The effect of media violence and the ultimate desensitization of todays youth

Child Adolescent PsychiatryAddictionAntisocial Personality DisorderPsychiatric EmergenciesTrauma And Violence Speculation as to the causes of the recent mass shooting at a Batman movie screening in Colorado has reignited debates in the psychiatric community about media violence and its effects on human behavior. If you live in a fictional world, then the fictional world becomes your reality. Nearly two-thirds of TV programs contain some physical violence.

The effect of media violence and the ultimate desensitization of todays youth

Violence It is difficult to set down in a definitive way what effect media violence has on consumers and young people. The reality is that we have not yet successfully defined violence and aggression, whether when analyzing the content we consume, or investigating the potentially resultant aggressive behaviour.


Because individual studies define these notions differently, the goal posts are constantly moving for anyone who is trying to get a big picture look at the situation.

First, media violence is notoriously hard to define and measure. Some experts who track violence in television programming, such as the late George Gerbner, defined violence as the act or threat of injuring or killing someone, independent of the method used or the surrounding context. As such, Gerber included cartoon violence in his data-set.

But others, such as University of Laval professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise, specifically excluded cartoon violence from their research because of its comical and unrealistic presentation.

Second, researchers disagree over the type of relationship the data supports. Some argue that exposure to media violence causes aggression. Third, even those who agree that there is a connection between media violence and aggression disagree about how the one affects the other.

Some say that the mechanism is a psychological one, rooted in the ways we learn. Other researchers argue that it is the physiological effects of media violence that cause aggressive behaviour.

Exposure to violent imagery is linked to increased heart rate, faster respiration and higher blood pressure. Still others focus on the ways in which media violence primes or cues pre-existing aggressive thoughts and feelings.

Violent video games are not causally related to incidents like high school shootings. Violent video games may desensitize players to other violent images and emotional stimuli. Despite the emphasis placed on the possibility of violent media as a risk factor for youth violence, there are a number of far more relevant risk factors that are less frequently discussed.

These include poverty, education, discrimination, and home life.

The effect of media violence and the ultimate desensitization of todays youth

The problem is that many of these media products are also intended for adults or older audiences. Moreover, development issues, emotional maturity, and relationships with peers and family seem to play a much more significant role in determining if a child is at risk for violent behaviour.

Ever since the s, laboratory experiments have consistently shown that exposure to violence is associated with increased heartbeat, blood pressure and respiration rate, and a greater willingness to inflict pain or punishment on others.

A number of surveys indicate that children and young people who report a preference for violent entertainment also score higher on aggression indexes than those who watch less violent shows. In a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in [12] nearly half 47 per cent of parents with children between the ages of four and six reported that their children had imitated aggressive behaviours from TV.

Tom Van der Voort [17] studied children ages nine through 12 in He found that although children can easily distinguish cartoons, westerns and spy thrillers from reality, they often confuse realistic programs with the real world. This is particularly problematic because the children reported that they prefer realistic programs, which they equate with fun and excitement.

George Gerbner conducted the longest running study of television violence. His seminal research suggests that heavy TV viewers tend to perceive the world in ways that are consistent with the images on TV.

They surveyed university students, and found that heavy television viewers are more likely to believe the world is a more dangerous place. A number of studies since then suggest that media is only one of a number of variables that put children at risk of aggressive behaviour.

For example, a Norwegian study [24] that included 20 at-risk teenaged boys found that the lack of parental rules regulating what the boys watched was a more significant predictor of aggressive behaviour than the amount of media violence they watched.

On the other hand, researchers report that parental attitudes towards media violence can mitigate the impact it has on children. There are clearly concerns with regards to violent media content such as age-appropriateness, saturation, desensitization, and instilling fear or unease in viewers.

At the same time, many of the media products through which we are exposed to violent imagery provide benefits as well. Games and movies may expose young people to some violent content, but studies increasingly show that they also offer positive benefits.

More on how to talk about media violence with children can be found in the subsection Critically Engaging with Media Violence.

If you are interested in legislation and industry tools that can help you to understand laws or give you a better idea of what to look out for, see our Government and Industry Responses to Media Violence.

Causal Relationship or Moral Panic? A 3-year longitudinal study of adolescents. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Volume 46, Issue 2PagesFebruary Afifi, and Jess Kraus. Anderson, Akira Sakamoto, Douglas A.In a Policy Statement on Media Violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” 3.

Reissler, Irina, "Media violence and its impact on society and teenagers" ().Capstone Projects and Violence in the Media Psychologists Study Potential Harmful Effects Early research on the effects of viewing violence on television — especially among children — found a desensitizing effect and the potential for aggression.

It is difficult to set down in a definitive way what effect media violence has on consumers and young people. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main issue is that terms like “violence” and “aggression” are not easily defined or categorized.

The advent of video games raised new questions about the potential impact of media violence, since the video game player is an active participant rather than merely a viewer. Ninety-seven percent of adolescents age play video games — on a computer, on consoles such as the Wii, Playstation and Xbox, or on portable devices such as .

Media violence produces long-term effects via several types of learning processes leading to the acquisition of lasting (and automatically accessible) aggressive scripts, interpretational schemas, and aggression-supporting beliefs about social behavior, and by reducing individuals' normal negative emotional responses to violence (i.e., desensitization).

Violence in the Media: What Effects on Behavior? | Psychiatric Times