Over a period spanning more than 50 years, research evidence has accumulated about media violence with leading scholars, principally in the United States, reaching the conclusion that exposure to media violence, especially that occurring on movies and television, facilitates aggressive and antisocial behavior among those who watch it. Furthermore, each exposure has a developmental effect that cultivates traits that increase the likelihood of overt expression of violence in later life (C. A. Anderson et al.; Johnson, Cohen, Smailles, Kasen, & Brooks as cited in Gunter 1062).
Media such as TV, movies, video games, music channels etc. are playing a major role in informing and entertaining people. However, together with the benefits come some negative effects. Media violence is an issue that is mostly discussed among researchers. Media pessimists like C. A. Anderson, Johnson, Cohen, Smailles, Kasen, Brooks etc. are the ones who believe that violence in media has negative effects on children, and media skeptics like Freedman etc. are the ones who insist that there is not enough evidence to result in the conclusion that media violence causes aggression (Browne and Hamilton – Giachristis 702). It is important to find whether or not violence in media causes aggression. If there is a causality, we need to take actions to reduce it, if not we just stop discussing this issue. I believe that there exists a relationship between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, even if sometimes it’s very small. I can say this from my observations as well. Aggressive behaviors are caused by multiple factors, as many researchers say; however, media violence is one of those factors. Media violence stimulates aggression by making the children imitate what they observe in their favorite heroes, by making the aggressive feeling and thoughts that they had before go out and by desensitizing the children physiologically due to long exposure (Huesnmann and Moise 180).
Media violence, it is claimed, can trigger interpersonal physical aggression and create a climate in which antisocial and criminal behaviors are increasingly likely to occur. The influences of media violence begin early on in childhood. On-screen violent portrayals can demonstrate to young viewers how to behave aggressively, can counter socialization practices designed to curb aggressive impulses, can cultivate attitudes that are accepting of violence, and can teach that violence is often a justifiable and effective way of overcoming problems (Comstock & Fisher; Huesmann & Eron; Potter; Stein & Friedrich as cited in Gunter 1063).
These claims that Barrie Gunter points out, are mentioned by Huesmann and Moise as well. (180) Exposure to crime and sex in the media has effects on the person’s behavior by making the person imitate what he/she sees. In his article Gunter writes: “Phillips and Hersley (1984) noted increases in suicide rates after highly publicized suicide stories.”(1069) and there is “[a possible] link between pornography and sex offending…” (1070) Also, the aggressive behavior can be shown after years and not at the time the person is exposed to violence in the media. There can be accumulated aggressive feelings that “explode” in a future time. Coyne and Et al based on their observations say that “females who viewed excessive physical violence in television as children were more indirectly aggressive as adults.”(Coyne et al. 1551)
Various studies of any kind of media like TV, film, video games, lyrics etc. where violence can be shown, report that there is a significant effect on both genders. Researchers observe that there is change in the emotional world of a person. This person may express the change verbally and physiologically. In addition, they say that “[these] nonbehavioral responses to media violence may ultimately be of significance if they play a part in shaping later patterns of behavior.” (Gunter 1094). “[Many women in South Africa] reported that they felt disempowered by exposure to media aggression” (Browne and Hamilton-Giachristis, p.705)
The outcome from long term exposure to video-games on physiology and behavior are five primarily aggressive effects which lead to an increase in aggression in the personality. These effects are: Aggressive beliefs and attitudes, Aggressive perpetual schemata, Aggressive expectations schemata, Aggressive behavior scripts and Aggression desensitization. This aggressive behavior is presented in “Personological Variables” and in “Situational Variables.”
Thus, a person who is exposed for a long time to video-game violence is likely to have an aggressive personality and to act aggressively in a social situation. Video-games as part of the media contribute to aggressive behavior. Thus, media violence causes aggression. (Anderson et al. 355) Moreover academic, achievement may be affected indirectly by exposure to violent content because aggressive behavior tendencies interfere with learning especially in school (Huesman and Eron, 1986).
Despite all this evidence that supports the existence of a link between media violence and aggression, there is space for doubtful conclusions while analyzing the methodology. Jonathan L. Freedman states that the methods used to measure aggression on the children’s behavior cannot lead to an accurate conclusion. He gives this example of a leading question tending to bias responses: “‘If I had a balloon, would you want me to prick it?”‘(Qt. in Freedman 174) This is an example of artificial aggression that cannot give us strong conclusions. Everyone can say “Okay, prick it,” but this doesn’t mean that they are tending to be aggressively. There is a difference in the behavior and feelings of a child after watching a violent movie but this change can be confused with the excitement of the acts (Freedman 174). In addition, the participants are aware of what the research is about and they tend to behave aggressive. They think as the experiment is about violence in the media, they have to behave aggressively, so they can satisfy the researchers’ expectations of the result (Freedman 174).
Media skeptics relate aggressive behavior more to personality characteristics and environmental and social factors than to exposure to media violence. Some children may have a sensitivity to behave aggressively and some not. There are individuals who are exposed a little to media violence and behave very aggressively. At the same time, there are individuals who are exposed too much to media violence and don’t behave aggressively at all (C. J. Ferguson as cited in Gunter 1064).
It is believed that TV violence leads to aggression from the way the “children imitate and learn from what they see” (Freedman 175) from their heroes. If this is true, children should know that the moral is to bring justice on people’s lives. “If children are learning anything from these programs, it is that the forces of good will overcome evil assailants who are the first to use violence.” (Freedman 176)
Based on the evidence of most research, it cannot be opposed that exposure to violence in the media causes aggressive behavior. Jonathan L. Freedman doubted the methods and the interpretation of the results of the research. Here is one pilot study that explains all the methods used to measure the result and the result itself was reaffirming the main thesis. The researchers took three films with the same level of excitement and they measured the excitement of the participants before, during and after they watched the movies. They also measured the aggressive content and the other variables like enjoyment. The physical aggression clip was from Kill Bill, the relational aggression clip Mean Girls and the control clip was from What Lies Beneath. “Analyses revealed that the films produced similar excitement, as shown by physiological ratings and the excitatory questionnaire items” (Coyne, et al. 1552). This is just a pilot study that defeats Freedman’s opinion that the methods used in the research were not convincing to him. According to Freedman, children should know why violence is used and that the scenes in the movies are fake (174). However, he doesn’t take into consideration that a child ’till a certain age cannot make the difference between the fake and real violence and behaves in the real life situations as he/she has seen in TV.
Based on my personal observation, I can say that there is a link between exposure to violence in the media and aggressive behavior or feelings. After watching any crime film which included any kind of violence, I was full of fear that made me behave harshly toward others as if I were protecting myself from something. Exposure to violence on TV and the visual tricks that are used to presented violence caused me psychological trauma which I suffer even today. When walking in darkness I am afraid of people around me, because of the movies with crime and sexual harassment. Also, I’ve observed my male friends in the neighborhood and they behaved really aggressively to each other after watching “Smack-Down” shows. Their fights started as fun to imitate the real fighters, but after some moves they became real fights and very tough. Overall, evidence from much research supports the claim that media violence influences aggressive behavior. There are multiple other factors that cause aggression, but media violence has a significant effect. Different persons, especially children, imitate what they see in the media. Long exposure makes them insensitive to violence and sometimes it has a big effect on their psychology. Other researchers disagree with the claim that media violence causes aggression by saying that there are no strongly convincing conclusions to prove that. They doubt the methods used to get to this conclusion. However, this majority of research and their results that media violence promotes aggression cannot be ignored without taking their conclusions into consideration. Life experience also plays a role in my position on this issue. It convinces me more that there exists a link between media violence and aggression. The focus of research must be on finding solutions to reduce the negative effects of media.