Access and use of media is an imperative part of almost everyone’s life. Media is so deeply integrated in our lives that hardly a day goes when we do not have some sort of interaction with some or another form of media. Media is used not only for entertainment purposes but also as the main source of education. However, despite its many advantages, one of the main vices associated with the media of today is the depiction of violence. Over the years there has been a growing concern over the effect that media has had on the increase in violence and social unrest. However, until recently, there was not much research conducted as to the effects and potential harm of prevalence of violence in the media, on children and the youth.
Over the last few decades many new forms of media emerged, varying from videogames and television to the internet. As they gained global popularity so did the concern over its influence on human beings, particularly the youth as they are the most susceptible and easily moved. The youth are also the leaders of tomorrow thus it is very important to know the responses of the youth to media violence, that is, whether media violence is enjoyed by children, whether it is found repulsive and whether media violence actually influences behavioral patterns in children.
Well-supported theory explains clearly why and when exposure to media violence increases aggression and violence. Media violence produces tendencies, usually short-term periods, like aggressive behavior, increasing physiological arousal and the need to imitate observed behavior. my research focuses mainly on whether exposure to media violence produces the long-term effect of desensitizing the youth to such violent acts, which in turn desensitizes the entire society. Certain traits of viewers (e.g., identification with aggressive characters), social environments (e.g., upbringing and parental influences), and personality can also influence the degree to which media violence affects aggression.
It is alarming to note that modern media is depicting violence explicitly. This is supported by the various, recent surveys. What is even more alarming is the fact that children and youth spend an inordinate amount of time using violent media. Thus, research has already proven that media violence does have a negative influence on the behavior of young people. Research on the effects of media violence examines many kinds of outcomes in young people. Researchers have focused primarily on aggression, an outcome that psychologists define as any behavior, physical or verbal, that is intended to harm another people. However not much research has been done to find out how much media violence contributes to the desensitization of the youth of today.
The exposure of young people to violence is increasing due to videogames and television. And it is quite appalling to see that these videogames or TV programs no longer depict violence as a negative trait. National Television Violence Survey in 1997 to 1998 examined the amount of violent content on American television for three consecutive years. The findings showed that around 61% of TV shows depicted violent activities, whereas 4 % of programs promoted ‘anti violence’. In around 43 % of violent scenes, humor was involved and three quarter of violent activities were not punished.
In 2001, a review of 70 bestselling videogames showed that 89% of them had violent content. Moreover, a research in 2006, conducted at Indiana University School of Medicine found that children who playing violent videogame were more prone to increased emotional arousal and their brain areas showed less activity in self control, concentration and inhibition. However, there are no conclusive studies till now which link violence in video-games to aggressive behavior in youths.
The findings of previous researches indicate that increased media violence lead to aggressive behavior in young boys. Paik and Comstock (1994) conducted a study to examine correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior from 1957 to 1990. Their findings concluded that even short term exposure to violence cause aggressive behavior. However, the outcome was aggression and not violence. A study in 1960 New York youths concluded that young people who were exposed media violence showed a more aggressive behavior 10 years later, but this was only true in case of boys and not in the case of girls. .(Paik and Comstock, 1994)
In today’s world, where media and internet are source of attention of every kid, parents are very concerned about their negative influences on young minds. Violence and pornography are two things which have increased their concerns. Many people believe that it is due to the increased violence on television and videogames shown as ‘fun’, because of which more young people are committing violent acts. Young people are now seen committing crimes such as murders, assaults, pick pocketing etc. This trend did not exist when there were no videogames or when every household didn’t have a television set.
In a recent case, a 17-year old boy was awarded death sentence for killing his class fellow. Other three friends were sentenced to 32 years imprisonment and had to pay a fine of Rs 30,000. These four kids had strangled their class fellow and threw his body near a canal. The way this news was depicted on television has contributed in oversimplifying violent behavior.
A Well-supported theory describes the reasons and causes of why media violence leads to increased aggression and violence. Media violence leads to short term increases by priming already existing aggressive cognitions, increased physiological arousal and triggers a tendency to imitate observed behaviors.
Long term effects of media exist because of learning processes which lead to interpretational schemas; supporting beliefs related to social behaviors and reduced sensitivity to violent acts. (Craig A. Anderson, Leonard Berkowitz, Edward Donnerstein, the Influence of Media Violence on Youth)
According to research, there seem to be two main classes of effects:
Aggression: Media violence leads to increased aggressive behavior and these changes the values and beliefs, making aggression seem acceptable in resolving conflicts (Huston et al., 1992).
Desensitization: Extensive exposure can reduce negative emotional responses to violence (reduce sensitivity) and help in developing an ability to tolerate increased amount of violent acts prevailing in society (Drabman and Thomas, 1974; Thomas et al., 1977).
It has been more than five decades that Americans are concerned about increasing rates of violent activities because of mass media. It was because of this concern that many investigations were carried out and reports were made examining association between exposure of young people to violence and aggressive behavior. Some reports include Kefauver hearings of 1954, National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1969 and report of Surgeon General about Television and Growing Up (U.S. Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee, 1972) and the 1982 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) report on Television and Behavior. All these reports reinforced the conclusion that violence was indeed a threat to public health as it triggers violent behavior in young people.
On July 26, 2000, six public health professional organizations (American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Psychiatric Association) conducted a Congressional Public Health Summit. A statement issued by them confirmed that there is a casual connection which causes entertainment violence to reinforce aggressive behavior and attitudes. (Joint Statement, 2000, p. 1)
A great many studies have been conducted to examine association and effects of media violence on aggressive thoughts or emotions (Berkowitz, 1993; Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Geen, 2001; Rule & Ferguson, 1986). These studies are important as they show that risk of aggressive attitude against others is higher among young people who believe that violent acts are acceptable ( Huesmann & Guerra, 1997). They belive that theit acts of violence are justified as they are punishing people for their wrong doing (e.g., Berkowitz, 1965; Berkowitz & Geen, 1967). Similarly, some people fantasize about violence ((Rosenfeld, Huesmann, Eron, & Torney-Purta, 1982), some believe retaliation to be honorable (Nisbett & Cohen, 1996), some are violent towards females (Byers & Eno, 1991; Lackie & de Man, 1997), and then there are those who think about violent words (Carver, Ganellen, Froming, & Chambers, 1983)
Therefore, it can say that intensive amount of research has been conducted on this topic. It was because of research that Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed according to which new television sets were manufactured with a V(for violence)-chip, permitting parents to block content. However, still much needs to be done to reduce effects of media.
What are the other factors that influence aggressive behavior in the youth?
Has the violence depicted in media played a significant role in desensitizing the society as a whole?
Both these questions have been dealt with in this study. However, as already stated, most of the research will be devoted to finding out the correlation between media violence and desensitization of the youth. Thus the hypothesis also relates to these two variables.
Using information from the literature reviewed, it was hypothesized that:
H0: the mean sensitivity level of youth with high and low exposure to media violence is the same.
H1: the mean sensitivity level of youth higher exposure to media violence is less than that of youth that has less exposure to media violence
This research is a descriptive study, analyzing the correlation between media violence and the tendency of becoming desensitized to violence. At the same time, other effects of media violence will also be talked about.
A sample size of 150 people was taken. Since the study is for the youth of UK, the sample mostly consists of people ranging in age from 13 to 22. The sample consisted of students from various schools/colleges/universities that met the age criteria. For the purpose of simplicity, the study ignored the difference of opinion based on gender and treated both the boys and girls as one population on a whole, as far as the correlation between aggression and viewing media violence is concerned.
The empirical research of this study is based mainly on a questionnaire survey. A questionnaire was designed, and the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy. and Sugarman 1996) was consulted. The questionnaire consisted mainly of close ended questions, so as to promote quick and easy responses. It was developed in light of the study purpose, that is, to find out the effect of exposure t violence on aggression and sensitivity levels in the Pakistani youth. The questionnaire was not the adaptation of any previously designed one. The copies of the questionnaire were distributed among the students at various schools and universities. Thus, this distribution of questionnaires ensured that individuals ranging from 13 to 22 responded, enhancing the accuracy of the research. The sample was requested to refrain from discussing their opinions pertaining to the questions, with their peers, so as to illicit unbiased responses. The questionnaire was pre-tested on a sample of 5 participants to check its understandability and validity, and whether modifications were needed.
MEASUREMENTS/ RESULT ANALYSIS
The responses relating to aggression as well as sensitivity to violence were taken as scores and the likert-type scale was for some of these questions. For simplicity purposes, after the survey was conducted the data was classified into two categories; that is viewers with frequent exposure to media violence as opposed to the viewers less likely to come across violent content on the media. This division was based upon the types of movies that participants like to watch.
Media most likely to depict violence are television or video games. In the survey, it was found that about 71% of the population believes that the violence depicted on television has a deeper impact on viewers as opposed to violent content in video games. Thus, in this study television was taken as the main medium of communication and analysis was done keeping depiction of violence through televisions in mind.
Through the survey, a number of facts were disclosed. It was found out that around 86% of the population view broadcasting media (particularly television) as the most effective means of communication and out of these, 14% prefer to watch news channels, 36.66% like entertainment channels, 27.33% like sports and 25.33 like to watch movie channels. The following chart illustrates these results:
These findings clearly shows that a large part of the television viewers like watching entertainment channels that broadcast soaps, movies and reality shows. Also, only around 2% of the entire population watches religious channels (which are probably the only channels that do not depict violence in any form). This conversely means that 98% of the population is likely to be exposed to media violence to some extent or the other. News channels depict violence in the form of coverage of incidents like bombings, murder, police operations etc, whereas sports like wrestling and boxing also expose viewers to violent acts. Movies and TV shows are no different as most of them contain violent content to some extent or the other.
The research disclosed that about 47% of the youngsters like to watch movies packed with violence, action, suspense or horror movies and TV shows, whereas the rest like to watch either comedy or romantic shows and movies. The following chart depicts these findings:
Thus, around 47% of the population likes watching violent content on the television and for the purpose of finding out the relationship of exposure of media violence with levels of aggression these results were very helpful. As already mentioned, for simplicity purposes, the results of responses of participants were divided into two categories based on these findings. Category 1 included youngsters that like watching violent content (action and horror movies and shows) and Category 2 included people who do not normally like watching violence packed broadcasts and movies (that is, the viewers that prefer comedy and romantic movies.
When questioned about the time on average that the youth spend watching television, 21 of the participants watch television for less than an hour daily, 73 watch it for an hour or two, 32 watch TV for 3-4 hours, whereas 11 of the participants spend more than 4 hours, daily.
A question with regard to the time spent playing video games (this was asked because videogames are a major source of the youth’s exposure to violence, bloodshed, murder, fights etc.). The following results were found:
It was also observed through the survey that it is mostly boys who play video games for longer periods of times as opposed to girls. Most video games have an element of brutality and violence in them, and since they have become so popular in today’s time, video games are considered one of the most significant sources of violent depictions in media. One of the questions in the questionnaire dealt with this aspect of media violence and the survey indicates that most youngsters view television as the main source of exposure to violence through the media. About 71% of the participants believe that television is responsible for depicting a greater level of violence as opposed to the increasingly popular, video games.
The research findings with regard to the level of aggression and sensitivity in the youth formed the crux of the analysis. The following histogram illustrates the level of sensitivity the viewers of greater level of violence have.
On the other hand the following chart illustrates the information of level of sensitivity related to the youngsters watching less violence (based on the fact that they prefer to watch entertainment and comedy films as opposed to action and horror)
Based on these findings, it can be concluded that, in fact the exposure to media violence is related to the level of sensitivity and the lower the exposure the more sensitive the viewers are to violence and brutality.
Another variable on which the effect of media violence was to be studied was the level of aggression. The following data was collected.
These results clearly indicate that the level of aggression as a relationship with the amount of violence one is exposed to. On the scale of aggression that was used in the questionnaire, the youngsters in Category 1 reacted less aggressively to a situation than those exposed to higher levels of violence.
The following table shows the mean and standard deviation for both the categories mentioned earlier.
Based on these findings it can be concluded that there is an inverse relationship between media violence and the level of sensitivity in an individual. The mean sensitivity level is lower in young people who are less exposed to media violence. Hence, it is appropriate to reject the null hypothesis and accept that exposure to violent media has in fact led to the youth becoming desensitized.