This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 15 table of contents.

TV and Aggression

How much aggressive behavior is stimulated by the occurrence of aggressive behavior on television? Bandura's Bobo doll research and many follow-up experiments suggested that the imitation of models is an important influence on aggression. That led to concerns that violence on TV might lead children to be violent.

Why does it seem possible that TV might stimulate violence?

To find out whether TV violence could stimulate real violence, Liebert and Baron (1972) tested 136 children. The children were asked to stay in a waiting room before the experiment began. One group of children was exposed to a violent episode of an old TV detective show, "The Untouchables," that featured knifings, shootings, and fist fights. The other group was exposed to a tape of a track meet, full of action but lacking in violence.

Next the children were invited to play a game in which they could act helpful or aggressive toward other players. The children exposed to the violence on TV were more likely to be violent toward the other players, punishing them often and being unwilling to cooperate with them.

In a final phase of the experiment, the children were allowed to play in a room that contained violent toys, like toy guns and knives, and nonviolent toys, such as dolls and a slinky. Children exposed to the violent programming were more likely to play with the violent toys.

What did Feshbach and Singer discover, in a naturalistic study of TV and violence?

One problem with typical research on TV and violence is that it tends to be artificial, conducted in laboratory settings. To address this concern, Feshbach and Singer (1971) tried to find out whether TV violence could cause real violence in a natural setting. They had adolescent boys in a boarding school watch violent or nonviolent programming. Then the boys were observed to see if there was any change in the amount of fighting or other aggressive behavior. No such relationship was observed.

How might violence on TV cause habituation?

Violence on TV can have effects other than stimulating violent behavior. One known effect of exposure to a stimulus is habituation or becoming used to it. A person who habituates to violence grows accustomed to it, so it does not cause the alarm or disgust it might cause upon first encounter. That might be the main negative side effect from exposing children to large amounts of violent behavior on television: to make people think violence is normal.

Why do videogames concern many people?

Violence in videogames also concerns many people. The most popular videogames among teenage boys are "first-person shooters." The original versions were Doom and Quake. The person playing the game uses simulated weapons to mow down dozens of monsters, robots, aliens, and sometimes humans. To most videogame players, these games seem like harmless entertainment, and such violence would never be acted out in real life. However, to a few disturbed individuals, the games might encourage violent tendencies.

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