SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ACADEMIC CENTER OF EXCELLENCE ON YOUTH
VIOLENCE PREVENTION, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE
by Carmela Lomonaco, Tia Kim, and Lori Ottaviano
Children and adolescents have access to and consume a variety of different media forms, including television, the Internet, music and music videos, film and video games, many of which contain high levels of violent content. The concern (and the controversy) lies in whether violent content in media affects a young person’s beliefs and behaviors, and more specifically, if frequent exposure contributes to increased aggression and even violence in young people.
Much of the research on the relationship between media exposure and aggression supports such a connection. Although critics have challenged the validity of these findings, suggesting that the studies focused only on short-term effects and were conducted in controlled laboratory settings, one study suggests that exposure to violent media in home environments has long-term implications.1
Promising strategies for reducing exposure to media violence are available and include limit setting by parents/guardians, technological innovations such as the v-chip (which blocks inappropriate shows or content from being viewed by children), and media literacy training.
Scope of the Problem
Most American homes (99%) have a television set, and “over half of all children have a television set in their bedrooms.” After sleeping, watching television is the most frequent activity of children. The average child spends 28 hours a week watching television. By the time the average child is 18 years old, he or she will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence, including 16,000 murders. Up to 20 acts of violence per hour occur in children’s programming.2
Movies, music videos, video games, and the Internet also contain high levels of violent content correlated with youth violence. Internet websites showing violence (killing, shooting, fighting, etc.) correlate with a 50% increase in reports of seriously violent behavior. Violence on the internet is also possibly the most damaging and in need of more research.3 In 2003, about 12.5% of roughly 22 million adolescents (10-14 years old) saw 40 of the most violent movies.4 One recent study showed a physiological connection with desensitization to violent video games.5 There is little research on the
effects of music videos and behavior, but there is limited information on rap videos and their effect on aggressive attitudes.6
Media as a Risk Factor
The relationship between exposure to violent media and aggression has been researched extensively over the past 30 years. Different types of studies have confirmed a correlation.2 A review of almost 600 studies shows three main results of media violence: aggression, desensitization, and fear.7 Exposure to media violence also has been correlated with changes in youth attitudes about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships.8 While the evidence may be compelling, translation of these findings to the “real” world has been problematic.6 Findings are criticized on the grounds that most studies were conducted under controlled laboratory conditions and focused on short-term changes in behavior. It is unclear whether violent media has similar effects when viewed in home or community settings and whether such exposure has long-term consequences.8
Research involving the Children in the Community Study addressed these limitations and demonstrated a relationship between consistent consumption of media (3 hours a day) in the home/community and an increased likelihood of aggression toward others. Researchers followed 707 families for a 17-year period and examined the relationship between consumption of media and aggression, using youth self-report, parental report, and criminal arrest data. Forty-two percent of males who viewed television more than 3 hours per day at age...