Does Exposure to Media Violence Affect Children?

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Does Exposure to Media Violence Affect Children?
How often do children hear, see, or talk about violent television? Could it possibly be a factor in how aggressive or desensitized these children become? Surely anyone who has access to the news has seen the recent exponential growth in violence throughout the world. It is interesting to note that this growth and the massive production and display of media violence have occurred simultaneously. According to W. James Potter, Professor of communication, the two are correlated. The purpose of this paper is to analyze and critique Professor Potter’s research by identifying and explaining three flaws and one strength that are apparent in his published article, and to share personal beliefs regarding this matter.

In his 1999 article titled “On Media Violence,” Potter used many research methods in order to formulate his argument, including longitudinal research, case studies, surveys, and systematic observation. He summarizes his main points into ten different “laws,” which can be summarized as follows: First, one of the greatest effects of exposure to media violence on children is that they “(learn) to behave aggressively” (Potter, 1999, p. 309). As they continually view violent acts on television, children become “desensitized” to their cruelty, and are more likely to commit similar acts themselves. This desensitization is even more likely to occur if the viewer can relate to the criminal, and if the violence is portrayed in a realistic manner. Second, the more a child is exposed to media violence, the more that child is prone to accept that violence isn’t wrong. Thirdly, when violent media is introduced into a society for the first time, the crime rate in that society rises exponentially. Lastly, there are many long-term effects of exposure to media violence, such as having a fearful view of the world.

Although Potter’s article is very convincing, there are a few major flaws in his research and the conclusions that he draws according to certain findings. For example, he fails to consider alternate explanations for the observed aggressive behavior in the children. This is a major flaw because the violent media may not be causing children to be more aggressive, even though the two seem to be correlated. For example Potter states that after two researchers analyzed several studies on children, “they concluded that the correlational studies showed generally significant relationships (r = .10 to .32) and that the experiments generally showed an increase in aggression resulting from exposure to television violence across all age groups” (Potter, 1999, p. 310). Here, Potter fails to recognize that the fact that there is a positive correlation coefficient doesn’t necessarily mean that the media violence is causing the increase in aggression. He goes on to use four other examples of observational research that seem to prove that exposure to media violence leads to aggression. However, there are many alternate explanations for the correlation between viewing violent television and being aggressive. For example, children who are bored at home tend to watch more television, and also tend to seek out social activities, some of which may lead to violence. Also, children who already have an aggressive character before being exposed to the television will find violent media entertaining, and will watch it more. If these types of people were to be observed, there may be a positive correlation coefficient between watching violent media and being aggressive, yet the two would not necessarily be causing each other. Another flaw in Potter’s research is that he relies on mostly one type of research method: systematic observation. In fact, five out of the seven specific experiments that he cites in his article are systematic observations which are followed up by surveys. The pattern is the following: researchers show a certain age group of children some violent footage, and then, through...
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