Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Television violence may desensitize viewers

Study Ties Television Viewing to Aggression; Adults Affected As Well As Children

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post

Teenagers and young adults who watch even as little as an hour of television 
a day are more likely to get into fights, commit assaults or engage in other 
types of violence later in life, according to a provocative new study.

The more television people watch, the more likely it appears that they will 
later become violent, an effect that researchers argued bolsters the case that 
it is television that causes the aggression.

The study tracked the impact of television on violence among more than 700 
young people over 17 years. Previous studies have found an association between 
television violence and aggression. But this is the longest study to track the 
consequences of TV viewing of any kind and the first to show that adults are 
affected as surely as children, the researchers said. If the study had examined 
violent programming alone, the link would have been more dramatic, they said.

"The correlation between violent media and aggression is larger than the 
effect that wearing a condom has on decreasing the risk of HIV," said Brad 
Bushman, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University at Ames who wrote 
a commentary accompanying the study in today’s issue of the journal Science. 
"It’s larger than the correlation between exposure to lead and decreased 
IQ levels in kids. It’s larger than the effects of exposure to asbestos. It’s 
larger than the effect of secondhand smoke on cancer."

The findings renewed debate over whether media violence contributes to violent 

Television and entertainment proponents said there was a long history of conflicting 
results on the issue. "The consensus is there is no consensus," said 
Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. The 
National Cable and Telecommunications Association said in a statement that it 
supports "responsible television viewing" and that its ratings system 
allows viewers to block violent programs.

Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, said the study 
had failed to prove that television watching was the cause of the aggressiveness. 
"It has nothing to do with TV—it has to do with lifestyle," he 
said. "People who watch more than three hours of TV are different than 
those who watch less than an hour."

The researchers said they tried to account for that possibility by statistically 
eliminating the effects of parental neglect, poverty, dangerous neighborhoods, 
a history of psychiatric disorder and other independent risk factors for aggression. 
Although all the participants were from upstate New York, the researchers said 
the group was broadly representative of the northeastern United States.

For the study, the researchers interviewed 707 teenagers about the amount of 
television they watched. In 1983, the average age of the group was 14. Eight 
years later, the scientists correlated the television statistics with police 
and FBI records of violence, and interviews with the participants.

Of the group that watched less than an hour of TV a day, 5.7 percent had committed 
a violent act that resulted in serious injury, such as a broken bone. Among 
those who watched one to three hours, 18.4 percent had been violent. Of those 
who watched more than three hours a day, the rate of aggression was 25.3 percent.

The researchers also re-interviewed the group about their television habits 
and followed up after another eight years. While 1.2 percent of the adults who 
watched less than one hour per day had committed a violent act, 10.8 percent 
of those who watched three or more hours had inflicted a bruise, scar or other 
assault. Men tended to be more likely to be violent than women.

The only definitive way to establish a causal link between television content 
and the violence would be to conduct an experiment where some people are randomly 
made to watch more TV for several years while others are made to watch less, 
the researchers said.

"To force people to watch a certain amount of TV for a lengthy period 
would not be permissible," said Jeffrey Johnson, a Columbia University 
clinical psychologist and the lead researcher. "It’s analogous to research 
on cigarette smoking. . . . You couldn’t force people to smoke a lot and see 
if they got cancer."

Nielsen Media Research reports the average American household has the television 
on for more than eight hours a day. Children and teens between 2 and 17 years 
old watch TV more than three hours per day. Adult men watch more than four hours, 
and adult women more than five.

Television violence may desensitize viewers, or depictions of violence without 
its real-life consequences may prompt viewers to assume that it is acceptable
the researchers speculated.

George Gerbner, who has done pioneering work on television violence and is 
dean emeritus of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of 
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, argued that the biggest consequence of TV violence 
was insecurity, not aggression.

Watching programs about violent crime on dark streets, for instance, does not 
turn people into muggers—it makes them fear becoming victims. Even as violent 
crime in American society has declined, he said, heavy television viewing was 
more likely to make the viewers believe they lived in an unsafe world.

"They may accept and even welcome repressive measures such as more jails, 
capital punishment, harsher sentences—measures that have never reduced crime 
but never fail to get votes—if that promises to relieve their anxieties," 
he wrote. "That is the deeper dilemma of violence-laden television."

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