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Children And Television Violence

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Throughout my years, I have heard numerous roundtable discussions by experts in the scientific community who argue that media-violence viewing is one factor that contributes to the development of aggression in children. Children's viewing of violent TV shows, their identification with aggressive same-sex TV characters, and their perceptions that TV violence is realistic are all linked to later aggression as young adults, for both males and females. That is the conclusion of a 15-year longitudinal study of 329 youth published in the March, 2003 issue of Developmental Psychology. These findings hold true for any child from any family, regardless of the child's original aggression levels, their intellectual capabilities, their social status as measured by their parents' education or occupation, their parents' aggressiveness, or the mother's and father's parenting style.

Psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Ph.D., Jessica Moise-Titus, Ph.D., Cheryl-Lynn Podolski, M.A., and Leonard D. Eron, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan took over the study as a follow-up of a 1977 longitudinal study. That study consisted of 557 children, ages 6-10, growing up in the Chicago area. In that study, children were asked to identify which violent TV shows they watched most, whether they identified with the aggressive characters and whether they thought the violent situations were realistic. The children were presented with a checklist of 80 television programs. The 80 programs used were the most popular that year according to the Nielsen ratings for 6-11-year old children. The amount of on-screen physical violence portrayed on each television program was coded by two raters on a 5-point scale from not violent to very violent. The raters were Psychology graduate students who were trained to follow a written list for what constituted violence. Some examples of shows rated as very violent were Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man and Roadrunner cartoons. The current study re-surveyed 329 of the original boys and girls, who are now in their early 20s. The participant's were asked about their favorite TV programs as adults and about their aggressive behaviors. The participant's spouses or friends were also interviewed and were asked to rate the participant's frequency of partaking in aggressive behavior. The researchers also obtained data on the participants from state archives, which included any criminal conviction records and moving traffic violations they may have received.

The results showed that men who were high TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men.

Women who were high TV-violence viewers as children were more likely to have thrown something at their spouses, to have responded to someone who made them mad by shoving, punching, beating or choking the person, to have committed some type of criminal act, and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such women, for example, reported having punched, beaten or choked another adult at over four times the rate of other women.

Could these results simply be an indication that more aggressive children like to watch violent TV shows? "It is more plausible that exposure to TV violence increases aggression than that aggression increases TV-violence viewing (216)," said Dr. Huesmann. "For both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression. Also, the study suggests that being aggressive in early childhood has no effect on increasing males' exposure to media violence

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