Document 60508

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: ebtwigg@vt.edu 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,
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Gentile D. A., Mathieson, L.C., & Crick, N. R. (2011). Media violence associations with
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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
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Martins, N., & Wilson, B. J. (2012). Social aggression on television and its
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Murray, J. P., Liotti, M., Hight, A., Mayberg, H. S., Pu, Y., Zamarripa, F.,… & Fox, P. T.
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Ostrov, J. M., Gentile, D. A., & Crick, N. R. (2006). Media exposure, aggression and
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