In recent times, electronic media has caught the masses’ attention due to the many reports about sexually explicit and violent imagery in the products sold to youth. The discourse about the consequences of television violence has developed to be normative. Indeed, psychologists have bitterly argued the level to which television violence leads to aggression over the last five decades (Freedman, 2002, p. 307).
Psychologists define aggression as behavior whose aim is to cause harm to another person. Aggression can be physical or relational in nature. Violence is extreme physical aggression which usually leads to physical injury. In spite of many reports identifying exposure to television violence as a causal risk condition, the public remains unaware of the risks posed by exposure to television violence (Freedman, 2002, p. 309).
There is growing evidence linking exposure to television violence to the rise of aggressive behavior. The proponents of the aforementioned perspective base their arguments on laboratory and field experiments, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies (Slotsve, Carmen, Sarver and Villareal-Watkins, 2008, p. 23).
In the 1980s, psychologists observed that children who had a prolonged experience of television violence became more aggressive during adolescence than their peers who had experienced less television violence (Bushman and Huesmann, 2012, p. 232).
Researchers found these participants more prone to arrest and prosecution due to criminal acts when they became adults. Another identified exposure to violent media, including television violence, as one of the causes of aggressive conduct (Bushman and Huesmann, 2012, p. 232).
A cross-cultural study on twelve-year-old children from 23 different nations found a relationship between media violence and aggression. Scholars found violent media to contribute to the development of an aggressive and violent culture.
Psychologists have presented several arguments to justify the proposition linking television violence to rise in aggressive conduct. Violent television content has learning consequences in the human brain (Slotsve et al., 2008, p. 26). The brain is specially made to imitate what a person sees being done. Mimicking happens in all human beings, children and adults, but children are more inclined to mimic what they see.
In addition, children make inductions and deductions from actions they see and develop beliefs about the rightfulness of behaviors (Freedman, 2002, p. 16). When a child views a person handling a social issue by behaving aggressively, he or she stores the script in his or her memory and develops a conviction that the aggressive conduct is acceptable. Later the child is likely to act in the same manner.
In addition, consumption of violent content activates a person’s aggressive tendencies and thoughts. Repeated exposure to television violence activates the violent feelings and thoughts recurrently. The individual also becomes more vigilant for aggression around him or her (Slotsve et al., 2008, p. 26).
A second concern about violent media is that it leads to desensitization. Watching violent television scenes also makes the individual emotionally desensitized to violence (Freedman, 2007, p. 38). Desensitization eliminates physiological, behavioral, cognitive and emotional response to stimuli. Desensitization to violence inhibits a person’s moral judgment since he or she cannot identify or acts to leads which activate the decision making.
Consequently, aggressive actions may happen without taking into the thought of their moral consequences. Laboratory experiments have shown that people become callous and aggressive after viewing violent media (Freedman, 2007, p. 38).
For example, third-grade children, who either watched or did not view a violent clip, were asked to take care have become more aggressive. Desensitization also increases with the quantity of viewing (Freedman, 2007, p. 38). Research shows that those who view more violent programs tend to be more desensitized.
Lastly, watching violent television scene triggers neurological processes that lead to the development of aggressive conduct (Freedman, 2007, p. 48). The processes are priming and mimicry. When a person experiences something, the brain forms new nodes.
When the person goes thought the same experience these nodes are activated. Priming involves the activation of nodes created by exposure by viewing violent scenes. When nodes linked to violent conduct are primed, the person becomes more inclined to get aggressive. Mimicry also triggers the development of aggressive conduct after observation of violent scenes (Slotsve et al., 2008, p. 29).
Despite the arguments advanced to link television violence to the development of aggression, some psychologists hold that such a relationship does not exist. First, commentators argue that there exist significant variances between non-violent and violent media considered in laboratory experiments (Freedman, 2002, p. 307). The violent television scenes are more arousing and exciting than the non-violent ones.
Hence, when a viewer of violent television scenes acts with vigor, this does not indicate increased aggression. Further, counter-arguments hold that television programs containing violent scenes are not created to relay the message that aggression and violence are good nor are they intended to persuade people to engage in violence (Freedman, 2002, p. 307).
The programs do not bear information that can persuade people to involve in aggression. Indeed, explicit messages promoting aggression or violence are absent in these programs. The television programs are intended to entertain the audience. Consequently, critics hold that violent television scenes have no impact on attitudes towards violence or aggressive behavior (Slotsve et al., 2008, p. 29).
Finally, some psychologists and researchers hold that the notion that viewing violent media leads to the development of aggression lacks scientific support. Jonathan Freedman reports that less than half of the studies have identified a cause-effect relationship between viewing violent media and aggression (Freedman, 2002, p. 307). Consequently, the findings may be interpreted to mean lack of the causal effect.
Freedman submits that other relevant factors have been omitted in this debate. These include a reduction in violent offenses in the past few years and thinking that violent television scenes are just exiting to people. Also, the consequences of exposure to actual violence have not been adequately factored in this discourse.
Some experts have found the methods used in the researches on the impact of media violence on aggression wanting to yield scientific results. Cross-national and longitudinal studies have generated less supportive findings than non-supportive ones (Bushman and Huesmann, 2012, p. 257).
The research literature on media violence and aggression is voluminous and diverse. Most scientific experts and psychologists have reached a consensus that violent media leads to aggression. Exposure to violent media, including television violence, leads to a rise in aggressive conduct, in the long and short term. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies indicate the existence of a relationship between watching violent media and aggressive behavior.
Exposure to violent television scenes leads to the development of aggression through priming, mimicking, desensitization, and learning. Despite the voluminous evidence in support of the view that media violence leads to aggression, critics argue that the available evidence is faulty and incomprehensive.
Bushman, B. J., and Huesmann, L. R. (2012). Effects of violent media on aggression. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Freedman, J. L. (2002). Media violence and its effect on aggression: Assessing the scientific evidence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Freedman, J. L. (2007). Television violence and aggression: Setting the record straight. Retrieved from www.mediainstitute.org/issue_papers/policyviews/2007 /FreedmantelevisionViolence.pdf.
Slotsve, T., Carmen, A., Sarver, M., and Villareal-Watkins, R. J. (2008). Television Violence and Aggression: A Retrospective Study. Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, 5(1), 22-49.