 17). WASHINGTON POST, p. A22.
Will, G. F. (1993, April 8). Yes, blame TV. WASHINGTON POST, p. A21.
Wright, J. C. & Huston, A. C. (1983). A matter of form: Potentials of
television for young viewers. AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, 38, 835- 43. (EJ 283 455)