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Discussion of the harmful effects of media violence is as old as the media themselves. There is no medium that has not been suspected of stimulating real-world aggression. Apart from television, research has also focused on violent content in music and music videos, the Internet, and especially computer games. Typically, studies examine media depictions of personal violence (i.e., intended physical and/or psychic damaging of persons, living beings, and inanimate objects by another person).
Theories Of Pro-Social And Antisocial Effects
Research on the effects of mediated violence has been conducted within several theoretical frameworks. According to catharsis theory the viewing of media violence would lead to an engagement in fantasy aggression that permits the discharge of aggressive tendencies. Catharsis theory could not be confirmed by methodologically sound research. The simple assumption that media violence is imitated directly through a suggestion process has also been refuted. There may be special conditions that allow imitation of violent acts as well as suicide – however, media content seems to be only one of many more important causes or the final trigger for a previously planned action.
Habituation theory emphasizes long-term effects in the form of desensitization. Whereas viewing media violence seems actually to reduce physiological and emotional reactions to the respective content, evidence is scarce that it also affects attitudes towards violence in real life, diminishes empathy, and reduces the inhibition threshold for one’s own aggressive behavior. Cultivation theory assumes that heavy television viewers suffer from a distorted view of social reality. Viewing violence thus may cultivate fear of crime and the belief that the world is a mean and scary place. Research is currently concentrating on intervening variables (e.g., experience of victimization).
According to excitation transfer theory different types of media content (violence, but also eroticism, humor, sports, etc.) cause a state of unspecific arousal that intensifies any (not necessarily violent) subsequent actions. Priming theory assumes that violent media stimuli can activate violent associations (thoughts, emotions, behavior) in the individualґs brain, and in the short term (in case of repeated stimulation perhaps even in the long term), unconsciously influence the perception of situations and the choice of behavioral options.
Bandura’s theory of social learning seems to be the most appropriate approach to explain the heterogeneous results of medium-to-long-term studies on media violence. It postulates that people adopt patterns of behavior by observing other people’s actions (in reality or in the media). However, these patterns do not necessarily have to be acted out. Astrid Zipfel Normally, they remain latent. Violent actions usually underlie inhibiting conditions (e.g., social norms, fear of punishment, feelings of guilt). They only transfer into manifest action under adequate conditions, especially if the role model and/or the observer experiences or expects success or rewards (or at least no punishment). Social learning theory also considers attributes of media content (e.g., comprehensibility, justification), attributes of the observer (e.g., character, cognitive abilities, former experiences), and social conditions (e.g., socialization, values).
The general aggression model is an integrative model that tries to combine different concepts. It suggests that behavior results from personal and situational factors that affect cognitions, emotions, and arousal, thereby influencing the appraisal of a situation and the subsequent choice of behavioral options. Environmental reactions to this behavior lead to reinforcement or inhibition of the chosen behavior in the future. Repeated exposure to violent stimuli helps to develop easily accessible aggression-related knowledge structures that may be reinforced by successful application and that become increasingly complex, automatized, and resistant to change. Together with desensitization effects, this may lead to an aggressive personality.
Effects Strength And Future Research
Most researchers agree that media violence may cause negative effects. However, correlations found in empirical studies on television violence are usually quite small, and no more than 9 percent of a personґs total aggression is explained by media violence (Comstock 2004, Ferguson & Kilburn 2009, Anderson et al. 2010). Although it is often assumed that because of interactivity computer games should be far more dangerous, particularly strong effects of computer-game violence have not been found (Sherry 2007; Ferguson & Kilburn 2009).
The small effects point to the fact that media violence is only one factor within a complex set of causes for real-world aggression. However, the small correlation between media violence and violent behavior that holds true for the average of recipients does not mean that strong effects for particular forms of media contents and for particular recipients cannot be found.
According to the present state of knowledge (Kunczik & Zipfel 2010), the context of violent depictions is much more important than their sheer amount. Violent content presents a higher risk if it shows violence in a realistic and/or humorous way, if violent behavior seems justified and is committed by attractive, successful protagonists with whom the recipient can identify, and especially if violence is not punished and does not harm the victim visibly.
Concerning the recipient, negative effects of media violence are most likely to occur to young, male, socially deprived heavy viewers/ players who already possess a violent personality, grow up in violent families with high media (violence) usage, experience much violence from their parents and in school, and belong to aggressive and/or delinquent peer groups. As the “downward spiral model” (Slater 2003), supported by longitudinal studies, postulates, there is a mutual interplay between preferences for violent media content and violent behavior. Already aggressive recipients are attracted to media violence, and this content may intensify aggressive tendencies.
If children grow up in a violent social environment aggressive media protagonists are particularly interesting and useful for them. They are exposed to a ‘double dose’ of violent role models because the behavior of violent media characters is affirmed by real-life experience. That way, violent media content and one’s own violent experiences may interact and reinforce each other. To further explore the role of moderating factors and their Interaction remains an important scientific task to be fulfilled.
- Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N. et. al (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behaviour in eastern and western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 151–173.
- Comstock, G. A. (2004). Paths from television violence to aggression: Reinterpreting the evidence. In L. J. Shrum (ed.), The psychology of entertainment media: Blurring the lines between entertainment and persuasion. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 193–211.
- Ferguson, C. J. & Kilburn, J. (2009). The public health risks of media violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Pediatrics, 154, 759–763.
- Huesmann, L. R., Dubow, E. F., & Yang, G. (2013). Why it is hard to believe that media violence causes aggression. In K. E. Dill (ed.), The Oxford handbook of media psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 159–171.
- Kirsh, S. J. (2012). Children, adolescents, and media violence: A critical look at the research, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Kunczik, M. & Zipfel, A. (2010). Medien und Gewalt: Befunde der Forschung 2004–2009 [Mass media and violence: Research findings 2004–2009]. Bonn: Bundesministerium fur Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend.
- Riddle, K. W., Potter, J., Metzger, M. J., Nabi, R. L., & Linz, D. G. (2011). Beyond cultivation: Exploring the effects of frequency, recency, and vivid autobiographical memories for violent media. Media Psychology, 14(2), 168–191.
- Sherry, J. L. (2007). Violent video games and aggression: Why can’t we find effects? In R. W. Preiss, B. M. Gayle, N. Burrell, M. Allen, & J. Bryant (eds.), Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 245–262.
- Slater, M. D. (2003). Alienation, aggression, and sensation seeking as predictors of adolescent use of violent film, computer, and website content. Journal of Communication, 53, 105–121.