Major Studies on Television Violence

We are here providing summaries of a few of the leading studies on the effects of media violence on children:

University of Michigan Institute for Social Research

Dr. L. Rowell Huesmann has just published a new and comprehensive study of the long-term impact of television violence in the March, 2003 issue of Developmental Psychology.

The study linked violent TV viewing at ages 6 to 9 to such outcomes as spouse abuse and criminal convictions in a person's early 20s. The effect appeared in both sexes and regardless of how aggressive a person was as a child.

"Televised violence suggests to young children that aggression is appropriate in some situations, especially when it's used by charismatic heroes," Huesmann said. "It also erodes a natural aversion to violence." Huesmann recommends that parents restrict viewing of violent TV and movies by toddlers through pre-teens as much as possible.

The study involved 329 adults who were initially surveyed as children in the late 1970s. For one or both sexes, those who were "high TV-violence viewers" as children were also more likely than other study participants in the previous 12 months to have shoved somebody in anger; punched, beaten or choked an adult, or committed a crime or a moving traffic violation.

Read the study:
Longitudinal Relations Between Children's Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977-1992 (PDF)

Kansas State University / Mind Science Foundation

Brain imaging studies conducted by Dr. John Murray indicate that when children watch violent movies, they may know intellectually that they are watching make-believe scenes -- but their brains process the images as "real" and store those images in the same place where real-life traumatic events are stored. According to Dr. Murray, "The brain treats entertainment violence as something significant and something real -- and it stores this violence as long-term memory."

Murray's MRI imaging research showed that children store memories of violent entertainment images in the same part of the brain where veterans store severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) memories and where women store memories of rape. "These children are forming indelible memories," said Murray. Such intense memories and images are quickly recalled and can be used as guides for future behavior. "Our concern is for the long-term effects" of these violent scenes on children's behavior, Dr. Murray recently told a Senate Subcommittee.

Read the study:
TV Violence and Brainmapping in Children

University of Pennsylvania

Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that children's TV shows contain about 20 violent acts each hour and also that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place.

Violence Unabated: Children's Programming in A Cynical Age by George Gerbner

Pennsylvania State University Study

In one study done at Pennsylvania State University in 1972, about 100 preschool children were observed both before and after watching television; some watched cartoons that had a lot of aggressive and violent acts in them, and others watched shows that didn't have any kind of violence. The researchers noticed real differences between the kids who watched the violent shows and those who watched nonviolent ones.

"Children who watch the violent shows, even 'just funny' cartoons, were more likely to hit out at their playmates, argue, disobey class rules, leave tasks unfinished, and were less willing to wait for things than those who watched the nonviolent programs," says Aletha Huston-Stein, Ph.D., now at the University of Kansas.

University of Illinois

Leonard Eron, Ph.D., found that children who watched many hours of TV violence when they were in elementary school tended to also show a higher level of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these youngsters until they were 30 years old, Dr. Eron found that the ones who'd watched a lot of TV when they were eight years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults This is one of the longest-term studies on the subject.

They found that the aggressive eight-year-olds grew up to become even more aggressive 19- and 30-year-olds, with greater troubles-including domestic violence and more traffic tickets-than their less aggressive counterparts who did not watch as much television. And the researchers found that even if a child is not aggressive at the age of eight, but watches substantial amounts of violent programming, he will be more aggressive at 19 than his peers who didn't watch violent TV.

American Psychological Association

bigworldbook.jpgIn 1992, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Television and Society published a report that confirms the link between TV violence and aggressionview. The report, entitled Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society, shows that the harmful effects of TV violence do exist.

You can purchase a copy of the full report in the sidebar to the right.

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