The Effects of Media Violence

New Studies Reveal Causal Effect

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, Nov. 9, 2012 ( The long-running debate over the effects of violence in the media has received new impetus from some recent studies.

A recent survey carried out by Australia’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association found that large numbers of kids are spending many hours a week playing violent video games.

«Children who are constantly exposed to violent media it raises their risks that they will choose to use aggression themselves when put in a conflict situation,» commented Australian Council on Children and the Media CEO Barbara Biggins, in an article published by the Advertiser newspaper on Nov. 5.

The survey follows an earlier report by the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) on the effects of exposure to media violence. In December last year the ISRA established an international Media Violence Commission last December, made up of 12 researchers.

Their conclusions, published in the September/October issue of the journal Aggressive Behavior, found that frequent exposure to media violence increased the relative risk of aggression.

“Youth can now download, view, play, and listen to violent material any time of day or night, often from the privacy of their own rooms, and with little supervision from their parents,” the report warned.

Some people reject the idea that violence in the media will affect behaviour, but the report pointed out that when it comes to content that is not violent it is accepted that the media will influence what people do, as is evident from the existence of the multibillion advertising industry


Airlines train their pilots on flight simulators and there are restrictions on sexual content being transmitted on television at times children are likely to be watching. Yet, for some reason, the report commented, there is reluctance to accept that violence in the media will influence behaviour.

The report stated that simply watching a violent movie is not going to cause someone to attack another person. Nor will players of violent video games all end up as violent criminals.

“Rather, the issue is whether watching violent movies and shows or interactively engaging in violent games in a virtual world increases the odds that people may engage in aggressive behavior in a variety of forms, both in the short term and in the long term.”

No single factor causes someone to act aggressively, the report explained. Nevertheless, each individual factor does increase the likelihood of aggression.

The research examined by the commission “clearly shows that media violence consumption increases the relative risk of aggression, defined as intentional harm to another person that could be verbal, relational, or physical,” the report said.

More than 15 meta-analyses, each bringing together multiple studies, have been published on the link between media violence and aggression. The results of all these studies found that exposure to media violence not only increases aggressive behaviour, but also aggressive thoughts, feelings, physiological arousal, and decreases prosocial behavior.

It is mistaken to think that the aggression must be immediate or severe, such as shooting someone, the report qualified. It can take a variety of forms, such as a child being more defiant and disrespectful, or an adult being less open to others.

Repeated exposure to violence leads to a learning effect in the brain, the report explained. In addition, humans are inclined to imitate what they see others doing. Violent images can also serve as a trigger for aggressive thoughts and feelings already stored in the brain.

“If these aggressive thoughts and feelings are activated over and over again by repeated exposure to media violence, they become chronically accessible, and thus more likely to influence behaviour,” the report added.

Moral evaluation

Violence in films, TV, or video games also leads to desensitization, that is the reduction of a behavioral response to a stimulus. This desensitization in turn affects the process of moral evaluation of behaviour by an individual, the report explained.

Video games are particularly influential, as one of the best ways to learn something it to repeat it multiple times.

It’s not just violence that influences behavior. Another report found that exposure to sexual content in movies influences sexual behaviour among adolescents. In a press release dated July 17 the American Association for Psychological Science released the results of a study of 1,228 adolescents aged 12 to 14.

“Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners, and are less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners,” explained one of the researchers, Ross O’Hara..

What needs to be done, the ISRA report asked. For a start, it recommended that parents monitor their children’s media use and to set limits on both content and time. It also said that public policy should media ratings and classification, and also provide public education about the effects of media violence.

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