What impact does media violence have on society? How are children affected and how are adolescents affected by violence portrayed in movies, television, video games and in other forms? This paper reviews and critiques peer-reviewed articles that address the subject of media violence from several perspectives -- and takes positions on the arguments and research presented in those scholarly articles.
There is ample empirical research available to back up the assertion that violent video games, movies and television programs have a negative impact on young people. It is the thesis of this paper that ultimately the responsibility for guidance vis-a-vis violent media is not on schools or law enforcement but in fact is on the shoulders of parents.
The Influence of Media Violence on Youth
An article in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Anderson, et al., 2003) flatly asserts that there is "…unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior," and that aggressive behavior will manifest itself in both "long-term" and "immediate contexts" (Anderson, 81). Whether it is violent video games, film or television violence, when youths are exposed in a short-term context there can be verbally "…aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and aggressive emotions" (Anderson, 81).
The authors explain that -- based on "large-scale longitudinal studies" -- there are long-term manifestations to "frequent exposure to violent media in childhood." Those manifestations include "aggression later in life" that can consist of spousal abuse and physical assaults against others (Anderson, 81). Media violence increases "…physiological arousal," Anderson explains. The authors point out that while "…many children and youth spend an inordinate amount of time" witnessing violent media" the research they conducted reflects the fact that "… parental-mediation interventions…" can in fact result in beneficial outcomes (Anderson, 81).
Anderson points to the Bjorkqvist (1985) study that exposed five and six-year-old Finnish children to violent media (and others in the class were not subjected to the violence). Two raters who didn't know which children saw the violent video watched the group playing and those who had watched the violent media were "…hitting other children" and "wrestling" along with other kinds of aggression.
Another study referenced by Anderson involved 396 boys (7 to 9 years of age); some watched a nonviolent film, others watched a violent film. During the ensuing game of floor hockey, witnesses (who didn't know which boys saw the violent film) clearly identified those who watched violent films. They were pulling each other's hair, tripping, kneeing, elbowing, and "…other assaultive behaviors" that go well beyond legal hockey rules (Anderson, 85). In Anderson's conclusion, the "troubling truth" is that "…violent media are entering the home and inviting active participation of even young children -- often with little parental supervision"; hence the thesis of this paper calls for far more attentive and consistent parental stewardship.
Meanwhile a 2011 peer-reviewed article in the journal Aggressive Behavior measures media violence exposure (MVE) by examining MVE and aggressive and pro-social behaviors at two different points in time during the school year (Gentile, et al., 2011). The study referenced by Gentile and colleagues had 430 students (3rd, 4th, and 5th graders) from five schools in Minnesota; 51% of the children were boys. The results were produced by questionnaires completed by both the students and their teachers.
In the early part of the school year ("Time 1") children reported an average of 20.8 hours a week watching television; 9.6 hours per week playing video games; and boys watched more television and played "significantly" more video games than girls (Gentile, 198-99). In the second half of the school year ("Time 2") the students reported watching fewer hours of television and fewer hours of playing video games; Gentile suspects that "…participants were beginning to guess the intent of the study" and may have "modified" responses to the questionnaire (199).
However, children who had viewed more violence in the early part of the school year demonstrated "…increased aggressive behaviors and decreased pro-social behaviors" later in the school year (Gentile, 205). The increased aggression shown (particularly by boys) could be "evidence of the beginning of a vicious cycle," Gentile asserts (205). This is because as children become more aggressive they then can become "…ostracized from the main group" which in turn pushes the aggressive children into cliques with others who have the same behaviors. While in that clique, they may "…reinforce each others' aggressive media habits and aggressive attitudes and behaviors," which certainly exacerbates the problem for the school as a whole (Gentile, 205). And along with the increased aggressiveness the academic performance of those in the clique tends to deteriorate (Gentile, 205).
Historical Event -- Motion Picture Production Code
It is clear that the motion picture industry attempted to set standards beginning back in the years 1929 and 1930, when the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) was established. Journalist Joel Timmer writes in the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Film and Television that the Production Code Administration (PCA) was mainly concerned -- in the years between 1934 to 1968 -- about content that embraces sex and crime. The MPPC required that before a movie studio could begin filming, it was obliged to "…submit scripts to the PCA for approval" -- and once the film was complete the production company was then obligated to submit the finished movie for review and approval as well (Timmer, 2011, p. 29). If a movie company did not meet the standards set forward by the PAC, the punishment for violating the Code was $25,000.
Timmer (30) explains that the MPPC was established not so much on how the movie would be harmful to audiences (or children) in terms of content; it was based more on "…a philosophy that films should uphold the morals of society," Timmer continues. The Preamble to the MCCC offers a realistic look at how the PAC approached the issue:
There is a need to distinguish between "Entertainment which tends to improve the race, or at least, to recreate and rebuild humans exhausted with the realities of live; and Entertainment which tends to degrade human beings, or to lower their standards of life and living. Hence, the moral importance of entertainment is something which has been universally recognized. It enters intimately into the lives of men and women and affects them closely; it occupies their minds and affections during leisure hours, and ultimately touches the whole of their lives."
There was a study done by the Payne Fund (from 1928 to 1933) regarding the impact that movies had on children. The Payne Fund in fact used actual showings in front of children in an attempt to scientifically answer questions like: a) "Were children's attitudes toward violence and sex changed by the movies they saw?"; b) "What, if any, emotional impact did films have on children?"; and c) "Were children able to distinguish 'fantasy' from reality?" (Timmer, 30).
The report by the Payne Fund alleged that "…Crime movies had a greater influence on children who came from dysfunctional homes" and that "…movies were in and by themselves no more harmful than other cultural influences on children" (Timmer, 30). However, a book called Our Movie Made Children (released in 1933) claimed that movies "…were helping shape a race of criminals" (Timmer, 30).
Closely linked to that report, another book came out in 1937 called Hollywood's Movie Commandments; in that book it quotes an assertion from the Code: "Criminals should not be made heroes, even if they are historical criminals" (Timmer, 32). Moreover, the specific rule established by the Code was that "…a gangster cannot be made a hero, nor can a racketeer who is the prototype of the gangster, the kidnapper, the hardened and unregenerate type of criminal… or the type of character who…uses criminal methods and so romanticizes crime and makes it appear heroic and praiseworthy" (Timmer, 32). On page 33 Timmer paraphrases a portion of the Code about humor: If violence is depicted as "humorous, this can increase the likelihood of viewers learning aggression as well as desensitizing viewers to the seriousness of violent behaviors." The Code was abandoned in 1969 and replaced with what today is known as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), an organization that rates films.
Three key historical events: a) establishment of MPPC; b) the Payne Fund; c) MPAA
Three challenges individuals and law enforcement face: a) frequent exposure to violent media in childhood can result in "aggression later in life" (including spousal abuse and physical assaults on others) (Anderson, 2003); b) "emotional and physiological desensitization to aggression" can lead to violence against others (Gentile, 2010); and c) repeated exposure to "any aggressive stimulus" can have negative impacts on teachers and teaching (Gentile, 2010).
Three agreeable authors' statements: a) "the Code did not allow violent crimes to be rewarded or even go unpunished" (Timmer, 2011); b) "Children's consumption of media violence early in the school year predicted higher verbally aggressive behavior, higher physically aggressive behavior, and less pro-social behavior later in the school year" (Gentile, 2011); and c) "A study…