An aspect of media I have yet to consider that has become increasingly prevalent in modern society is that of video games. A review of the 70 most popular games in 2001 showed that 89% contained some form of violence and in 41% it was necessary for the player to use violence to achieve his/her aim (Children Now, 2001). Many people consider the violence in video games to be more toxic to children than the violence in television or film because they are interactive and require the viewer to participate in the violence as the aggressors themselves (Grodal, 2000).
Video games are more likely to be unsupervised than television – 48% of parents are not aware of the games their children are playing (Woodard & Gridina, 2000). This is potentially extremely dangerous as children learn shooting behaviours and violent techniques from the games and may not have their behaviour corrected. The addictive nature of video games means that children will repeat their learning of incorrect behaviours over and over again. In addition, many games today are based on quick reactions and encourage players to shoot without thinking – an act that bears serious consequences in real life.
Studies have also shown that children are more likely to behave aggressively having played a violent game as their arousal levels and heart rate are raised, which primes the individual to behave more violently, with less provocation than they normally would (Anderson & Dill 2000). In addition, the graphics of modern video games are becoming increasingly realistic, and this sense of realism may mean that people are more likely to try to imitate the violent behaviour they have witnessed in the game.
The effects of media violence have also extended more recently to the use of mobile phones to record videos of violent acts before posting them online. An example of this is commonly known as “happy slapping”, a craze that started in 2004 in South London, which involves an unsuspecting victim being attacked and filmed on a mobile phone, followed by the video recording being distributed through websites such as YouTube. Although offenders of this crime can now be prosecuted, these videos are readily available to youngsters who may partake in the act without understanding the consequences.
Despite the evidence given by countless studies, many people maintain that the mass media do not make children more aggressive. In fact, some people deem psychological studies and experiments to be unnatural. The laboratory does not provide a real-life setting, to the extent that some may completely discredit its results (Fowles 1999). Moreover, there are indeed some studies that suggest there is no correlation between exposure to television violence and aggressiveness of viewers in real life for children in general (Kashiwagi & Minakata, 1985).
Whilst this is by no means the view held by the majority of researchers, there are other theories to suggest that the media may not actually incite aggression. For example the theory of desensitization can be countered with the argument that some viewers will react to a scene of violence so strongly with such a traumatized perceived reality that they are less likely to want to imitate it – a process called sensitization. Another theory that can be counter-argued is that of the lack of punishment and consequence in programmes and movies.
When a punishment is shown, as is quite often the case, the aggression of viewers is likely to be inhibited. However, the lack of punishment in some cases may not actually be an issue because if the punishment does not directly follow the act that is being punished, children younger than 10 will not link the two together anyway (Collins, 1973). It is important to highlight the fact that we cannot solely blame the media for children’s aggressive behaviour, for it is only a relatively small part of their lives when we look at the bigger picture. Media can only be held responsible for 5-15% of societal violence (Sparks ; Sparks, 2002).
There are many other factors that must be considered, such as parental neglect, poverty, racism, drugs and crowding to name but a few. We must also remember that people are affected differently by violence and that it is not equally harmful to all people (Jackson Harris, 2004). On the subject of video games, the most violent ones such as Grand Theft Auto, are rated accordingly (15+, 18+ etc) and therefore should not be played by children anyway. The effects on older children (15-18) should be less severe as by this age their attitudes have been moulded and are unlikely to change.
Television, movies, video games and the Internet, when supervised, provide stimulating arenas of learning and help build creativity. These positive effects are easily forgotten. After all, the main purpose of the media is to entertain, not to incite violence, and it is easy to disregard the fact that the media does provide a great deal of pleasure and relaxation when concentrating on a topic such as media violence. In conclusion, I feel that although the media is not fully to blame for making children aggressive, it plays a substantial role.
I dispute Kashiwagi and Minakata’s study that found no correlation between exposure to television violence and aggressiveness, on the basis that it was conducted in 1985, and over 23 years there have been significant developments with regards to the media, and children today are generally exposed to more television than they were in 1985 due to availability and modern culture. Even though broadcasters do not intend for people to imitate acts of violence shown, in reality they will, and an increase in aggression will occur in one of two types.
In the short term, aggression increases immediately after watching an act of violence and lasts approximately 20 minutes, and in the long term, repeated exposure will result in a child becoming more prone to violence in adulthood (Anderson, 2000). Taking all the evidence into consideration, I disagree with the statement that the mass media do not make children more aggressive, as in my opinion the media helps to socialise children and teaches them how to behave within their culture. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to avoid its influence.
Bibliography A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication, Fourth Edition, Richard Jackson Harris, 2004. Chapter 9. Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society, Ninth Edition, Alison Alexander and Jarice Hanson, 2007. Part 1 Issue 2 and Part 2 Issue 4. Handbook of Children and the Media, Dorothy G. Singer & Jerome L. Singer, 2001. Children and Media Violence, Ulla Carlsson and Cecilia von Feilitzen, 1998. Children and Television, Bob Hodge & David Tripp, 1986. National Cable and Telecommunications Association Statistics, September 2007. Internet Usage and World Population Stats, June 30th 2008.