As a pervasive media, television has a significant impact on people of every age group. Regular dose of violence, aggression, killing, rape and other criminal activities creates both short-term and long-term effects. Besides the risk of desensitization and development of a violent disposition, television also causes other social behavioral issues. Too much television viewing has been shown to affect active peer relationships. Research on 'mirror neurons' has now offered a neurobiological mechanism underlying imitative violence. There is enough evidence to suggest that television viewing beyond appropriate limits can be damaging to the normal behavioral development in children. Parents should actively monitor and control both the quality of the content and length of time that children watch television.
Television and its impact on social behavior has been the subject of intense research over the last several decades. Particularly, the content of television programs and their effect on impressionable young minds of children has been the subject of numerous researches. There is no denying the fact that today's television programs are filled with violence, obscenity and crime, and continued exposure to these depictions and their impact on the behavioral development of children is a serious issue. Violence is not just a feature of movies and daily news but even purely children's programs such as cartoons and animation are packed with a fair dose of violence. According to the Kaiser family Foundation, on an average kids below 6 years of age watch up to 2 hours of television per day while children between 8 and 18 watch as many as four hours of television per day. [Mary L. Gavin, 2008] Besides causing an increased risk for developing obesity and diabetes (sedentary lifestyle) too much of television time also negatively impacts studies and the time spent in playing with friends. (Peer relationships) Therefore the impact of television viewing on the overall physical and social development of children has to be more seriously studied. There is no discounting the fact that television is indeed a good educational tool as well as a good entertainment media but its negative potential cannot be ignored either. This paper discusses the priming effects of television and how it could significantly impact social behavior by analyzing a plethora of research evidence that is already available.
Behavioral Impact of TV
Understanding the causal effects of the violence broadcast in television programs on the behavior of people watching it was the main focus of the 1971 report that was submitted to the Surgeon General of the U.S. The report was based on a review of several researches, controlled laboratory studies, and surveys about television content and violence. This exhaustive research report concluded that television viewing did have a 'causal relation' to behavioral aggression and violence. [U.S. Dept of Health Education and Welfare, 1971, pg 112] The report also clearly stresses that imitation which is one of the behavioral responses of children leads to the actual display of aggression by children who watch content that is rich in violence. As the authors of the report state, television viewing increases aggressive behavior by, "teaching" novel aggressive acts which can be learned and imitated or by instigating aggressive behaviors which have previously been learned." [U.S. Dept of Health Education and Welfare, (1971) pg 62]. Today, researchers agree that television watching causes both short-term as well as long-term behavioral effects.
Short-Term Effects of TV viewing
Priming and Arousal
Priming refers to the activation of brain pathways in connection with an external stimulus and the firing of other brain nodes that are associated with particular behaviors or emotions. For instance a knife can immediately be associated with violence. Thus primed concepts are more likely to result in associated behaviors. In other words, the more a person watches violence on TV, the more likely he is to exhibit violent behavior. Similarly studies have shown that watching television can increase the arousal for an event when it happens in real life. This is due to the 'excitation transfer' which makes a stimulus more powerful making people lose their general inhibition. Such increased arousal invariably leads to exhibition of inappropriate behavior leading to social conflicts. [Rowell Huesmann, (2007)]
Research studies have established that humans and primates are instinctively adapted to mimic the behavior of others. Children learn new behaviors by means of observation followed by imitation. Children are impressed and imitate the models or characters they watch on TV. Albert Bandura, the renowned psychologist who conducted extensive research on aggressive behavior and its relation to violence portrayal in the media, concluded that young children develop aggressive behaviors by imitating their television models. Similar conclusions were confirmed from studies by other psychologists. In fact, 20 subsequent studies by psychologists have affirmed that "young children can, and under some circumstances do, imitate what they observe on television or in films" [pg 63]. One particular study by Weiss (1969) concluded that by depicting scenes of violence, "the media are 'teaching' and people are 'learning.'" [U.S. Dept of Health Education and Welfare, 1971, Pg 63].
Mirror Neurons (imitation)
More recent research about the neurological pathways and behavioral science, particularly the research on 'mirror neurons' now help us understand how just observing an action can result in the firing of the same neuronal circuits that are involved when the action is performed by us. This only suggests that television viewing has a strong effect on the person and could affect the behavioral conditioning. As neuroscientist and California University research Professor Marco Iacoboni says, "Mirror neurons provide a plausible neurobiological mechanism that explains why being exposed to media violence leads to imitative violence." [Jonah Lehrer, (2008)]
The long-term effects pertaining to television induced social behavioral conditioning can be attributed to a) Desensitization, b) Observational Learning etc.
The disinhibition theory states that television viewing has a strong tendency to habituate people to aggressive situation and behaviors. In other words repetitive watching of aggressive behaviors tends to undermine the natural repression and provides signals of approval for aggressive behavior. Over a period of time the usual negative emotional response which is triggered when we experience aggression slowly disappears making a person totally desensitized to the underlying emotion. Thus if there is too much violence in the content television viewing could have a negative impact on social behavior. [Nancy Signorielli, pg. 18 (2005)]
The observational learning theory suggests that children's perception about their world is influenced by what is happening around them and what they witness. Therefore, everyday viewing of aggression, violence, rape or other criminal behaviors changes their world schemas. In other words, the normative beliefs of children are affected by regular television viewing. [Rowell Huesmann, (2007)] A brief review of some recent studies would highlight the effects of TV viewing on the social and behavioral development of children.
TV viewing and Behavioral Development ( A literature review)
Several recent studies have focused on the impact of television watching on the social and behavioral development in children. Most of these studies report a positive association of TV watching with development of behavioral problems (Van evra (2004),Johnson et.al (2007), Mistry et.al (2007)), while a few studies indicate little or weak association.( Christakis et.al (2004), Mulsow 2006). A recent study by Waldman (2006) in fact reported a positive correlation between television watching and development of Autistic spectrum of disorders. [Huang & Lee (2009)] Bickham and Rich (2006) showed that the more time children spend watching violent programs on television the less time they interacted with their friends. (affects healthy peer relationships).This study suggests that too much television viewing can lead to social isolation along with the undesirable attributes of shyness, loneliness and poor self-esteem.
Huang & Lee (2009) studied television viewing among young children in the age groups of 6-7 and 8-9 years and analyzed the impact on their social and behavioral development using the BPI (behavioral problem index) as the verifiable measure. This was a comprehensive study as the data was derived from the national longitudinal survey of youth 1979. BPI was gauged based on the responses to the 28 questions provided to the mothers pertaining to the behavioral problems of their children. The results of the study indicate that TV viewing between 6-7 and 8-9 years of age has a positive relation to increasing behavioral problems for children during this age as reflected by their Higher BPI scores. [Huang & Lee (2009)]
A study by Jon et.al (2005) assessed the psychosocial health of television viewing on the general adult population when compared with those who do not watch television and those who adhere to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation of <2 hours of viewing per day. A total of 430 subjects (75.6% female and 24.4%male) with an average age of 30.7 years participated in the study survey. The researchers applied the UCLA Loneliness Scale, the 'Beck Hopelessness Scale' and the 'Beck Depression Inventory' to measure the psychosocial health of the subjects. Applying statistical multivariate analysis to the survey results clearly suggested that too much television…