Running head: TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN The Effect of Television Viewing on Aggression in Children Elaine Twigg Virginia Tech Author note: Elaine B. Twigg, Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech. Elaine Twigg is now at Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech. This research was supported in part by Virginia Tech Contact: [email protected] 1 TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 2 Abstract The purpose of this paper was to determine the effects that viewing television portraying aggression has on the social and behavioral development of children. This research is important to all parents, being as watching television has become increasingly popular in the American home. Ten empirical research articles published within the last ten years, from the online journals of Pediatrics, Journal of Adolescence, Aggressive Behavior, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Social Development, Media Psychology, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and Human Communication Research were included in this review. The results of these research studies found that viewing television portraying aggression during childhood leads to aggressive, antisocial and violent behavior. Keywords: Television, Media, Aggression, Behavior, Running head: TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 3 The Effect of Television Viewing on Aggression in Children Television is becoming increasingly popular with every generation and has become a staple activity in the American home. Many parents let their children watch hours of television each day without knowing or considering that television could be impacting their child’s social and behavioral development. The purpose of this paper is to determine the effects that viewing television portraying aggression has on the social and behavioral development of children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged 3 years and older watch no more than two hours of television per day (Manganello & Taylor, 2009). Despite this recommendation, one study found that over 65% of mothers allowed their children to watch more than 3 hours of television each day (Manganello & Taylor, 2009). What may be more important than the amount of television that children watch is the content of the television they watch. Since 1996, a television rating system has been in place to help parents monitor the television that their children watch (Gentile & Linder, 2009). However, the current rating system has very little validity and reliability (Gentile & Linder, 2009). In one study, 79% of 2757 television programs containing violence were not given a rating that indicated that violence was present in the show (Gentile & Linder, 2009). Another concern is that many parents do not strictly limit their children’s television exposure, with 95% of children watching television programs that were not intended for young audiences (Dimitri & Zimmerman, 2007). Research studies measuring the effects of television on behavior have been conducted on all ages of children and almost every study shows that television portraying aggression negatively impacts a child’s social and behavioral development. In one study, TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 4 three thousand and twenty-eight mothers completed an in-home survey about their threeyear-old child. This survey provided information about the amount of television that their child was exposed to, their child’s behavior, and any other possible risk factors that might predispose the child to aggressive behaviors. The study found that even when accounting for risk factors, watching more television was associated with more aggressive behaviors (Manganello & Taylor, 2009). The same findings were found in multiple studies for third, fourth, and fifth graders when their television viewing/content and behavior was measured. In every study, the researchers found a significant relationship between exposure to media violence and overall physical and relational aggression (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004; Gentile, Coyne, & Walsh, 2011; Gentile, Mathieson, & Crick, 2011). The results of a fifth study showed that being exposed to television containing aggression even one time was significantly correlated with resulting aggressive behaviors. In this study, researchers showed 58 preschoolers two pictures from cartoons and two cartoon video clips and then asked what the child thought would happen next. A parent survey of the child’s television exposure and behaviors was also taken and researchers found that children who had been exposed to violent television shows tended to predict violent endings to the cartoon pictures and video clips when asked what they thought would happen next. These results indicate that even mere exposure to cartoon violence can cause children to develop aggressive mental models that are used even when aggression isn’t present. (Krcmar & Hight, 2007) Gender may also be a factor in the effects of aggressive television on behavior. In one longitudinal study, researchers measured and analyzed the television viewing and Running head: TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 5 behavior of three hundred and seventy-six preschoolers by looking at child development supplement questionnaires, time diaries, and a behavior problem index. Five years later, when the children were between the ages of seven and ten, behavior was measured again and the researchers found that watching violent television between the ages of 2-4 was significantly associated with antisocial behaviors such as cheating and “being mean to others” when the child was 7-9 years old. However, this association was only found for boys. The researchers in this study attributed this gender difference in behavior to socialization differences between genders. (Dimitri & Zimmerman, 2007) In a different longitudinal study with preschoolers, researchers found that viewing television containing aggression increases aggressive behavior in both genders. However, they also found that girls tended to use more relational aggression whereas boys tended to exhibit more physical aggression (Ostrov, Gentile, & Crick, 2006). A second study measuring aggression in elementary school students also found that girls tend to use more relational aggression than boys (Martins & Wilson, 2012). Television shows marketed to girls tend to show more relational aggression than television shows marketed to boys, however this study found that watching television containing relational aggression was not significantly correlated with increased socially aggressive behaviors (Martins & Wilson, 2012). There are several potential explanations for these findings. One possible explanation is that the characters that use more relational aggression in television shows are more often females than males (Martins & Wilson, 2012). It is also possible that girls better remember scenes of relational aggression because these scenes fit into their own understanding of their gender role, whereas boys see relational TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 6 aggression as a feminine behavior and therefore choose not to portray it (Martins & Wilson, 2012). Although these gender differences in aggression seem to be strongly affected by socialization and gender roles, a study measuring brain activity in children shows that there may also be a biological component to the effects of television containing aggression on the child’s social development (Murray et al., 2007). In this study, forty 812 year-old children watched violent and nonviolent videos while researchers recorded psychological responses and then seven of those participants watched violent and nonviolent videos while in an fMRI session. The researchers then viewed which parts of the brain were activated throughout each video and found activation in limbic, paralimbic, and association regions to be much greater in the right hemisphere of the brain (Murray et al., 2007). These results indicate that the human brain perceives entertainment violence the same way it perceives real-life violence (Murray et al., 2007). This is significant, being as a different study found that perceived reality is a possible risk factor that impacts television’s affect on aggressive behaviors (Martins & Wilson, 2012). Researchers found that children were more likely to imitate aggressive behavior in television if they perceived the content of the television to be similar to real life (Martins & Wilson, 2012). In addition to age, gender, and biology, there are several risk factors that can contribute to the effect that aggression-containing television has on children. One study found that children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) households used social aggression more often than children from higher SES households. Another possible risk factor that impacts television’s affect on aggressive behaviors is wishful identification Running head: TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 7 with television characters. If a child wants to be more like a television character that they admire, they are very likely to imitate the character’s aggressive behaviors. (Martins & Wilson, 2012) There are several theories that can be used to help to explain these results. The Social Cognitive theory says that children learn their behavioral and social responses from observing other’s behavior (Martins & Wilson, 2012). In the context of this theory, the characters on television are the models that a child observes and potentially imitates. Therefore, if the character on television is behaving aggressively, the child will observe this behavior and then will imitate this aggressive behavior when put in a similar situation. Furthermore, if the character’s behavior is rewarded in the television show, the child will be even more likely to imitate this behavior (Martins & Wilson, 2012). A second theory, the General Aggression Model is one theory that is based on the social cognitive theory. This model mentions media specifically, predicting that in the short-term, exposure to violent media activates arousal, aggressive thought, and aggressive feelings, which lead to aggressive behaviors. In terms of long-term exposure, the model predicts that a child who frequently watches television containing violence and aggression will form aggression-related knowledge structures. These structures would cause the child to develop expectations that others will always act aggressively, that he should always respond with aggression, and that aggressive behavior is a positive thing, normal, and effective. (Gentile et al., 2011) The most current research on the effects of viewing television portraying aggression on social and behavioral development of children indicates that watching violent television during childhood leads to aggressive, antisocial and violent behavior. TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 8 In addition to providing aggressive scripts and mental models that lead to future aggressive behavior, television can also affect development by taking the place of activities that can promote a child’s development such as reading or playing with friends. More research still needs to be conducted concerning the effects of aggressive television. Until then, it would be advisable for parents to limit and monitor the television programs that their children watch. Running head: TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 9 References Dimitri A. C., & Zimmerman, F. J. (2007). Violent television viewing during preschool is associated with antisocial behavior during school age. Pediatrics, 120, 993-999. Funk, J. B., Baldacci, H. B., Pasold, T., & Baumgardner, J. (2004). Violence exposure in real-life, video games, television, movies, and the internet: is there desensitization? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 23–39. Gentile, D. A., Coyne, S., & Walsh, D. A. (2011). Media violence, physical aggression, and relational aggression in school age children: A short-term longitudinal study. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 193–206. Gentile, D. A., & Linder, J. R. (2009). Is the television rating system valid? Indirect, verbal, and physical aggression in programs viewed by ﬁfth-grade girls and associations with behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 286–297. Gentile D. A., Mathieson, L.C., & Crick, N. R. (2011). Media violence associations with the form and function of aggression among elementary school children. Social Development, 20, 214-232. Krcmar, M., & Hight, A. (2007). The development of aggressive mental models in young children. Media Psychology, 10, 250–269. Manganello, J. A., & Taylor, C. A. (2009). Television exposure as a risk factor for aggressive behavior among 3-year-old children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 163, 1037-1045. Martins, N., & Wilson, B. J. (2012). Social aggression on television and its relationship to children’s aggression in the classroom. Human Communication TELEVISION VIEWING ON AGGRESSION IN CHILDREN 10 Research, 38, 48-71. Murray, J. P., Liotti, M., Hight, A., Mayberg, H. S., Pu, Y., Zamarripa, F.,… & Fox, P. T. (2007). Children’s brain activations while viewing televised violence revealed by fMRI. Media Psychology, 8, 25–37. 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