Effects Of Cartoon Violence On Preschoolers

Research Question: Does the violence depicted in cartoons have a negative influence on young viewers between ages 3-5 in America? Does it promote aggression and/or violent behavior? Or is this assertion merely a false presumption?


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Nowadays it is a common belief that the violence portrayed in cartoons has a negative impact on the behavior of young children. The main aim of this Essay will be to determine whether cartoon violence influences bad behavior among young children from ages 3-5 in America or whether this assertion is merely an untrue assumption, and if the claim is true, we will be considering any possible effects it may have on the behavioral development those children in the future.

Many young children in America are believed to be spending the majority of their free time watching cartoons on television where they are exposed to a variety of harmful scenes. Leaving children alone in front of the TV, and allowing them to watch any cartoons of their choice freely without any adult supervision could result in an unwanted change in behavior of the child. The reason for this is because the majority of cartoons which are displayed on the TV contain some form of violent activity which may affect the undeveloped minds of young children in an undesired way and therefore promote violent behavior. Violence in cartoons can be extremely harmful to children of young ages as they have difficulties distinguishing reality from fantasy because their brain has not yet reached a state of maturity. [1] A global concern which has been present for a while now is that children’s social and emotional development could be negatively linked with cartoon violence and aggressive behavior. [2] While on the other hand it is believed by many people, especially by adults, that the violence depicted in cartoons has no serious or dangerous impacts on young viewers in America which are worthy of concern. [3]

This topic is worthy of being observed because the number of children being exposed to cartoon violence is increasing each day which could lead to aggressive and violent behavior by the preschoolers towards others in their surroundings. This topic should be carefully investigated in order to gain a head start and be capable of preventing, and treating any unwanted outcomes of overexposure to violence in cartoons. Therefore I believe that this information is worthy of notice because cartoons have been featured to contain some of the highest amounts violence and aggressive activity on television [4] which may have undesirable consequences on young viewers if overly exposed to such content.


Today it is a commonly known and usual thing for many young children all around the world, but especially preschoolers in America, to spend most of their day and a majority of their spare time watching the television. In fact recent studies have shown that preschoolers are known to watch an average of up to 30 hours of television a week. [5] It has been discovered that an average four year old child in America watches anywhere between 50 and 70 minutes of television a day, consisting mostly of cartoons. [6] This information is worthy of careful observation because some of these cartoons have been featured to contain some of the greatest amounts violent and aggressive scenes on television. [7] Research has shown that in-between the years 1973 all the way up to 1993, over 90% of children’s weekend morning programs contained some form of violent activity, with an outstandingly high average of over 20 violent scenes per hour. [8]

Some of the top rated, and most frequently watched cartoons by preschoolers in America are known to contain some of the highest and most prominent levels of violence and aggression such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob Square Pants, Tom and Jerry, The Simpsons, Ben 10, Beavis and But headaˆ¦ The list is endless and it is because of cartoons like these that target preschoolers in the United States which get people worrying that cartoons shows of this kind may result in an unwanted influence on young children. Let us look at a review of Tom and Jerry for instance.

Tom and Jerry is a series of theatrical animated cartoon shows , centering on a rivalry between a cat (Tom) and a mouse (Jerry) whose chases involved comic violence. Tom and Jerry is said to be one of the greatest television shows of all time. [9]

It is a cartoon which was created in the 1940s and still today is considered to be one of the most popular and highly rated cartoons among young viewers from ages 3 to 5 in the United States. And is mostly displayed during prime time hours and on Saturday and Sunday mornings where the cartoon is mostly exposed to young children between ages 3 and 5.

An adults section where viewers and adults are capable of commenting on the cartoon shows that most people interpret this cartoon to be very violent and to contain dangerous weapons and abusive behavior towards animals and people. In addition there are times where the characters die at the end of an episode but they come back alive in the next episode which may cause young children between ages 3 to 5 in America who are exposed to the show to get a false misinterpretation of death and the consequences of the actions displayed in the cartoon and in real life.

”In almost every episode of this show there is some form of violent activity where objects are smashed over either Tom or Jerry’s head.

Tom’s owner was very brutal and bizarre in the way he disciplined Tom. Many of the episodes feature Tom ‘dying’ at the end, but he always came back in the next episode.

Guns are used very frequently in the show, but they never really show any real harm apart from blowing hair off or grazing the characters.” [10]

Despite the tremendous amount of violence which is displayed in the cartoon, it still is said to be suitable, and is recommended for children of all ages. The most troubling thing of all is that Tom and Jerry is only one of many cartoons which portray prominent levels of violence and are recommended for all children.

Information and research gathered while examining the effects of this sort of violence in cartoons on children, suggests that all children, especially preschoolers in the United States, demonstrate increases in violent behavior and manifest aggression when they are exposed to violent content from cartoons. A large number of different studies have confirmed the suggestion that the aggressiveness of preschooler’s increases after they have been exposed to a cartoon which contained some form of violent content, and also where the characters involved in the cartoons demonstrated aggressive behavior. [11]

A Study conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura showed that this information which was gathered is linked with the social learning perspective which indicates that young children between ages 3 and 5 learn to behave by observing other people or characters in their surroundings and try to imitate how they would react in certain situations. [12]

Bandura also came to a conclusion that the aggressive behavior which young preschoolers were demonstrating was mostly coming from violent cartoons. He concluded that the children were behaving aggressively towards others because they tried to imitate the actions of the characters which they saw in those cartoons. He found that this behavior which the children had been seeing from the characters, had then been generalized into other forms of violent deeds by the preschoolers themselves such as aggressively playing with plastic swords and guns. [13]

According to specific studies and research conducted by psychologists, they found that the observation of violent and aggressive acts in cartoons by 3-5 year old children, regardless of which character it was and what connection they had with the child, was a “sufficient condition for producing imitative aggression” [14] for preschoolers. Moreover children who have been known to watch many cartoons containing a decent amount of violent activity are more likely to express some form of that aggression towards their peers or even adults, in contrast with those children who do not view much violent content in cartoons. [15]

Studies have shown that those actions by the characters in cartoons which are rewarded are more likely to be remembered by the preschoolers, rather than those which are punished.

The preschoolers are able to see how in most cartoons when an act of violence is implicated by one character to another, the one who has demonstrated a violent or aggressive act towards the other character does not get punished for his/her actions in most cases and does not suffer any consequences. In fact this type of behavior is most often rewarded and the character is considered to be a hero when he defeats the ‘bad guy’ by using various forms of physically aggressive force. Those types of cartoons in which the acts of violence are rewarded mislead the young children to perceive those acts of violence as ‘the right thing to do’. By watching how the characters can almost always get away with it, and seeing how that sort of behavior is normally rewarded in the cartoons they watch, the preschoolers in America might get the wrong impression of how they should be reacting in specific situations, and how they should be treating and behaving around other people in their surroundings.

The most common way of teaching moral lessons by protagonists in cartoons is by aggressive or violent acts. [16] Which could give the young children a false impression that they will be immediately rewarded for such actions, particularly when there is no or insufficient punishment for that sort of behavior. Accordingly when the children perceive the cartoons in the wrong way, it could contribute to unwanted behavior towards others and the undesirable notions about the consequences of harming others.

The violent acts of characters in cartoons are rarely punished yet in some cases are considered to be extremely harmful or pain inflicting. Children often viewed the characters that they saw on the television as their role models, they consider them to be heroes and they watch how they are rewarded and praised for committing violence acts. This leads young preschoolers to draw conclusions that the aggressive behavior by their favorite characters is justified since there is no form of punishment, or consequences to show that it is wrong, as a result the 3 to 5 year old children have an increased motive to act this way towards others. [17]

The children were even more likely to try and reproduce the behavior of the cartoon characters because they did not only poses very aggressive attributes, but the characters which the children consider to be their heroes in cartoons usually consisted of very attractive and appealing qualities as well. [18]

Once preschoolers have watched a cartoon which they found amusing and where a specific character became the centre of attention after defeating the ‘bad guy’ by use of aggressive physical force, the preschoolers were then motivated and more likely to try and simulate the actions of that specific character. [19]

A report by the NTVS (National Television Violence Study) showed that almost 70% of the violent acts in children’s cartoons did not result in any harm or pain to the characters who were involved. Another study has also shown that less than half of the children’s cartoon programs had any form of punishment for these violent and aggressive actions of the characters. [20] As a result the violence which young preschoolers view from cartoons on the television may give them the wrong impression of what the outcomes could be in real life and in a real-life situation.

Many people believe and fear that overexposure to cartoon violence may have long term effects on young preschoolers’ behavior in America, especially when they are consistently being overly exposed to violent content in cartoons at such an early age. [21]

There are many different theories suggesting what possible effects this overexposure to violent and aggressive cartoons could have. A world-wide famous entertainment scholar and Professor Dolf Zillmann has his excitation transfer theory which suggests that while children are watching television cartoons containing violence or aggression, they get a need all of a sudden to transfer that negative energy towards something/someone else, resulting in antisocial behavior and perhaps inflicting damage to other young children in their environment. [22]

An American social psychologist Berkowitz had his cognitive theory of neoassociation which proposed that when people are found in an unknown environment they become frustrated. In young children these types of unfamiliar situations could provoke aggression or possibly aggressive reactions by the child. [23] In which they might execute some of the possibly violent or aggressive actions they’ve seen in cartoons.

Another famous theory founded by Professor of communications George Gerbner was the cultivation theory which indicated that overexposure to television increases the likelihood of a mainstreaming effect where young children might confuse what they see as a twisted representation of the real world and real-life situations, [24] Which in turn may result in children developing a misinterpreted view of violence in the real world. [25]

John H. Flavell, an American developmental psychologist specializing in children’s cognitive development [26] Discovered that the understanding which preschoolers possess about whether the cartoons they watch on the television are real or imaginary is either very limited or not present at all. Meaning that there is a very high possibility for those young children to confuse reality from fantasy and comprehend what they see from cartoons as real. [27] Accordingly it has been discovered that 6-7 year old children had a hard time trying to understand the distinction between real world capabilities and those portrayed in cartoons and that those 6 and 7 year olds ”appear to have difficulty understanding television conventions that violate real-world possibilities”. [28] We can form judgments by observing the previous findings because if 6 and 7 year old children aren’t fully capable of understanding the conventions on television and linking them with the real world, then preschoolers, being of a much younger age and generally unaware of the meanings of the events taking place in cartoons, would have an even poorer understanding of what they are watching and what possible connections it may have with the real world.

It has been discovered that when a specific character in a cartoon exhibits aggression or acts violently towards another character and at the same time and provides a clear explanation justifying the reasons for his/her actions by the use of words, it is believed that this information is far too intellectually advanced and overly complex for young children in between ages 3-5 in America to interpret and understand completely. [29] This may leave the preschoolers with a false memory or intuition of only an aggressive or violent act by one character towards another without any reasoning or justification involved in order to justify their actions. In order for young children to be fully capable of understanding the reasons for the actions of the cartoon characters and their intentions, the preschoolers need the help of an adult who is willing to explain the means of the situation in cartoons and why the use of aggression should or should not be punished and what possible consequences would be necessary to the characters who have demonstrated some form of aggression towards others. [30]

Ronald S. Drabman and Margaret Hanratty Thomas found that children lose all forms of sensitivity and feelings towards victims in cartoons and the violence which has been inflicted to them, by the time they leave preschool, [31] Which could mean that the young 3 to 5 year old children are finally becoming capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, and that they are becoming aware that the cartoon characters are not real. While on the other hand this information could mean that the children have lost interest or possibly gained the wrong impression of the consequences of the actions of the characters. E.g. if they watch a cartoon in which one character shoots another character, and the other character does not receive any injuries of any kind then the children may mistake guns for being incapable of inflicting any damage to other people in real life which could lead to serious consequences.


However, despite all of the theories suggesting the violence in cartoons and the aggressive behaviors of the characters towards others have a negative influence on young children in America, there are several definitions to what violence and aggression may actually mean.

One commonly used definition which does not include verbal abuse or violence in the form of threats, was found in between years 1967 and 1968 while television violence was being investigated and it stated: “the overt expression of physical force, with or without weapon, against self or other, compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt or killed, or actually hurting or killing” [32]

Other researchers have found a distinction between violence and aggression. They characterized violence as “physically aggressive behaviors that do, or potentially could, cause injury or death” and aggression as a “behavior that inflicts harm, either physically or psychologically, including explicit or implicit threats and nonverbal behaviors”. [33]

Now that we have different views as to what the true meanings of violence or aggression may really be, we cannot say confidently whether the aggressive acts of cartoon characters are actually violent.

While looking at the unrealistic capabilities of most of the characters in cartoons, in their fantasy worlds we cannot really determine whether this violence is considered harmful. As a matter of fact older and mature people who watch adult television comprehend cartoons and fantasy as something which has nothing to with extreme violence what so ever, and so they do not find young children being exposed to this type of content worrying. [34]

In fact Some of the world’s largest and most famous television networks such as Warner Bros. also characterize cartoon episodes to be a reflection of good versus evil that particularly underline the importance of loyalty and how punishment for being selfish is necessary under certain circumstances. [35] Consequently the violence which occurs when the good characters have to defeat the evil characters is justified because it is the morally correct thing to do, and these cartoons try to pass on the message how in order for a whole community to feel safe and enjoy their lives, some people have to suffer and be punished.

However not all television networks and adults, especially parents approve that they are comfortable with the amount of violence which is depicted in cartoons.

Research shows that when children are able to interpret a cartoon with real life and compare the scenes which occur in the cartoon with real life situations, then there is a greater chance for the child to demonstrate aggressive behavior. Whilst on the other hand if the Childs understanding of the cartoon is rather poor and in their eyes is seen as unrealistic, then the chances of the preschooler showing any forms of violence or aggressive behavior, is significantly lower. [36]

Research is continually proving that children in America between ages 3 and 5 do not completely understand the meaning of the cartoons they watch and that their apprehension of the shows they are being exposed to is very poor and could remain that way all the way through to until they are 8 years old. [37] By looking at this information we can conclude that because preschoolers have a poor understanding of the meaning and the plot of the cartoons which they are watching, the chances of inheriting any unwanted aggressive or violent behavior from those cartoons by the preschoolers will be lower.

A study performed by Hodapp showed how 5 and 6 year olds could not recall what they had learned while watching educational programs on television and that they were simply incapable of performing the things which they saw and learned from those shows. They were unable of using and putting those skills to action in real life in order to help themselves in difficult situations. [38]

Therefore this leads us to a conclusion that preschoolers, being of a younger age not as intellectually advanced as a 5 ot 6 year old, and still undergoing a stage of development, may also be incapable of interpreting the actions they see in violent cartoons. So as a result they will not acquire any negative influences or bad behavior from watching cartoons containing violent and/or aggressive scenes.

Moreover the National Television Violence Study (NTVS) reported that for all cartoon programs, just over 30% of the characters who demonstrated some forms of violence in cartoon shows, also possessed some good and sympathetic attributes such as helping and caring for those in need [39] , which could be beneficial for young children and teach preschoolers in the United States to exhibit concern and empathy for others in their surroundings.

Judging by their age, preschoolers have been proven to have relatively high ability of drawing conclusions about moral reasoning [40] Such as recognizing when the character has acted selfishly or taken part in a fight for personal purposes and satisfaction. Research has shown that the preschoolers are also very good at determining when the actions of the characters are morally wrong. [41]

Young children between ages 3 and 5 in America may be capable of identifying the difference between morally acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in society. [42] Meaning that they are aware of the rights and welfare of others in their surroundings and how they should be treated equally and with respect. In addition the investigators of this topic believe that 3 to 5 year old children are fully aware of the distinction between socially acceptable behavior and socially unacceptable behavior and that preschoolers are capable of making judgments based on whether it is real life situation of something they’ve seen from a cartoon. [43]

This understanding of such situations at an early age may aid young preschoolers in finding a balance between the violence they view in cartoons and real life situations and it may not result in an affected behavioral development in the future.



Does the violence depicted in cartoons have a negative influence on young viewers between ages 3-5 in America, and does it promote aggression and/or violent behavior, or is this assertion merely a false presumption. – answer the research question.

Conclusion possible

However we cannot simply say that a preschoolers’ aggression or violent behavior is the result of being exposed to violence in cartoons. In order to make such assumptions we must first take into consideration the children’s perception of the violence depicted in those cartoons and the way in which the preschoolers understand what is happening and why. Therefore we cannot confidently say that the children will show similar behavior in the real world only because the characters may have acted aggressively or violently in cartoons.


However some say that the acts of the characters teach the preschoolers in America to act morally and to apply the skills they see on TV in real life which could be beneficial.

All in all, in order for us to summarize the effects of cartoon violence on young preschoolers in America it is crucial that we should first determine how well the children understand and what they learn by watching cartoons.

We found that if the children are capable of differentiating the transgressions which are present in the cartoons from those in real life and if they realize a distinction between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable behavior which they view in cartoons, then cartoon violence would not have such a great impact on the behavior of the preschoolers as assumed.

Role of Parents and Adults

It is the adults and parents in America who are responsible for aiding young preschoolers in understanding and dealing with the violence and potentially harmful scenes which they are exposed to. By engaging in conversations with the children, the adults could assist the children in understanding whether the actions of the cartoon characters they watch are justifiable or morally wrong.

It is the role of an adult to aid young preschoolers in understanding the violent scenes which they are being exposed to from cartoons. They should help the young children interpret the violent or aggressive actions of the characters by observing the cartoon alongside the preschoolers.

Adults, especially parents in America play a vital role in influencing the impression preschoolers obtain by observing the violent actions portrayed in cartoons by the characters as an act of justice, and determining the moral and social acceptability of those actions.

I would suggest that adults watch cartoons alongside the children as the parents will then have the opportunity to answer any potential questions the children may have, and with the help of an adult the children may gain a better and more clear understanding of the motives and reasons for the violent or aggressive actions which have been depicted by the protagonists in cartoons.

If the parents notice how one characters has acted aggressively towards another character without unnecessary any justification of his/her actions, and if his actions are morally wrong then it is the parents job to consider any morally acceptable options in order to resolve the problem, both in cartoons and in real life situations.


We have discovered that young children between ages 3 and 5 have difficulties when attempting to differ reality from fantasy which might intensify or negatively stimulate the preschoolers motive to act and behave aggressively towards others in their surroundings.

All in all cartoons which portray large levels of violence and aggressive activity will continue to do so and will remain a popular source of entertainment among the young 3 to 5 year old viewers in the United States. The children will continue to spend most of their free time watching these cartoons which will be displayed on television in prime-time hours and during children’s weekend morning shows.

Now all of our attention is focused on the most popular cartoons among preschoolers which are clearly violent and how they m

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