Aggressive and Violent Behavior
Aggression is usually defined by behavioral scientists as behavior that is intended to harm another person. Common forms of aggression are physical (for example, punching), verbal (for example, saying or writing hurtful things to another person), and relational (for example, intentionally and publicly not inviting someone to a party to harm his social relationships). Violence usually is conceived as more extreme forms of physical aggression that are likely to result in physical injury. The most extreme form of violence is homicide, but any form of aggressive behavior that is likely to result in an injury serious enough to warrant medical attention is considered violence. Thus, fights involving weapons as well as fistfights by adolescents old enough to be able to inflict serious injuries are considered acts of violence.
The relation of these terms to violent “crime” requires some comment. The vast majority of media violence research focuses on aggressive and violent behavior as defined earlier. Violent crime is a much more restrictive category and is applied only in cases where someone has been arrested for a crime classified by police as a major crime against persons, such as murder, rape, and assault. There are at least two reasons for the discrepancy between the behavioral scientists' focus and the criminologists' focus. First, the criminological focus is based more heavily on the consequences of a specific action, whereas the behavioral science focus is almost exclusively based on the intention behind the action. Understanding the causes of violent behavior requires this focus on intentions rather than on whether the person succeeded in harming the individual and was subsequently caught. Second, not only is it much more difficult and expensive to do research on violent crime because it is relatively rare (thereby requiring huge sample sizes), but also certain types of research, such as experimental studies, would be unethical. For these reasons, we focus on aggressive and violent behavior, though we cite violent crime data where useful.
Violent Behavior: The Scope of the Problem
Youth violence resulting in deaths and injuries has direct and indirect costs in excess of $158 billion each year. Only accidental injury (frequently auto accidents) consistently leads homicide as the cause of death of U.S. youths between one and twenty-four years of age.113 For youths between the ages of ten and twenty-four, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans, the second leading cause for Hispanics.114
Young people not only suffer but also commit a disproportionate share of violence. Although twelve- to twenty-year-olds made up about 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2005, they were responsible for some 28 percent of the single-offender and 41 percent of multiple-offender violent crimes.115 Figure 5 displays the overall U.S. assault rates and six twelfth-grade violence prevalence rates between 1982 and 2003. U.S. assault rates rose dramatically from the early 1980s to the early 1990s and then, just as dramatically, fell. Other overall rates for violent crime, such as homicide, show the same pattern. One factor that likely contributed to this rise and fall was changes in the share of the U.S. population in the high-violence age range.
Although rates of youth violence also increased during the late 1980s and early 1990s, they have not fallen in recent years. In fact, the youth violence indicators in figure 5 show considerable stability over time; several appear to be increasing.116
Media Exposure and Aggressive and Violent Behavior
The extent to which media violence causes youth aggression and violence has been hotly debated for more than fifty years. Despite many reports that exposure to violent media is a causal risk factor, the U.S. public remains largely unaware of these risks, and youth exposure to violent media remains extremely high. Among the public advisories...
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