by Muhammad Awais Aftab
Published on: May 30, 2005
Type: Opinions

As sociologists are doing more and more research, a correlation between violence and media is being firmly established. Television and movies have emerged as a very powerful form of entertainment but are they just providing us relief or are they altering our attitude and view of the world? Initially, there was very little evidence in this regard, but now the concern has been shown to hold weight. A child is inundated by a flood of programs showing violence and aggression. Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that children's TV shows contain about 20 violent acts each hour and also that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place. Social-learning theory predicts that children will imitate violent acts, or at least become more aggressive, if they are exposed to portrayals of violence in which the perpetrator is rewarded. This is leading to a drastic change in the attitude of children and youngsters, and is a cause of constant worry for sociologists. For example, in a Connecticut town, a group of boys were looking for excitement and adventure. They made an order for Chinese food and then decided to rob the deliveryman. When he refused to hand over the cartons of food, one of the teenagers impulsively shot him to death. Later, they calmly ate the food (Psychology, Wade and Tavris, Page 278). Such a callous and violent attitude is now being blamed on TV and movies.

Children who view aggressive cartoons and TV shows are more likely to show such behavior in real life. They are more physically active in games and plays, but they are also quick to land in fights and quarrels. Once indulged in them, the violence they commit is more intense than it normally would have been. The fact is that media helps in the formation of an image that is not real. Victims are merely “blown away”. Death doesn’t mean grief, mourning or pain; it means disappearing from the screen. Unfortunately, in real world, you don’t get a second chance.

Children and teenagers are affected in 3 ways owing to this constant projection of violence by media: Direct Effects, Desensitization, and the Mean World Syndrome:

The Direct Effects process suggests that viewing a lot of violence on TV by children and adults imparts aggression in their behavior and they are more prone to committing acts of violence.

The second effect, Desensitization, suggests that watching a lot of violence on media makes the viewers believe it subconsciously as “normal” and hence, they grow less sensitive to violence, pain and suffering around them.

The third effect, the Mean World Syndrome, suggests that constant violence in media projects a negative image of the world on viewers. They are likely to conclude that the world is a mean and dangerous place, and they highly over-estimate the dangers they are likely to face in life.

There is sufficient evidence to support all three effects.

Interesting research has been done regarding the long-term effects of watching aggression in the media. Children who watched a lot of TV at the age of 8 years were found to commit more violence at the age of 18 years. When followed up as young adults, of age of 30, the violence was evident. There was a relationship between early television viewing and arrest and conviction for violent interpersonal crimes; spouse abuse, child abuse, murder, and aggravated assault (Leonard Eron 1982; Eron & Slaby, 1995).

It has been shown that those who watch more violence in the media regard the world as a dangerous place and they highly over-estimate the risks of violence being committed against them. A large number of people were questioned in the research and were asked questions like: How likely is it that you are going to be the victim of a violent crime in the next six months? How far from your home would you be willing to walk alone at night? Have you done anything recently to your home to increase its security -- added burglar alarms, changed locks -- in the past six months? What percentage of the workforce do you think is involved in law enforcement activities? The answers showed clearly that heavy television viewers are more afraid of the world around them (Gerbner & Signorielli, 1990; Gerbner, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1993).

Video games are another popular form of entertainment and they, too, have shown to contribute to the rising violence in youngsters. Video games are the second most popular form of entertainment, after television.

A 1998 survey revealed that 80% of the video games preferred by young people contain violent or aggressive content; of these, 21% depict violence against women. A survey of 900 fourth graders revealed similar results: 50% of the respondents chose games with fantasy or human violence as their favorites (Walsh, D. (1998). "1998 video and computer game report card: video game violence: what does the research say?").

As video game technology is being improved day by day, it is providing children with a greater opportunity to participate in more life-like violence. Graphics and sound effects provide a more realistic opportunity for violent actions. For instance, in the game "Carmageddon", players run down pedestrians, including elderly women with walkers. If a player completes all levels of this game, he or she will have killed a maximum of 33,000 people. And it would not be unexpected for the player to show similar callousness in real life.

Experiments done by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology give some more insight in the aggression produced by video games. Subjects were college students who played either a violent video game (Wolfenstein 3D) or a non-violent game (Myst). These games were chosen especially because they differ only in the degree of violence. Following the video game play, the students were allowed to play against other students. They were told that if they won, they could blast their opponent. The duration and the loudness of the blast could be varied. It was observed that the students who had played “Wolfenstein 3D” blasted their opponent longer and much louder than the students who had played “Myst”.

All this research has robbed the media and the video games of their innocence and sociologists are now considering them as a big threat to a peaceful society.

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