Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Rapeutationists and DIRA zombies are preconditioned for violent behavior by cinema and video game violence.

Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:37 pm

Children and Violence on the Screen

Research Articles



Scientific Co-ordinator of the Clearinghouse

Children and violence on the screen

The debate about media violence has fluctuated heavily at the same time as the media have been introduced and spread. In the context of this debate, different media have been more or less in focus during different periods -- from books, popular press and film in earlier centuries, to radio, comics, national TV, video, mediated music and satellite-TV during the course of the 20th century, to digital and so-called interactive media such as electronic games, the Internet and "virtual reality" now as we approach the millennium.

But whereas indignant voices are more seldom raised about violence in the print and audio media today, the concern for violence in the visual media has remained. As a consequence, the research on media violence that started in the 1920s and has been intensified during later decades, has, above all, applied to film and television, with the addition, during the last fifteen years, of studies on video, electronic games and Internet.

With more media, the amount of media violence has increased. This is due not only to the cumulative effects of the creation of new media, but also to the increased competition between the media and their globalisation and privatisation. Compared to the field of media and telecommunications, since the 1980s, hardly any other area has experienced such rapid globalisation, record growth and concentration of power. The market is now dominated by a minority of extensive conglomerates or of whole commercial worlds. U.S.-based conglomerates are the largest and most numerous, but there are also considerable transnational enterprises based in Asia and the partly deregulated Europe (Herman & McChesney 1997).

The fact that the U.S. distributes most of the media violence in the world, leads, among other things, to the circumstance that American programmes on German television contain four times as much violence as the German programmes, according to a content analysis (Groebel & Gleich 1993). In a Swedish content analysis of all programmes except the news on six TV channels (Cronstrom & Hoijer 1996), 62 per cent of the violent time (i.e., pure sequences of violence) consisted of violent scenes of U.S. origin. In this case, the sequences of violence in trailers were not taken into account; they made up 15 per cent of the total violent time. Since trailers often are advertisements for coming action films and the like, one can estimate that about 70 per cent of the violent time might have been of U.S. origin.

The concentration of media ownership is not only valid for television programmes, video and cinema films, but also for comics, electronic games, etc. Thus, this power concentration does not result in manifoldness, cultural variation and freedom of expression where most people can be heard, but in one-sidedness and a kind of private censorship.

Many countries are worried about the one-sidedness of imported programmes and films which they cannot counterbalance with own production, although it is, of course, impossible to generalise between nations, as conditions and prerequisites are different (e.g., Japan and India export many TV programmes and films to other Asian countries; Brazil many programmes in Latin America; Australia several programmes to Asia and English-speaking countries, etc.). One example is the situation in former Eastern Europe. Here the relief felt after the liberation from censorship, after the collapse of the Wall in 1989, has been obscured by the surprise and distaste currently experienced by parts of the population due to the flood of violent and pornographic programmes and films pouring over the nations' borders. More and more, voices urging for media legislation have been raised there (see, e.g., Larsson 1997, Minichova 1997), and new national rules and laws about media violence, passed in the 1990s, exist in most Eastern European countries (Irving & Tadros 1997).

At the same time, it is important to note that persons, on the average, prefer to watch TV programmes without violence, at least according to an American analysis (Gerbner 1997). From many nations in the world, it is also reported that the average inhabitant prefers to watch home-produced programmes, if there are home-produced alternatives -- national soap operas, national fiction, etc. (Goonasekera 1995, Sancho 1995, Lamb 1997). However, such alternatives are often lacking or are few. Drama and fiction are expensive to produce and, in most countries, expenditures cannot be expected to result in big export incomes, as in the U.S. which dominates world export.

What drives media violence, then, is not primarily popularity but global marketing (Gerbner 1997). Concentration of media ownership also makes it difficult for newcomers, smaller firms and alternative production companies to succeed on the home market. They are therefore forced into the video branch and foreign sales. Their products need a dramatic ingredient that requires no translation and fits as many cultures as possible. That ingredient is often violence. A study in the U.S. indicated that American programmes exported to other countries contain more violence than American programmes shown in the U.S. (Gerbner 1997).

This all means, among other things, that almost 90 per cent of 12-year-old school children are acquainted with violent action characters such as Terminator and Rambo, according to a global study in 23 countries (see the article in this book by Jo Groebel).

In some nations, not least the Western ones, criminological research indicates that violence in society has increased during the latest decades. Furthermore, statistics have recently been published showing that violence has become more common among children under 15 years of age.

What, then, does research say about the relationship between media violence and violence in society? This is the theme of the first section of research articles -- Children and Violence on the Screen -- in this book.

It must be stressed that research about media violence is most unevenly distributed in the world. Such research has primarily been done in countries with plenty of media -- in North America and, next, Western Europe (more often in Northern than Southern Europe), as well as in Japan and Australia. Overviews of such research results are presented in the book by Ellen Wartella, Adriana Olivarez and Nancy Jennings, USA, Barbara Wilson and her team, USA, Sachiko I. Kodaira, Japan, and Kevin Durkin and Jason Low, Australia. The two last-mentioned overviews also deal with the still relatively scanty research on video and computer games. In most other countries, studies about media violence are fewer or lacking. Interesting examples of existing studies are, however, given in the book by Dafna Lemish, Israel, and Tatiana Merlo-Flores, Argentina.

Taken together, the articles show that it is difficult to generalise the research results across different countries and cultures. As Olga Linne, UK, stresses in her discussion of the research development in Europe, each country must therefore be given the opportunity to carry out research on its own terms and within its own cultural context. As does the Japanese contributor Sachiko Kodaira in the book, I would also like to emphasise that far more future research on children and the media must be performed on an International level, i.e., comparatively and in various countries simultaneously, in order to gain a proper understanding of the role of media, and media violence, in children's lives. Kodaira mentions one of several concrete examples in this connection: Comparative content analyses of violent portrayals in Japanese and U.S. television have shown, that although media violence is extensive in both cultures, it is represented in different ways. Among other differences, violence in Japanese as compared to U.S. dramas is much more often followed by scenes showing the after-effects of violence on victims and the process of their suffering. This factor, in combination with the different societal contexts, could possibly be of importance for the fact that causal relationships between TV violence and aggression among viewers have been found in the U.S. but not in Japan.

Apart from the cultural and national variation in research which limits researchers' abilities to generalise and summarise results, many journalists, TV producers, politicians, teachers, parents, etc., in the public debate in each single country often perceive the research results on the influences of media violence as being "contradictory" or that "the researchers are at odds". I do not think that these perceptions represent the truth of the matter. The situation is, rather, that even different studies within a given country are performed in different contexts -- the studies have varying aims, perspectives and questions as starting points and elucidate, consequently, different parts of the complex of problems. Neither can any study comprise "the whole reality". Further, different viewers receive different impressions from media violence. On thinking it over and after a more careful analysis, the perspectives and the results complement each other as do the pieces in a puzzle. At the same time, it is a question of understanding that reality is complicated and that the media only are one part of people's environment, of culture and society. Media are not, and cannot be, the sole and/or direct cause of influence but function within a nexus of other decisive factors.

As regards the different research perspectives, research on media violence has -- as does other social scientific and human research -- among other things, its roots in the basic philosophical question about human beings' free will. To what degree are we products of the environment -- of parents, school, peers, media, religion and social structure -- and to what degree do we choose and act independently? Even if most people agree that both elements play a role, some of us lay greater stress on the role of structure and others greater stress on the role of the agent. This is valid for researchers, too. Some, therefore, analyse how we are influenced by media violence (in interplay with the rest of the environment). Others, instead, illustrate how we (having different needs, motives, conflicts and interests) choose and use media violence. But these perspectives are not in themselves contradictory; they highlight different aspects of the existential circumstances of human beings and lie, therefore, on different places on the theoretical map. Thus, the researchers contributing to this book also have different theories, besides the fact that their research has been carried out in differing national contexts.

There is, thus, no contradiction in the fact that certain persons actively search out media violence to, e.g., get excitement, become fascinated, express their masculinity, experience power on a symbolic level, try to strengthen their identity in protest against the adult world, get compensation for conflicts in their personal relations, etc. -- while others get impressions of negative art. Different children, young people and adults react differently. Also, the same person reacts differently on differing occasions. He or she can even simultaneously seek media violence and be influenced by it in an intricate interplay.

Similarly, different studies investigate different types of influence. In those countries where much research has been done, one can discern various such unwanted influences of media violence as, for example, imitation; getting "tips" and models about how violence can be used; aggression; fear; anxiety and uneasiness about a threatening surrounding; biased conceptions about violence in society; and habituation to media violence. There are also complicated relationships between these types of influences. It is, for instance, likely that for some individuals media violence has contributed to feelings of fear, misconceptions about real violence, and experiences of threatening surroundings that, in a situation of crisis, can turn into destructive aggression (for a more detailed analysis of negative and positive consequences of media violence, see von Feilitzen 1993).

Generally, children and media violence should also be seen in a wider perspective. Research has mostly defined media violence as the physical, manifest violence on the screen, and this is primarily valid also for the articles in this book. There are, however, other forms of symbolic and structural oppression and misuse of power that are at least as essential. We hope to come back to such definitions in later Clearinghouse publications. Here, I will restrict myself to only a couple of examples: The fact that children are heavily under-represented in the media output as a whole, is a symbolic oppression of children. They are seldom seen, their voices are seldom heard, and adult media characters seldom talk about them. With the spread of commercial satellite television, this under-representation of children seems to have been reinforced, and when children now appear in the media contents they seem to be more often portrayed to support adult roles than in their own rights. The only medium where children seem to be frequently represented is advertising. This is in line with the fact that children and young people have from a Western societal viewpoint (disregarding their value for the parents), a primarily economic-consuming function (von Feilitzen in progress).

The area of children and media violence also includes those cases where children are at the mercy of media news -- when they are portrayed as victims of violence, abuse, catastrophes and starvation without respect for their integrity. Children and media violence also includes child pornography.

Children's media situation

It is important to emphasise that children are not a small minority group "on the side". If we -- in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -- by children mean all persons under the age of 18, they constitute approximately 37 per cent of the total world population.

Children are unevenly distributed across the various countries. Estimates indicate that, on the average, children under 18 in richer countries make up ca. 24 per cent of the population and in the developing countries ca. 40 per cent of the population. In certain countries the population is composed of up to 55 per cent children (see the statistical section Children in the World in this book).

The uneven distribution of children in the world becomes clearer, if we leave adults out of the picture: Of the more than two billion children on the globe, ca. 13 per cent live in the richer countries and ca. 87 per cent in the developing countries (UNICEF 1997).

Children's access to TV and other media is very unevenly distributed, too -- but in a diametrically opposite way. In many European countries, and in North America, Japan and Australia, most children have all thinkable media technology in their homes. Not only do they have TV, but often two or more TV apparatuses at home, of which often one is in their own room. At the same time, there are frequently a video, personal computer and electronic computer and/or video games. More and more, children can also use CD-ROM and the Internet. In these countries, the parents -- who traditionally have had the greatest influence on children's media use -- therefore also have less and less insight into how much and what children watch. Media use is becoming more and more individualised and it is increasingly difficult for adults to serve as models for and accompany and discuss children's viewing.

In some countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America it is, on the other hand, common to watch together using the only generator driven TV or video in the village. One basic reason is that there is so little electricity in the rural areas, where most people live. Nor is it unusual that children have never watched TV at all (Jahangir 1995). The TV and video apparatuses are, however, forcing their way into all corners of the world, parallel to the explosion of satellite-TV channels and video films of the 1980s and 90s, with more and more advertising, fiction and media violence (see also Robert Lamb's article in this book).

As expected, children's TV programming is most unevenly distributed, as well. In some countries, hardly any children's programmes are produced. Even in the richer countries, however, the conditions of children's programming vary. In the U.S., the traditional TV networks seldom broadcast children's programmes which are tailored to different age groups and they seldom broadcast informative children's programmes (Chong 1995). The number of newly produced children's programmes in the U.S. has also clearly decreased since the deregulation of TV in the 1980s (Palmer 1995). In Europe, Japan and Australia, countries which normally have had a long tradition of production of children's programmes, these programmes on the national public service channels are threatened by competition from the many satellite-TV channels, which mostly contain fiction and animation.

A marked trend in the world is the introduction of special "niche" channels for children such as Nickelodeon, Disney, Fox and National Geographic. But these are American based pay-TV channels to which only some children have access. Some glimpses of children's media situation in the world are presented in the second section of research articles in this book -- Children's Media Situation. It must be stressed, however, that here, too, the articles are, primarily, about countries where research has been performed and where statistics on children's media access and media use are available. The articles by Anura Goonasekera, Singapore, Sun Yunxiao, the People's Republic of China, Stephen Nugent, Australia, Nadia Bulbulia, South Africa, and Keith Roe, Belgium, point out important variations in children's media, media access and media use in different regions.

The future goal of the Clearinghouse is to give a more diverse picture of children's media situation from a greater spectrum of countries -- potential and interested authors are welcome to contact us. In this connection we have also contacted media research institutes in 40-50 nations to, if possible, obtain comparable statistics on children's media use. However, if continuous ratings or the like do exist in the country, they do not always include children. When child figures are included, methods as well as age groups vary in a way that make the data difficult to compare. We will continue to work with these figures and hope to return to them in a later publication. The statistical section Media in the World in this book gives an illustrative background, with facts on the distribution of TV, video, television programming for children and youth, cinema screens, computers, electronic games, radio and books, etc, in different countries, as well as a list of the largest International entertainment companies in the world.

A growing global awareness

Even if it is sometimes easy to feel resigned, especially on a national plane, to the drawbacks brought by the global media expansion, there are also positive features in the form of a counter-movement -- the growing global awareness of children's media situation (see the Clearinghouse newsletters News on Children and Violence on the Screen No. 1-3 1997). An essential support for this movement is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. One function of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is to follow up the various member nations' observance of the Convention. The Committee has in this connection entered the child and the media as a particularly important issue on the agenda. Within the Committee there is at present a working group on children and media, and the Committee has set down a range of recommendations on how implementation of articles 17 and 13 in the Convention can be realistically and practically regarded and facilitated (see the introductory section in the book, Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas).

The counter-movement is, for example, characterised by several recent International and regional meetings intended to support the vacillating state of children's TV programming, such as the film festival in Bratislava in 1994, the World Summit on Television and Children in Melbourne in 1995, the corresponding Asian Summit on Child Rights and the Media in Manila, 1996, and the African Summit on Children's Broadcasting in Accra, 1997. Resolutions and declarations on children's programmes have been one result; these are circulated to the world's TV companies as a means of pressure and for endorsement. These documents are reproduced in the section International Declaration and Resolution in the book. The Children's Television Charter resulting from the World Summit in Melbourne has, together with the Asian and African regional declarations, been discussed at the Second World Summit on Television for Children in London in March, 1998. A regional Summit on children's television for the Americas is planned for the year 2000, and a third World Summit is to be expected the year thereafter.

Furthermore, an International association for child and media researchers (IRFCAM, International Research Forum on Children and Media) was established in Melbourne, 1995, and the first large International forum ever for child and media researchers was held in 1997 in Paris, arranged by GRREM (Groupe de la recherche sur la relation enfants/medias).

The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen is also a part of this growing global awareness. The same applies for other UNESCO activities related to children and the media (see the introductory section in the book, Children and Media on the UN and UNESCO Agendas).

Moreover, a World Council for Media Education was created in the mid-1990s, which will meet for the second time in Sao Paolo in May 1998. Media education is regarded by many as a solution -- through education children and young people can learn to reflexively handle the media (therein could lie a "solution" to the problem of media violence, too). Even if good media education partly can have this function, there is reason for pessimism, however, since media education in the schools is seldom fully realised. Despite the fact that media education in some form has long been included in the curricula in many countries, and despite the fact that the importance of media education has been stressed in many national, regional and International governmental reports and other contexts, very few children have in practice any media education at all. Apart from the efforts of lone fiery spirits among some teaching-staff, the fine phrases about media education have mostly been on paper, especially when it comes to visual media.

Nor has media education -- or information on children and the media -- for parents and producers always found effective forms. Realising this kind of media education has also become more and more complicated due to the individualisation of media use in the homes and due to the deregulated, globalised media market where national politicians have less and less say, and the media, to a greater extent, turn to an expanding industry of private research institutes rather than to university researchers.

In the future, the Clearinghouse will also seek to stimulate exchange of knowledge about media education in the schools, and for parents and producers worldwide.

At the same time, there is need for other types of initiatives to improve children's relations to the media. Among other things, children should be actively included in the actual media production, something which also will mean a better platform for children's voices and opinions and a more just representation of children in the media. The section Children's Participation in the Media in this book presents a few, by no means exhaustive, examples of such initiatives which further children's rights -- it is hoped that these examples can inspire similar activities. Among the examples are: UNICEF's media activities for children, the news agency Children's Express in the UK and USA, and children's and young people's participation in radio, television and video production, as well as on the Internet, in a range of countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and North America. The Clearinghouse is interested in collecting and publishing more comments and articles on positive and practical experiences of active child participation in the media world-wide, and hope that persons and organisations engaged in other projects related to children's media participation contact us about them.

In the growing global movement -- in addition to these mentioned meetings, declarations, associations, fora and other activities -- many voluntary International and national organisations exist which in various and other ways are engaged in issues related to children and media.

In the light of the fact that the discussion on children and media in several countries was heated during the 1970s, at least in those countries where the media are widely spread, but diminished during the deregulation in the 1980s, it is, in sum, gratifying to observe that the discussion has increased again and now also is carried on at the necessary global level. It is essential that the new discussion should partly focus on negative aspects -- for example, to limit gratuitous media violence by encouraging the media to impose self-regulation. These regulations and measures could include that the media stipulate water-sheds before which times media violence shall not be transmitted; that the media classify media violence (by age limits and/or contents) and inform the viewers by means of, e.g., visible icons on the screen; perhaps that, as in the USA and Canada, V-chips are put into the TV-sets; that parents are offered different blocking devices for the Internet, etc. (see further under the headline Regulations and Measures in this book with contributions by Titti Forsslund, Sweden, and Joanne Lisosky, USA). It is of vital importance, however, that the discussion also focus on the positive possibilities of the media -- for example, to increase manifoldness and quality in children's and adult programming, by means of, among other things, financial and other production support, and exchange of programmes between countries via special programme banks; to work for children's own participation in the media; and, not least, to realise all children's right to access to media.

Changing children's media situation also means that the circumstances in their personal environments and in society must be improved. Firstly, the risk of unwanted media influences is far less for children who are growing up in safe conditions and who have good relations to parents, school and peers. Secondly, it is necessary that children and young people are allowed to participate actively in shaping their society's future. Statements about how we adults need to hear children's voices and how we must listen to them will remain empty words unless children are given more opportunities to affect their own conditions. If children and young people become involved in activities that both are meaningful for themselves and are important for the decision making process in society -- then they will also automatically be represented and heard in the media.



Chong, Rachelle (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammatberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartemenret, Valdsskildringsddet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Cronstrom, Johan & Hoijer, Birgitta (1996) 40 timmar vald i veckan -- en studie av vald i sex svenska TV-kanaler [40 hours of violence per week -- a study of violence on six Swedish TV channels). Kulturdepartemenret, Va;dsskildringsddet, nr 14. (In Swedish)

von Feilitzen, Cecilia (1993) "Vald -- serr pa olika satt. Perspektiv pa medievaldets paverkan och berydelse [Violence -- regarded in different ways. Perspectives on the influence and meaning of media violence]", in von Feilitzen, Cecilia, Forsman, Michael & Roe, Keith (Eds.) Vald fran alia hall. Forskningsperspektiv pa vald i rorliga bilder. Stockholm/Stehag, Brutus Ostlings bokforlag Symposion, pp. 25-48. (In Swedish)

von Feilitzen, Cecilia (in progress) Barnen i TV [Children on television]. Research project at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, Stockholm university. (In Swedish)

Gerbner, George (1997) "Violence in TV Drama", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 3, pp. 6-7.

Goonasekera, Anura (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartemenret, Valdsskildringsddet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Groebel, Jo & Gleich, Uli (1993) Gewaltprofil des deutschen Fernsehprogramms: Eine Analyse des Angebots privater und offentlich-rechtlicher Sender. Schriftenreihe Medienforschung der Landesanstalt fur Rundfunk Nordthein-Westfalen, 6. Opladen, Leske+Budrich.

Herman, Edward S. & McChesney, Robert W. (1997) The Global Media. The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London, Cassel.

Irving, Joan & Tadros, Connie (1997) Creating a Space for Children. Volume 2. Children's Film and Television in Central and Eastern Europe. Montreal, International Centre of Films for Children and Young People (CIFEJ).

Jahangir, Asma (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit - on the rights of television and the child). Kulrurdepartementer, Valdsskildringsrader, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Lamb, Robert (1997) The Bigger Picture: Audio-visual Survey and Recommendations. UNICEF.

Larsson, Mika (1997) "Polish-Swedish Seminar 1996 -- Media Violence on Polish Agenda 1997", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 1-2, pp. 18-19.

Minichova, Kararina (1997) "Stop Violence in TV Programmes!", News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 3, pp. 16.

News on Children and Violence on the Screen, No. 1-3 1997. Newsletters from The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen, Nordicom, Goteborg University.

Palmer, Ed (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet -- om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulrurdepartementer, Valdsskildringsradet, nr 16. (In Swedish)

Sancho, Neila (1995) Speech at the World Summit on Television and Children, 12-17 March, 1995, Melbourne, Australia, cited in von Feilitzen, Cecilia & Hammarberg, Thomas Toppmotet - om TV:s och barns rattigheter [The Summit -- on the rights of television and the child). Kulturdepartementer, Valdsskildringsrader, nr 16. (In Swedish)

UNICEF (1997) The State of the World's Children 1997. UNICEF, Oxford University Press.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:40 pm

Children and Television Violence in the United States


Americans live in a violent society. Alarming statistics reveal changes in U.S. society as the result of increased violence. According to a report issued by the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 1993), guns are involved in more than 75 percent of adolescent killings. Firearm-related violent crimes have been on the rise in the 1990's. Research indicates a 75.6 percent increase in firearm-related aggravated assault from 1985 to 1994 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). Americans have the highest murder rate of any nation in the world. But the numbers that tell the most tragic story concern children and adolescents:

• Among young people in the age group 15-24 years old, homicide is the second leading cause of death and for African American youth murder is number one.
• Adolescents account for 24 percent of all violent crimes leading to arrest. The rate has increased over time for those in the 12-19 year old age group, while it is down in the 35 and older age group. According to the Federal reports on crime in 1995, juvenile arrests for weapon violations have increased 113 percent nationwide between the years 1985 and 1994.
• Every 5 minutes a child is arrested in America for committing a violent crime and gun related violence take the life of an American child every three hours.
• A child growing up in Washington, DC, or Chicago is 15 times more likely to be murdered than a child in Northern Ireland.

What could account for this? Most of us generally accept the notion that violent behavior is a complex, multivariable problem, formed of many influences. Racism, poverty, drug abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, gangs, guns, mental illness, a decline in family cohesion, a lack of deterrents, the failure of positive role models ... all interact to affect antisocial behavior. As Rowell Huesmann has argued, aggression is a syndrome, an enduring pattern of behavior that can persist through childhood into adulthood.

In simple terms, one given specific act of violence may be less mysterious than some think. We only suggest this theoretically, for of course, we have few doubts that violence is nothing if not insidious and intractable in many ways. But consider the context not of one act of violence, but of the persistent fact of violence. Clearly a number of factors contribute to violence in American society, but to ignore television violence would be a grave oversight. Violence tears across the television screen through many types of programs from music videos and entertainment shows to reality programming and the evening news. By the time the average American child graduates from elementary school, he or she will have seen over 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other assorted acts of violence (Huston et al., 1992). Even though viewing media violence may not be the sole contributor to violent behavior nor does it have the same effect on all who watch it, more than 40 years of research does indicate a relationship between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior.

Moreover, the United States is a very heavy television using country: 98 percent of the 95 million American homes have television sets and nearly three quarters have more than one set; two-thirds have cable TV and four-fifths have VCRs. The television set is on more than seven hours per day in the average American home (Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook, 1996).

Most importantly, the television Americans watch -- and increasingly the television programming transported around the world via American and other multinational television conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch's Sky television -- is very violent programming. Since 1994 we have been involved in the largest-ever study of portrayals of violence on American television, the National Television Violence Study, which came about as a consequence of American public and political concern about the relationship between television violence and real world violence.

In 1993, U.S. Senator Paul Simon became angered by network and cable television inaction after earlier federal legislation exempting the broadcast networks from antitrust regulation to allow them to agree on self-regulation of television violence. Simon strongly suggested that the networks and cablecasters appoint independent groups to monitor violence on television and cable for three years. Failure to do so, Simon said, would lead to Congressional hearings and legislation to reduce television violence. The networks appointed one monitor, and the cablecasters, through the National Cable Television Association, appointed another, the National Television Violence Study (or NTVS). Each was asked to monitor television programming for three years, and each hoped to avoid further regulation. However, the comprehensive 1996 U.S. National Telecommunications Act did bring further regulation, in the form of the V-chip, or blocking device for television sets, and a rating system for all television programming which allows viewers to screen out via the V-chip unwanted, presumably violent, content from appearing on their TV screens.

The National Television Violence Study

The NTVS reports on how violence is portrayed on cable and broadcast television in each of three years, 1996, 1997 and 1998, and it makes recommendations to policymakers, the industry and to parents. Our first report in February 1996 reported on television programming from the 1994-95 television season, and the latest report released in March 1997 reported on programming from the 1995-96 season.

The content analysis of television was of a constructed sample week (collected over more than two dozen weeks from October through June) of programming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on 23 channels; these channels included the major broadcast networks, three independent stations, public broadcasting, 12 of the most popular basic cable networks and three premium cable channels -- HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. In all, about 3,200 programs were sampled each year and about 2,700 were content analyzed for their depictions of violence.

We found very little change from year one to year two of our studies. The majority of American television shows have at least one act of violence in them; the context in which most violence is presented is sanitized; violence is rarely punished in the immediate context in which it occurs; and it rarely results in observable harm to the victims. For instance, in both years, we found that perpetrators of violence go unpunished in more than 70 percent of all violent scenes -- although they may be punished by the end of the program. Moreover, the negative consequences of violence -- harm to the victims, their families, as well as the psychological, if not actual physical harm to the perpetrators of violence -- are not often portrayed. For example, nearly half of all violent interactions show no harm to the victims and more than half show no pain. And very infrequently, in less than one-fifth of all violent programming, are the long-term negative repercussions of violence, such as psychological, financial or emotional harm, ever portrayed. Weapons (such as handguns) appear in about one-quarter of all violent programs and very few programs (we estimate 4 percent in each year) have anti-violent themes. On the good side, with the exception of movies on television, television violence is not usually explicit or graphic. And there are differences across television channels (American public television being the least violent and premium cable channels being the most likely to have violent programs), and across programming genres (again movies on cable are most likely to show violence). Overall, however, the NTVS has demonstrated a striking amount of consistency in the presentation of violence on American television over the first two years of the study. American television is indeed a violent medium. (For a more detailed presentation of the National Television Violence Study, see next article.)

Research on the influences of television violence

Over the past forty plus years more than 3,500 research studies of the effects of television violence on viewers have been conducted in the United States, and during the 1990s there have been several extensive reviews of this literature, including the 1991 report of the Centers for Disease Control, which declared television violence a public health hazard; the 1993 study of violence in American life from the National Academy of Science, which implicated media along with other social and psychological contributors to violence; and the American Psychological Association's 1992 study, which also implicated media violence. All three of these reviews supported the conclusion that mass media contribute to aggressive behavior and attitudes as well as lead to desensitization and fear effects, No study claims that viewing media violence is the only, nor even the most important, contributor to violent behavior. Furthermore, it is not every act of violence in the media that raises concern, nor every child or adult who is affected. Yet, there is clear evidence that exposure to media violence contributes in significant ways to real world violence. Each of the three major effects of watching media violence, with specific concerns for child viewers, will be considered: the social learning effect, the desensitization effect and the fear effect.

Social learning

The 1993 report of the American Psychological Association concluded that: "there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of this violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior" (American Psychological Association, 1993). This conclusion is based on the examination of hundreds of experimental and longitudinal studies which support this position. Moreover, field studies and cross-national studies indicate that the viewing of television aggression increases subsequent aggression and that such behavior can become part of a lasting behavioral pattern.

Three basic theoretical models have been proposed to describe the process by which such learning and imitation of television violence occurs: social learning theory, priming effects theory and a social developmental model of learning.

Social learning theory, first proposed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s, is perhaps the best known theoretical account of violence effects. Bandura asserts that through observing television models, viewers come to learn behaviors which are appropriate; that is, which behaviors will be rewarded and which will be punished. In this way, viewers seek to attain rewards and therefore want to imitate these media models. When both children and adults are shown an aggressive model who is either rewarded or punished for their aggressive behavior, models who are positively reinforced influence imitation among the viewers. Even research in the field has demonstrated that aggression is learned at a young age and becomes more impervious to change as the child grows older. In a longitudinal study to examine the long-term effects of television violence on aggression and criminal behavior, Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz and Walder (1984) studied a group of youth across 22 years, at ages 8, 18 and 30. For boys (and to a lesser, though still significant extent for girls), early television violence viewing correlated with self-reported aggression at age 30 and added significantly to the prediction of serious criminal arrests accumulated by age 30. These researchers find a longitudinal relationship between habitual childhood exposure to television violence and adult crime and suggest that approximately 10 percent of the variability in later criminal behavior can be attributed to television violence.

Priming effects theory serves to augment the more traditional social learning theory account of television violence effects. In the work of Leonard Berkowitz and his colleagues, this theoretical account asserts that many media effects are immediate, transitory and short (Berkowitz, 1984). Berkowitz suggests that when people watch television violence, it activates or "primes" other semantically related thoughts which may influence how the person responds to the violence on TV: viewers who identify with the actors on television may imagine themselves like that character carrying out the aggressive actions of the character on television, and research evidence suggests that exposure to media aggression does indeed "prime" other aggressive thoughts, evaluations and even behaviors such that violence viewers report a greater willingness to use violence in interpersonal situations.

Only Rowell Huesmann's (1986) theoretical formulation of the social developmental model of violence effects offers a true reciprocal theoretical account of how viewers' interest in media violence, attention to such violence and individual viewer characteristics may interact in a theory of media violence effects. Using ideas from social cognition theory he develops an elaborate cognitive mapping or script model. He argues that social behavior is controlled by "programs" for behavior which are established during childhood. These "programs" or "scripts" are stored in memory and are used as guides to social behavior and problem solving. Huesmann and Miller (1994) submit that "a script suggests what events are to happen in the environment, how the person should behave in response to these events, and what the likely outcome to those behaviors would be". Violence from television is "encoded" in the cognitive map of viewers, and subsequent viewing of television violence helps to maintain these aggressive thoughts, ideas and behaviors. Over time such continuing attention to television violence thus can influence people's attitudes toward violence and their maintenance and elaboration of aggressive scripts.

This theory suggests that while viewing violence may not cause aggressive behavior, it certainly has an impact on the formation of cognitive scripts for mapping how to behave in response to a violent event and what the outcome is most likely to be. Television portrayals, then, are among the media and personal sources that provide the text for the script which is maintained and expanded upon by continued exposure to scripts of violence.

Huesmann has demonstrated that there are key factors which are particularly important in maintaining the television viewing-aggression relationship for children: the child's intellectual achievement level, social popularity, identification with television characters, belief in the realism of the TV violence and the amount of fantasizing about aggression. According to Huesmann, a heavy diet of television violence sets into motion a sequence of processes, based on these personal and interpersonal factors, that results in many viewers becoming not only more aggressive but also developing increased interest in seeing more television violence.

Variations by portrayals and viewers

Clearly, not all violent depictions should be treated equally, nor all viewers. The National Television Violence Study has identified several contextual factors within a representation that may influence audience reactions to media violence including: 1) the nature of the perpetrator, 2) the nature of the target, 3) the reason for the violence, 4) the presence of weapons, 5) the extent and graphicness of the violence, 6) the degree of realism of the violence, 7) whether the violence is rewarded or punished, 8) the consequences of violence, and 9) whether humor is involved in violence (Wilson et al., 1996).

In addition, research indicates that certain factors may be processed differently by young viewers. First, young children have more difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy and often imitate superheros with magical powers such as the Power Rangers (Boyatzis, 1995). Secondly, young children may have difficulty connecting scenes and drawing inferences from the plot. Timing of punishments and rewards becomes important in this instance. In many programs, the crime or violent behavior may go unpunished until the end of the program. Young children may have difficulty connecting the ending punishment with the initial violent act and may, therefore, believe that the violence went unpunished (Wilson et al., 1996). Thus, learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors from television varies by both the nature of the portrayals and the nature of the viewers. The presence of contextual factors in the portrayals which may inhibit young children's social learning of aggression decreases the negative consequences of such portrayals and should be encouraged. Not all violent portrayals are the same and the context of violence is clearly quite important. Similarly, young children, those under the age of seven or eight, may be particularly susceptible to learning from exposure to television violence because of differences in how they make sense of television compared to adults.

Desensitization and fear

Two other effects of television violence viewing have been identified in the research literature: the desensitization and the fear effect. These effects may influence even those viewers who do not themselves behave violently or who have positive attitudes towards using violence.

Research has demonstrated that prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward real world violence and the victims of violence which in turn can lead to callous attitudes toward violence directed at others and a decreased likelihood to take action on behalf of the victim when violence occurs (e.g., Donnerstein, Slaby and Eron, 1994; for further references and discussion, see Wilson et al., 1996). Over time, even those viewers who initially react with horror at media violence may become habituated to it or more psychologically comfortable such that they view any given act of violence as less severe and they may evaluate media violence more favorably. Desensitization can effect all viewers over time.

A third likely effect of viewing television violence has been studied extensively by George Gerbner and his colleagues (Gerbner, Gross, Signiorelli and Morgan, 1986) which demonstrates that heavy viewers of television violence become fearful of the world, afraid of becoming a victim of violence and over time engage in more self-protective behaviors and show more mistrust of others. To the extent that viewers equate the fictional world of television with its overrepresentation of violence as the same as the real world they live in, then such heavy viewers tend to see their world as a fearful and crime-ridden place. It is likely that both fictional and reality programs (including crime-saturated television news) contribute to this fear-inducing effect among viewers.

Television violence in a global context

The substantial research in the United States over the past more than 40 years has been reviewed and found persuasive among the American public and politicians. It was reviews and conclusions such as those presented here which encouraged Senator Simon's and the U.S. Congress's considerable policy initiatives against television violence in the last four years. Children as an audience for such violence have been of considerable concern, and indeed, the V-chip blocking device is thought to be a reasonable remedy for parents to use to protect their children from violent television programming.

Whether the magnitude of the effects of television violence in comparison with other causes of American violence and our violent society is small or large is not at all clear. Many European critics of the American violence literature have pointed out that neither television outside of the U.S. is as violent as our television, nor are the other underlying factors such as poverty and the easy access to guns as prevalent, and therefore this literature is not applicable to other countries and other cultures. To the extent that the global nature of television and film and the dominance of American popular culture is moving across the privatized television environments of Europe and elsewhere, then perhaps American television programming and its effects will foreshadow concerns about television violence effects in other countries. It is clear that where children and television violence is concerned, the question that remains is not whether media violence has an effect, but rather how important that effect is in comparison with other factors in bringing about the current level of crime in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Future research should also aim to establish who precisely is most susceptible to media violence, and, most importantly, what sorts of intervention might help diminish its influence. In the meantime, any interventions that help establish policies and practices to reduce the socially inappropriate ways of portraying violence and increase the socially responsible ways (such as using violence to assert anti-violence messages) should be encouraged as well. Children and television violence is a public issue that is not going away and which should engage all who are concerned with children's welfare.



American Psychological Association, 1993. Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response. Vol. I: Summary Report of the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Berkowitz, Leonard, 1984. Some Effects of Thoughts on Anti- and Prosocial Influences of Media Events: A Cognitive Neoassociationistic Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 95 (3), 410-427.

Boyatzis, Chris, Gina Matillo, Kristen Nesbitt, & Gina Cathey, 1995 (March). Effects of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" on children's aggression and pro-social behavior. Presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN.

Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook, 1996. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker.

Center for Communication & Social Policy, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1997. National Television Violence Study 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Donnerstein, Ed; Ron Slaby & Leonard Eron, 1994. The Mass Media and Youth Violence. In J. Murray, E. Rubinstein & G. Comstock (Eds.), Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response. Vol. 2, pp. 219-250. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996. Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1995. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Gerbner, G; L. Gross, M. Morgan & N. Signorielli, 1986. Living with Television: The Dynamics of the Cultivation Process. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media Effects, pp. 17-41. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Huesmann, L. Rowell 1986. Psychological Processes Promoting the Relation between Exposure to Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior by the Viewer. Journal of Social Issues, 42 (3), 125 140.

Huesmann, L. Rowell & Laurie Miller, 1994. Long-term Effects of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence in Childhood. Pp. 153-186 in Aggressive Behavior. New York: Plenum.

Huesmann, L. Rowell, L.D. Eron, M.M. Lefkowitz & L.O., Walder, 1984. The Stability of Aggression over Time and Generations. Developmental Psychology, 20 (6), 1120-1134.

Huston, Aletha; Edward Donnerstein, Halford Fairchild, Norma Feshbach, Phyllis Karz, John Murray, Eli Rubinstein, Brian Wilcox & Diana Zuckerman, 1992. Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wartella, Ellen, 1995. Media and Problem Behaviours in Young People. In M. Rutter, & D. Smith, (Eds.), Psychosocial Disorders in Young People: Time Trends &Their Origins. Chichester, England: Wiley (pp. 296-323).

Whitney, Charles; Ellen Wartella, Dominic Lasorsa, Wayne Danielson, Adriana Olivarez, Rafael Lopez, Marlies Klijn, 1996. Parr II: Television Violence in "Reality" Programming: University of Texas, Austin, study. Pp. 269-360 in National Television Violence Study, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wilson, Barbara; Dale Kunkel, Dan Linz, James Potter, Ed Donnerstein, Stacy Smith, Eva Blumenthal & Timothy Gray, 1996. Parr I: Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California, Santa Barbara study. Pp. 1-268 in National Television Violence Study, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

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The Nature and Context of Violence on American Television


The goal of this article is to review briefly the largest and most comprehensive assessment of violence on American television in the history of social science research. Funded by the National Cable Television Association in 1994, the $3.5 million dollar National Television Violence Study (NTVS) is a three-year effort to examine the amount and way in which violence is presented across 23 broadcast and cable channels in the United States. To date, the first (1994/95) and second (1995/96) years of research for the NTVS have already been completed.

The study involves a consortium of scholars from four research institutions. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conduct a content analysis of the nature and amount of violence in entertainment programming. The University of Texas at Austin provides a similar analysis of violence in one type of television programming -- reality shows such as tabloid news, talk shows, documentaries, and police programs. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, analyze the role of violence ratings and advisories used on television, including their effect on the viewing decisions of parents and children. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducts studies on the effectiveness of anti-violence public service announcements and educational initiatives produced by the television industry.

Only a portion of the 1995/96 content analysis of entertainment programming conducted by the researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is reviewed in this article [1]. A comprehensive version of the year 1 or year 2 UCSB report, as well as the reports from the other research sites, can be found in the NTVS scientific papers (National Television Violence Study, 1997, 1998). This article is divided into four major sections. In the first section, the foundations of the content analysis are reviewed. In the second section, the methods employed in the study are delineated. The third section features the results from the second year of the UCSB study. And finally, the last section contains several recommendations regarding the portrayal of violence for the television industry, policy makers, and parents.

Foundations of research

In first approaching this research project, we conducted an exhaustive review of the collective body of scientific knowledge assessing the effects of televised violence on the audience. After reviewing all of the existing evidence, we reached the four following conclusions, which represent the key assumptions underlying our research:

Foundation 1: Television violence contributes to antisocial effects on viewers

Our conclusion that violence on television contributes to negative effects on viewers is hardly novel. That same conclusion has already been reached by virtually every major group or agency that has investigated the topic. The American Psychological Association (1993), the American Medical Association (1996), the Centers for Disease Control (1991), the National Academy of Science (1993), the National Institute of Mental Health (1982), and the U.S. Surgeon General (1972), among others, have all agreed that viewing TV violence can have a number of adverse effects on children and even on adults.

Foundation 2: There are three primary types of effects from viewing televised violence:

• Learning aggressive attitudes and behaviors
• Desensitization to violence
• Increased fear of being victimized by violence.

Research clearly shows that television violence contributes to aggressive behavior in children, and that this effect can last into adulthood. One study, for example, found that exposure to television violence at age 8 helped to predict criminal behavior in a sample of adults (Huesmann, 1986; Huesmann & Eron, 1986). Recent opinion polls suggest that most adults now recognize that televised violence can teach aggressive attitudes and behaviors to young viewers (Lacayo, 1995).

There are, however, other types of effects that have received less attention. Research demonstrates that repeated exposure to TV violence can cause viewers to become more callous, or desensitized, to the harmfulness of violent behavior (Linz, Donnerstein, & Penrod, 1988). In addition, long-term exposure to violent portrayals can increase people's fears about real-world violence (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994). That is, people who watch a lot of televised violence show exaggerated fear of being attacked by a violent assailant. Although these three types of effects are very different in nature, they all deserve attention from parents, policy-makers, and the television industry.

Foundation 3: Not all violence poses the same degree of risk of these harmful effects

It is well established by social science research that exposure to televised violence contributes to a range of anti-social effects on many viewers. But the effects from viewing violence are not uniform across all possible examples of violent depictions.

Obviously, there is a vast array of approaches to presenting violent material. In terms of its visual presentation, the violence may occur on screen and be shown graphically, or it may occur off screen but be clearly implied. Violent acts may be shown close up or at a distance. There are also differences in the scripting of the characters who commit violent acts and their reasons for doing so. Differences also exist in the depiction of the results of violence, including both the pain and suffering of victims as well as the outcomes for the perpetrator. Simply put, not all portrayals of violence are the same; they vary in important ways.

Studies show that the way in which violence is presented helps to determine whether a portrayal might be harmful to viewers. Some features of violence increase the risk of a harmful effect, whereas others decrease that risk. In order to evaluate violence on television, then, we must look at the contextual features of different portrayals. Based on an extensive review of all the studies in this area (see Wilson et al., 1997, for complete review), we identified nine specific contextual features that influence how audiences will respond to television violence (see Table I). Each one of these contextual elements is reviewed below.

Table 1. Predicted Impact of Contextual Factors on Three Outcomes of Exposure to Media Violence
Outcomes of media Violence

▲ = likely to increase the outcome
▼ = likely to decrease the outcome
Note: Predicted effects are based on review of social science research on contextual features of violence. Blank spaces indicate that there is inadequate research to make a prediction.
Source: "Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California, Santa Barbara Study" by
Wilson et al. (1998), National Television Violence Study 2, p. 14. Copyright 1998 by Sage Publications.
Reprinted with permission of the authors.

Nature of the perpetrator:

The first contextual feature is the nature of the perpetrator. Different types of characters use violence on television. Studies show that viewers of all ages are more likely to emulate and learn from characters who are perceived as attractive (see Bandura, 1986, 1994). Thus, a perpetrator of violence who is attractive or engaging is likely to be a more potent role model for viewers than is a neutral or unattractive character. Certain characteristics of perpetrators increase their attractiveness. Studies suggest that viewers assign more positive ratings to those characters who act prosocially (e.g., benevolently, heroic) than to those who are cruel (Hoffner & Cantor, 1985; Zillmann & Cantor, 1977). Moreover, research reveals that children as young as 4 years of age can distinguish between prototypically good and bad characters in a television program (Berndt & Berndt, 1975; Liss, Reinhardt, & Fredriksen, 1983).

Nature of the victim:

The second contextual feature is the nature of the victim. Just as the perpetrator is an important contextual feature of violence, so is the target. The nature of the victim is most likely to influence audience fear rather than learning, however. Studies show that viewers feel concern for characters who are perceived as attractive and often share such characters' emotional experiences (Zillmann, 1980, 1991). This type of empathetic responding has been found with characters who are benevolent or heroic (Comisky & Bryant, 1982; Zillmann & Cantor, 1977), as well as characters who are perceived similar to the viewer (Feshbach & Roe, 1968; Tannenbaum & Gaer, 1965). Thus, a well-liked character can encourage audience involvement. When such a character is threatened or attacked in a violent scene, viewers are likely to experience increased anxiety and fear.

Reason for violence:

The third contextual feature is the character's reason or motive for the violence. Viewers interpret an act of violence differently depending on a character's motives for engaging in such behavior. Certain motives like self-defense or protecting a loved one can make physical aggression seem justified. Studies show that justified violence increases the chance that viewers will learn aggression because such portrayals legitimize or sanction such behavior (Berkowitz & Geen, 1967; Berkowitz & Rawlings, 1963; Geen & Stonner, 1973). In contrast, violence that is undeserved or purely malicious decreases the risk of imitation or learning of aggression (Berkowitz & Powers, 1979; Geen, 1981).

Weapon used:

The fourth context variable is the use of weapons. Characters can use their own physical strength to enact violence against a victim or they can use some type of weapon. Conventional weapons like guns and knives can increase viewer aggression because such devices often trigger the memory of past violent events and behaviors (Berkowitz, 1984, 1990). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 56 published experiments found that the presence of weapons, either pictorially or in the natural environment, significantly enhanced aggression among angered and nonangered subjects (Carlson, Marcus-Newhall, & Miller, 1990). This type of priming effect is less likely to occur with novel or unconventional weapons such as a chair or a lead pipe.

Extensiveness/ graphicness:

The fifth contextual feature is the extensiveness/graphicness of the violence. Television programs and especially movies vary widely in the extent and graphicness of the violence they contain. A violent incident between a perpetrator and a victim can last only a few seconds and be shot from a distance or it can persist for several minutes and involve many close-up views of the action. Research indicates that extensive or repeated violence can increase desensitization, learning, and fear in viewers (Huesmann, 1986; Linz, Donnerstein, & Penrod, 1988; Ogles & Hoffner, 1987).


The realism of the violence is the sixth contextual feature. Portrayals of violence that seem realistic are more likely to encourage aggression in viewers than are unrealistic scenes (Atkin, 1983; Geen, 1975; Thomas & Tell, 1974). Realistic depictions of brutality also can increase viewers' fear (Geen, 1975; Geen & Rakosky, 1975). However, this does not mean that cartoon or fantasy violence on television is harmless. Research shows that children under the age of 7 have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy on television (Morison & Gardner, 1978). In other words, what seems unrealistic to a mature viewer may appear to be quite real to a younger child. This helps to explain why younger children will readily imitate violent cartoon characters.

Rewards and punishments:

The next contextual feature is rewards and punishments. Violence that is glamorized or rewarded poses a risk for viewers, but so does violence that simply goes unpunished. Studies show that rewarded violence or violence that is not overtly punished encourages the learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors (Bandura, 1965; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963; Paik & Comstock, 1994). In contrast, portrayals of punished violence can decrease the chances that viewers will learn aggression. Rewards and punishments can influence audience fear as well. Viewers who watch violence go unpunished are more anxious and more pessimistic about the consequences of real-life violence (Bryant, Carveth, & Brown, 1981).

Consequences of violence:

Another important contextual feature involves the consequences of violence. Numerous studies indicate that showing the serious harm and pain that occurs from violence can discourage viewers from imitating or learning aggression (Baron, 1971 a, 1971 b; Goransen, 1969; Sanders & Baron, 1975; Wotring & Greenberg, 1973). The assumption here is that cries of pain evoke sympathy and remind the viewer of social norms against aggression.


The last contextual feature is humor. Viewers interpret violence that is cast in a humorous light as less devastating and less harmful (Gunter, 1985). Humor also may seem like a reward for violence. For these reasons, the presence of humor in a violent scene can increase the chances that viewers will imitate or learn aggression from such a portrayal. Indeed, studies have revealed that exposure to violence in a humorous setting increases aggressive behavior (Baron, 1978; Berkowitz, 1970). Humor can also desensitize viewers to the seriousness of violence (Jablonski & Zillmann, 1995).

Foundation 4: Not all viewers are affected by violence in the same way

In their viewing of television violence, both children and adults are influenced by the contextual features described above. To illustrate, rewarded violence increases the likelihood of learning aggression regardless of the age of the viewer, whereas punished violence decreases that risk. Nevertheless, some unique concerns arise when we think about young children, particularly those under the age of 7.

Because young children's cognitive abilities are still developing, they often interpret television messages differently from mature viewers (see Wilson et al., 1997, for complete review). For instance, the ability to understand the difference between reality and fantasy emerges gradually over the course of a child's development (Morison & Gardner, 1978; Taylor & Howell, 1973). As a result, younger children are more likely to perceive fantasy and cartoon violence as realistic, making this type of content more problematic for young ages.

In addition, younger children are less capable of linking scenes together to make sense of events that occur at different points in a program (see Collins, 1983). Therefore, if punishment for violence is delayed until the end of the program, this deterrent may go unnoticed by a young child. Punishment or any other contextual feature must occur in the same scene in order for a younger viewer to connect it to the original violent behavior.

These differences in cognitive ability mean that not all viewers will be affected in the same way by a violent portrayal. Children below the age of 7 may be especially vulnerable because they cannot easily discount fantasy violence as unreal and have trouble connecting events in the plot unless they are in the same scene. It is important to consider the age of the viewer when thinking about the harmful effects of television violence.

To summarize, several important ideas provide the foundations for this research. Based on an extensive body of evidence, we know that exposure to television can contribute to: (1) learning aggressive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, (2) becoming desensitized to the seriousness of violence, and (3) feeling frightened of becoming a victim of real-life violence. Research was also reviewed documenting that not all violence on television poses the same risk. Some contextual features can increase the risk of harmful effects whereas other features can actually decrease the likelihood of such outcomes. Finally, the risks associated with television violence depend not only on the nature of the portrayal but also on the nature of the audience. Younger children are more vulnerable to certain types of depictions because of their limited abilities to make sense of television.


Given the four foundations reviewed above, the goal of the UCSB study was to measure violence across the entire landscape of U.S. television. In the second year of the study, we examined the nature and the amount of violent depictions during the 1995/96 viewing season. Our emphasis is on the contextual features of violence that either increase or decrease the risk of learning aggression, fear, or desensitization. In the section that follows, the methods employed in the study are delineated. More precisely, the sample, definition of violence, the units of analysis, contextual variables, and training and reliability of coders are explicated in the section below.


A total of 3,235 programs were randomly sampled from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. across 23 channels from October 1995 to June of 1996 to build a composite week of television programming for each source. The 23 channels were comprised of the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox), broadcast independents (KCAL, KCOP, KTTV) , public broadcasting network (PBS), basic cable (A&E, AMC, Cartoon Network, Disney, Family Channel, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, TNT, USA, VH-l, and MTV), and premium cable (Cinemax, HBO, Showtime). All programs in the sample were aired and taped in the Los Angeles market. A total of 15% (N = 478) of the programs were religious programs, game shows, infomercials, instructional shows, or breaking news. Per the NTVS contract with the National Cable Television Association, these five types of programs were sampled and included in the representative week of television programming but were not coded or assessed for violence. Thus, a total of 2,757 programs were assessed for violence in this study.

Definition of violence

The fundamental definition of violence places emphasis on a number of elements including intention to harm, the physical nature of harm, and the involvement of animate beings. More precisely, violence is defined as "any overt depiction of a credible threat of physical force or the actual use of such force intended to physically harm an animate being or group of beings. Violence also includes certain depictions of physically harmful consequences against an animate being or group that occurs as a result of unseen violent means". Based upon this definition, there are three primary types of violence: credible threats, behavioral acts, and harmful consequences.

Units of analysis & contextual features

Violence is measured at three distinct levels or units of analysis. First, we identify each violent incident, or interaction between a perpetrator and a victim. Second, we analyzed each violent scene, or instance of ongoing, uninterrupted violence. A violent scene, such as a bar fight, often contains several violent incidents between different types of characters. Finally, we analyzed the violence at the end of the entire violent program. Examining violence at the program level allows us to differentiate the way aggression is portrayed in a historical film such as Schindler's List from an action adventure movie such as Terminator 2, which both contain roughly equal amounts of violence but the message or use of violence in these two cinematic pieces is drastically different. By measuring the context of violence at all three of these levels we provide rich and thorough information about the meaning or context of violence in television programming.

Contextual features were assessed at the level most sensitive to capturing the nature or way in which violence is portrayed on television. At the incident level, we assessed variables such as the nature of the perpetrator and target, the reason for the violence, the means or weapons used, and the immediate consequences of violence (i.e., harm/pain). At the scene level, the presence of humor, rewards/punishments, and the extensiveness/graphicness of violence was measured. And at the end of each violent program, the presence of an anti-violence theme, the duration of harm/pain portrayed, the punishments delivered to all good/bad characters, and the realism of the violence was measured.

Coding and reliability

Many precautions were taken to ensure that a consistent standard of judgment was used to evaluate the television programming in the sample. An elaborate codebook was developed to provide detailed and precise definitions of terms and rules of judgment for coders to follow. We trained more than 50 undergraduate research assistants to become thoroughly adept at applying the rules laid out in the codebook. The research assistants received 60 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of laboratory practice in making coding judgments prior to beginning coding programs for this study.

Coders worked individually in quiet labs as they assessed programs for violence. Every two weeks, each coder was tested to make sure the same rules and definitions were used across individuals. Agreement or reliability among the coders was consistently high throughout the coding process, underscoring the scientific rigor of the study.


As noted above, the goal of the second year study was to assess the amount and context of violence on U.S. television during the 1995/96 season. In addition to studying television overall, we also looked at variability in the portrayal of violence across different types of channels (broadcast networks, independent broadcast, public broadcast, basic cable, and premium cable), and in different genres of programming (children's, comedy, drama, movies, music videos, reality-based). We also assessed whether the profile of violence on television has changed from the first year of the study (1994/95) to the second year (1995/96). In the section that follows, the major findings from the study are reviewed.

There has been no meaningful change in violence on television since 1994/95.

Neither the overall prevalence of violence nor the way in which violence is presented has changed appreciably during the last year. In the first year of this study (1994/95), 58% of programs contained violence. In the second year (1995/96), 61% of programs contain violence (see Figure 1). This small difference does not represent a significant shift, according to the standards of change used in this study. Thus, the prevalence of violence on television has not increased or decreased meaningfully from Year 1 to Year 2. It is important to note that these statistics do not reveal the nature or extent of violence in television programs; rather, they indicate only that some violence occurs within these shows.

A separate analysis of the different channel types shows remarkable stability as well, with one exception. The percentage of programs with violence on the broadcast networks has increased slightly from 47% to 54%. This small increase holds up even when we examine only prime-time programming on the broadcast networks. Though showing no significant change from Year 1 (85%) to Year 2 (86%), premium cable channels continue to have the highest proportion of programs with violence.

We also found that the way in which violence is presented has not changed from 1994/95 to 1995/96. For example, violence still typically involves extensive violent action, often includes a gun, is trivialized by humor, but seldom is graphic or gory (see Figure 1). These patterns characterize the entire television landscape, and for the most part, also hold true across different types of channels and genres of programming. This extraordinary degree of consistency shows that there are very stable formulas or patterns for depicting violence on television.

Violence on television is still frequently glamorized

Good characters frequently are the perpetrators of aggression on TV. A full 40% of the violent incidents are initiated by characters who have good qualities that make them attractive role models to viewers. Not only are attractive characters often violent, but physical aggression is frequently condoned. More than one third (37%) of violent programs feature "bad" characters who are never or rarely punished anywhere in the plot; another 28% contain bad characters who are punished only at the end of the story. Good characters hardly ever experience repercussions (i.e., regret, criticism) for violence on television. Finally, 75% of violent scenes contain no form of punishment for the aggression. That is, perpetrators rarely show remorse at the time they engage in aggression, and are seldom condemned by others or immediately apprehended. This is of particular concern for younger children, who often lack the capability to link punishments shown later in a program to earlier violent acts.

This glamorization of violence poses risks for the audience. Studies show that children will imitate violent characters who are heroic or attractive (Liss et al., 1983). In addition, viewers are more likely to learn aggressive attitudes and behaviors from violence that is rewarded or implicitly condoned than from violence that is clearly punished (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).

Figure 1. Overall Industry Averages: Year 1 vs. Year 2 Comparisons

% of Programs with Violence
% with an Anti-Violence Theme
% that show Long-Term Negative Consequences
% with Violence in Realistic Settings
% with Unpunished Violence
% with Blood and Gore
% with Humor
% that show No Pain
% that depict Harm Unrealistically
% with use of a Gun
% with Repeated Behavioral Violence
Perpetrators Who are Attractive

Source: Adapted from 'Violence in Television Programming Overall: University of California. Santa Barbara Study" by Wilson et al. (1998), National Television Violence Study 2. p. 158. Copyright 1998 by Sage Publications. Reprinted with permission of the authors.

Most violence on television remains sanitized.

Violence is typically shown with little or no harm to the victim. In fact, more than half of the violent incidents (55%) on television depict no physical injury or pain to the victim. Looking across the entire program, only 13% of violent shows portray the long-term negative consequences of violence such as physical and psychological suffering.

Research indicates that showing the realistic consequences of violence, such as pain cues and suffering, can decrease the chances that viewers will learn aggression from television violence (Baron 1971a, 1971 b; Wotring & Greenberg, 1973). Therefore, sterilized portrayals of violence pose risk for the audience.

There are still very few programs that feature an anti-violence theme.

Rather than showing violence merely to excite or entertain, a program can feature violence in a way that discourages it. The overall message in such a program is actually an anti-violence one. This study identified four ways in which a program can emphasize an anti-violence theme: (l) alternatives to physical aggression are presented and discussed; (2) pain and suffering from violence are depicted throughout the plot, especially with regard to the victims' families, friends, and community; (3) the main characters repeatedly show reluctance or remorse for committing acts of violence; and (4) on balance, violence is punished far more than it is rewarded.

Only 4% of the violent programs on television convey an overall anti-violence theme. In other words, violence is seldom used in an educational way to emphasize the personal and social costs of such antisocial behavior.

Portrayals that have a high risk of teaching aggression to children under 7 are concentrated in the very programs and channels targeted to young viewers.

Certain depictions can be labeled "high risk" because several plot elements that encourage aggression are all featured in one scene. These high-risk portrayals involve: (1) a perpetrator who is attractive; (2) violence that seems justified; (3) violence that goes unpunished (no remorse, criticism, or penalty); (4) minimal consequences to the victims; and (5) violence that seems realistic to the viewer. It should be noted that what is perceived as "realistic", and therefore what qualifies as "high risk", differs according to the age of the viewer.

In a typical week of television, there are over 800 violent portrayals that qualify as high risk for children under 7. Where are these hazardous portrayals located on television? Of all genres, children's programs contain the greatest number of these high-risk violent portrayals (N = 409). In other words, most of the portrayals that pose particular concern for teaching aggressive attitudes and behaviors to young children are contained in the very programs that are targeted to young viewers. Furthermore, nearly all of the children's programs that contain these kinds of portrayals are cartoons.

Of all channel types, child-oriented basic cable (Cartoon Network, Disney, and Nickelodeon) contains the most high-risk portrayals for young viewers. The individual channels and time periods that primarily feature cartoons are most responsible for this finding. However, it should be noted that not all cartoons contain high-risk portrayals. Adults often assume that violent cartoons are not a problem for children because the content is so unrealistic. However, this assumption is directly contradicted by research on the effects of viewing violence by younger children. Numerous studies show that animated programs have the potential of increasing aggressive behavior in young children (Hapkiewicz, 1979). Thus, violent cartoons should not be regarded as harmless, particularly for children under 7 years of age who have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.

For older children and teens, high-risk portrayals that encourage aggression are found mostly in movies and dramas.

A similar formula poses a high risk of teaching and reinforcing aggression among older viewers: an attractive perpetrator who engages in justified violence that goes unpunished, that shows minimal consequences, and that seems realistic. Unlike younger children, older children and adolescents are capable of discounting portrayals of violence that are highly fantastic, such as cartoons. Thus, older viewers are susceptible primarily to more realistic portrayals of violence.

In a typical week, there are nearly 400 portrayals of violence that qualify as high risk for older children and adolescents. Movies and drama programs are the two genres most likely to contain high-risk portrayals for older children and teens.


The recommendations offered here follow from the findings of the 1995/96 content analysis of violence on American television. These recommendations were designed to address three specific audiences in the United States: the television industry, public policy-makers, and parents. However, each of these recommendations can also be applied to International audiences concerned about the harm that exposure to certain types of violent television portrayals may have on viewers.

For the television industry

• Produce more programs that avoid violence; if a program does contain violence, keep the number of violent incidents low.

We do not advocate that all violence be eliminated from television, nor do we profess to know exactly how much is "too much." But we do know that the overall amount of violence on American television has not changed appreciably from 1994/95 to 1995/ 96. It is still the case that more than half (61 %) the programs in a composite week of TV contain some violence. Furthermore, most programs with violence feature numerous violent incidents rather than a single scene. Our recommendation is to begin efforts to cut back.

• Be creative in showing:
o violent acts being punished,
o more negative consequences, both short-term and long-term, for violence,
o more alternatives to the use of violence in solving problems,
o less justification for violent actions.

This recommendation recognizes that not all violence is the same, that some portrayals pose more risk to the audience than others. Conveying the message that violence gets punished, that it is not always justified, that there are alternatives to aggression, and that violence causes serious consequences (i.e., pain and suffering) for the victims are all ways to reduce the risk of a negative influence on viewers. We encourage producers to move beyond the "old formula" where violence is presented as a defensible course of action to solve problems, where characters continually get away with such behavior, and where the suffering of victims is seldom shown. Fewer glamorized and sanitized portrayals would significantly reduce the risk for viewers, even if the overall number of violent portrayals were held constant.

• When violence is presented, consider greater emphasis on a strong anti-violence theme.

The use of an anti-violence theme on television continues to be rare. In both Year 1 and Year 2, only 4% of all programs in a typical week employed violence to emphasize an anti-violence message. This is an area where a substantial effort or initiative could make its impact felt clearly and immediately. We encourage the television industry to create more programs that: (1) present alternatives to violent actions throughout the program; (2) show main characters repeatedly discussing the negative consequences of violence; (3) emphasize the physical pain and emotional suffering that results from violence; and (4) show that punishments for violence clearly and consistently outweigh rewards.

For policy makers

• Recognize that context is an essential aspect of television violence and rely on scientific evidence to identify the context features that pose the most risk.

Treating all acts of violence as if they were the same disregards a rich body of scientific knowledge about media effects. An appreciation of key contextual factors is crucial for understanding the impact of televised violence on the audience. Our high-risk composite analysis demonstrates that portrayals that are not necessarily explicit but that present violence as attractive, rewarding, and painless pose a significant threat of increasing children's aggressive behavior. At the base of any policy initiative in this realm is the need to define violence and, assuming that not all violence is to be treated equally, to differentiate types of violent depictions that pose the greatest cause for concern.

• Continue to monitor the nature and extent of violence on television.

Evidence of the harmful effects associated with televised violence is well established. The stakes are high in terms of social implications in this realm not so much because of the effects of viewing any one violent program but more because of the fact that most everyone watches TV, most people watch a lot, and most of television contains violence.

For parents

Perhaps the most important recommendations regarding the harmful effects of viewing violence can be offered to parents. It may take years to alter significantly the profile of violence on television. In contrast, parents can begin immediately to change the way they think about violence on television and the way they make decisions about their children's viewing.

• Be aware of the three risks associated with viewing television violence.

Evidence of the potential harmful effects associated with viewing violence on television is well established. The most troubling of these involves children's learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors. Arguably more pervasive and often underemphasized are the other two risks associated with television violence: fear and desensitization. An appreciation of these three effects will help parents to recognize the role of television in children's socialization.

• Consider the context of violent depictions in making viewing decisions for children.

As demonstrated throughout this article, not all violent portrayals are the same in terms of their impact on the audience. Some depictions pose greater risks for children than others, and some may even be prosocial. When considering a particular program, think about whether violence is rewarded, whether heroes or good characters engage in violence, whether violence appears to be morally condoned, whether the serious negative consequences of violence are avoided, and whether humor is used. These are the types of portrayals that are most harmful.

• Consider a child's developmental level when making viewing decisions.

Throughout this article, we have underscored the importance of the child's developmental level or cognitive ability in making sense of television. Very young children are less able to distinguish fantasy from reality on television. Thus, for preschoolers and younger elementary school children, cartoon violence and fantasy violence cannot be dismissed or exonerated because it is unrealistic. Indeed, younger children identify strongly with superheroes and fantastic cartoon characters, and often learn from and imitate such portrayals. Furthermore, younger children have difficulty connecting non-adjacent scenes together and drawing causal inferences about the plot. Therefore, punishments, pain cues, or serious consequences of violence that are presented later in a plot, well after the violent act, may not be comprehended fully by a young child. For younger viewers, then, it is particularly important that contextual features like punishment and pain be shown within the violent scene, rather than solely at the end of the program.

• Recognize that certain types of violent cartoons pose particularly high risk for young children's learning of aggression.

Our findings suggest that certain animated programs can be particularly problematic for younger viewers. We have identified a type of portrayal that we label "high risk" because it contains an array of elements that encourage the learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors. In particular, a high-risk portrayal for learning is one that features an attractive character who engages in violence that is condoned and that does not result in any serious consequences to the victim. Parents of younger children should closely monitor cartoon programming with an eye for this type of portrayal. Parents of older children and adolescents, on the other hand, should review movies and drama programs because these genres are most likely to contain realistic portrayals of the type defined above that pose high risk for more mature viewers.



1. This article is a shortened version of the UCSB report appearing in the executive summary of the National Television Violence Study (Vol. 2), published by the Center for Communication and Social Policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This synopsis was published with permission of the Center.


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:51 pm


A Review of Research on Media Violence in Japan


People have always expressed concern about influences of media on their own society and especially on children. Among various media, TV is a medium to which strong attention has been paid for a long time.

In the past few years, "TV Violence" or "Media Violence" in a wider sense, including videos and video games, etc., seems to have been discussed more seriously than ever, from wider viewpoints, in more countries, and also as one of the great global issues. It is also one of the current characteristics of the various mass media, including TV, to frequently deal with this topic.

One of the International conferences in communications I attended in 1993 held a special session entitled "Global Television and TV Violence: do we need a code of practice?" organized by the members from Canada, where the negative effects of foreign TV programs have been taken as a serious problem.

With the progress of technology, our society itself has greatly changed in many aspects, including the changes in media environment, and at the same time society has faced difficulties in maintaining both the quality and quantity of its media. The flow of information world-wide has vastly increased, and the International flow of TV programs, including children's programs, has also expanded in many ways.

Recent International surveys and various conferences indicate that many TV producers in various parts of the world worry about the future of TV programs for children under the circumstances of the spread of commercialization of broadcasting and media environment in general. They strongly feel the necessity for some kind of International co-operation aimed at maintaining and developing the quality and diversity of programs for children for the new era.

In this article, I would like to discuss what we need for the future of "children's TV" and "media environment for children" by reviewing the research with particular attention to "Media Violence" in Japan. [1]

Interest in the influence of TV in the early days of TV in Japan

Though the total volume of research related to TV violence in Japan might be relatively small, the topic itself has been regarded as an important issue since the early days of Japanese TV programming. Even before television was introduced in Japan in 1953, concern was expressed about its possible effects on society, especially on the negative effects TV violence could have on children.

In the early days of Japanese television, not only TV facilities, production techniques and TV programs, but also discussions on possible effects of this new medium, were very much influenced by the U.S. in many ways. For example, one Japanese educator who visited the U.S. in 1950 could not ignore the problems faced by U.S. educators and parents because of TV's influence on children's education, though he was very much impressed by the power of TV as a medium of information, and as a result his experience was introduced back in Japan.

Various aspects of TV violence concerns in the U.S. -- including the news that the FCC Chairman had made a strong appeal to ban potentially harmful programs based on research findings, as well as Professor Lazarsfeld's statement that the time had come to conduct scientific studies on the effects of TV on children in 1954 -- were also introduced in the Japanese media. These views caused quite a bit of concern for members of TV and government agencies in Japan.

As for the situation in TV programming in Japan in those days, professional wrestling programs were first broadcast in 1954 and became the first major targets of criticism for their effects on children. Some school children were seriously injured and one even killed, trying to imitate the wrestlers. In 1956, NHK excluded all professional wrestling programs from its broadcast schedule.

However, as commercial TV stations began to offer more mass entertainment over the following years, criticism and general concerns about TV increased. A national conference held by the Central Juvenile Problem Committee of the Prime Minister's Office in May 1958, concluded that the recent rapid increase in juvenile crimes mostly resulted from the negative influence of mass media and warned TV, film and publications industries to exercise better self-control over their contents. By 1960, NHK began to cut violent scenes from TV programs and some objectionable programs were canceled.

Resulting from these conditions, various research on the influence of TV on children, including the following large projects, was conducted from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties:

• NHK's Shizuoka Study (the First and the Second) by NHK Radio and Television Culture Research Institute (I957 and 1959)
• The Ministry of Education Study (a five-year project from 1958)
• National Association of Commercial Broadcasters' Study (a three-year project from 1960), a part of which was known as the University of Tokyo Survey.

These studies focused on various influences of TV as a new medium in Japanese society from a rather wide perspective: both favorable and harmful effects were investigated, including, in an indirect way, questions relating to violence on TV. Overall research results, however, indicated that there was no clear causal relationship between televiewing and aggressiveness of children.

In NHK's Shizuoka Study, for example, which was headed by Dr. Furu and is regarded as one of the four major studies on "TV and Children" along with those by Dr. Himmelweit (U.K.), Dr. Schramm (U.S.), and Dr. Maletzke (West Germany), the research interest was aimed principally at changes in behavior patterns brought about by prolonged exposure to TV. [1]

Changes in daily routine, influence on reading ability and achievements in science and social studies, as well as influence on mental state were analyzed. Regarding character formation, undesirable effects, such as development of passive attitudes or isolation from friends and a tendency toward escape into the world of fantasy, were not seen. When comparisons between heavy-viewing and light-viewing groups were made, it was found that comparatively more time was being taken from the time normally spent for homework and for doing household chores by the children of the heavy viewing group, but no consistent differences were seen in the field of intellectual skills and behavior tendencies. Neither were any significant differences discerned between heavy and light viewers in the tendency toward aggression.

In September 1960, after the 2nd Shizuoka Study, NHK's Research Institute conducted a different type of research to analyze the reactions of children (5th and 8th graders) and adults (parents of the 5th graders) to violence in TV programs, by including viewing of two western films for TV which were regarded as violent. [2]

The results indicated that violent scenes depicted with tools easy to get in daily life, such as knives, ropes, and chairs, were mentioned by parents as scenes they would not like to show their children. The children did not like these scenes, either. The research also indicated that this type of violence gave children a more violent impression and made them more unsettled than violent actions with guns and swords. Similar results were found in one of the studies conducted by the Ministry of Education.

Studies by NHK in those days suggested that the total atmosphere of TV programs could unsettle the children emotionally, even if the frequency of violent acts was not high.

Research trends from the 1960's to the 1970's

The above-mentioned decade starting from around 1955 was called the Golden Age of Studies on "Children and TV" in Japan. [2] The following decade (1965-1975) saw conclusions drawn by a number of researchers from studies on "Children and TV" carried out both in Japan and abroad.

As for the possible negative influences of TV on children, many researchers in those days concluded that there had been no noticeable impact on the intellectual development of children, and no substantial evidence to support the theory that TV viewing encourages passive and escapist tendencies in children. They agreed that other factors such as family environment and basic disposition of children are more responsible for children's aggressiveness, violent actions, and delinquency than the TV programs themselves. [3] Further studies were developed along this line: the 3rd Shizuoka Survey by NHK (1967) was one such study.

At the same time, however, the importance of content analysis of primary stimuli, TV programs in this case, was emphasized as essential to study the effects of media in a scientific manner; though it was also agreed that to develop a detailed framework to describe the characteristics of contents would not be easy at all. [4]

In the meantime, between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, there were various protests against "vulgar" programs. In 1969, one such nonsense/gag variety program by comedians popular in those days became a hot issue in the Broadcaster's Council for Better Programming, which had been established in 1956 to study public reactions to current programs and make recommendations for improvements in the programming of both NHK and commercial broadcasters.

In the same period, two series of superhero dramas with special effects often used to create vivid fighting scenes became extremely popular among Japanese children (boys). Most parents criticized the programs' violence and disliked the grotesque monsters shown in these programs. Imitation of violent actions became popular and tragic incidents took place, despite warning messages such as "Don't kick like this hero does! Don't imitate this jump!" being broadcast. There was also a lot of criticism from leading intellectuals.

However, there were explanations by specialists on child psychology referring to the social context as to why these programs became so popular. According to their analyses, Japanese children, goaded by their environment to study and strive, were given an opportunity to release their own pent-up energy vicariously through scenes of fighting between heroes and monsters and also through a character who could change into a superhero simply by shouting "change!"

In order to develop studies on "the influence of TV on society" under such conditions, emphasis on the analysis of program content became necessary in the next decade.

Content analysis and International comparative studies

Since the latter half of the 1970's, content analysis became popular in media studies in Japan, though not to the same extent as in the U.S.; analysis of portrayal of violence had always been included as an important factor there.

One such example in Japan was a series of analyses conducted by a citizen's group called FCT (Forum for Children's Television). In their analysis in 1982, various types of animated cartoons and drama programs were categorized into "violence by tools, weapons, magical powers", "physical violence", "verbal violence" and "violence to death", and it was found that home-drama-type animation tended to include more "verbal violence" as an essential element. [5]

In 1987, the same organization conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses on 15 action dramas of three types: "Japanese modern", "U.S. modern", and "Japanese historical". According to the analyses, there were quite a number of violent scenes especially "using weapons such as guns/rifles", but a relatively small number of "deaths" on those programs; thus, violence was depicted as unrealistic. So-called justified violence (as experienced by the viewer) was common to most of the programs analyzed, especially in samurai dramas. This study also suggested the importance of music in programs, since music attractive to the young might make even cruelly violent scenes unrealistic and rather attractive. [6]

Since 1977, another important series of content analysis studies involving Japan-U.S. International comparisons have been conducted by Iwao et al. Even before then, it was noted that foreigners, both researchers and broadcasters, visiting Japan had been surprised at the "violence" portrayed on TV and that some exported Japanese animation (especially robot-type cartoons popular in the 1970's in Japan) had been banned because of parents' protests, government decisions, etc., both in Europe and Asia.

Iwao's analysis of 139 dramatized entertainment TV programs broadcast between 5 and 11 p.m. in Tokyo in one week in July 1977 was very important, since it produced data on the amount and depiction of violence on Japanese TV for the first time, and in a way possible to compare with U.S. data by using the method developed by Gerbner. [7]

This study showed that while the amount of violence in these types of TV programs was not noticeably different between Japan and the U.S., the nature of the violence was quite different; Japanese TV portrayed violent actions and consequences more vividly, with much greater emphasis on the suffering of the victims. The researchers pointed out that this factor could lead to the U.S. visitors' impressions that Japanese TV was more violent.

The same study also indicated that violent scenes were concentrated in "police dramas", "cartoons" and "samurai dramas" and that detailed depiction of suffering was most frequently observed in the last category. In typical scenes from samurai dramas, more weight was given to the arousal of sympathy on the part of viewers for the victim, usually a hero rather than a villain. The prevailing theme was one of villains tormenting heroes who win out in the end. All these results suggested that the impression of whether a program was violent or not was largely influenced by how scenes were portrayed rather than the frequency of such scenes.

After the research of 1977, similar analyses were conducted by Iwao et al. every three years until 1989. Results from recent and/or cumulative data introduced some more interesting points. For example, the research showed that programs with high violence received lower audience ratings. [8]

The research covered a total of 585 TV dramas, or a total of 358 hours worth of TV dramas every three years for 12 years. Dramas aired from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on five TV networks (NHK, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, and TV Asahi) were sampled during weeklong sample periods. Sampled dramas were videotaped and coded by trained coders, and divided into four categories: programs, characters, violent behaviors/scenes, and sexual behaviors/scenes. A result indicated a total number of 5,954 violent scenes aired, which makes a total of 16 hours, 26 minutes and 50 seconds. Also one of the findings of the first research in 1977 recorded that 727 characters on TV were injured and 557 characters died. The top ranked type of drama that contained the most violent scenes was Japanese historical (such as samurai) drama, and the same result appeared for every recorded period. Another significant finding was that dramas with many violent scenes tend to be unpopular, which may relate to the fact that the average number of violent scenes aired per program decreased from 6.7 times in 1983 to 4.2 times in 1986.

In another study conducted by the same U.S.-Japanese researchers in 1980 and 1981, International Understanding via TV Programs, the program Shogun was analyzed as part of the study. The results indicated that that drama, whose primary audience targets were U.S. viewers, was better liked than some popular typical U.S. dramas; at the same time, however, they felt the program was rather violent. Especially viewers with a lower education level, with little experience of Japanese culture, tended to perceive this program as more violent. The research concluded that U.S. viewers were not as tolerant of the type of violence depicted in samurai dramas as Japanese were. [9]

Another recent Japan-U.S. joint study of this kind in 1989/1990 indicated that Japanese dramatic programs on TV portrayed violence much more often than did U.S. programs. [10] Mikami's study constructed "a standard index for measuring an important aspect of two cultures, the U.S. and Japan, by analyzing the content of television messages systematically and to compare the index in time-series cross-cultural analysis". Dramatic programs aired from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. for one week on network television (5 Japanese networks and 3 U.S. networks) in both countries were videotaped and coded based on the codebook that was used in the sixteen country Cultural Indicators project.

As a result, 59.4% of the U.S. dramas contained violence as a subject while almost all (97.1%) Japanese dramas included some violence as a subject, which supported the statement made above. Sample television dramas of both countries were compared based on the common techniques of the message system analysis. There were some similarities found such as the characteristics of programs, character traits, and violence profiles. However, many differences between dramas in Japan and the United States were also found. One of the main differences lies in a culturally unique structure in both countries which influences the differences in program content. As an example, a major goal of Japanese characters may reflect a traditional spirit of "self-sacrifice or Giri-Ninjo". On the contrary, personal happiness and intimate relationship were found as tendencies in American characters. Mikami argues that the difference in content as far as violence and sex depiction is a result of different broadcasting policies/regulation in both countries as well; the regulation code seems to be more strict in the U.S. than in Japan.

There is another important study to be mentioned on this occasion. In 1988, AMIC (Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre) launched a research project to study violence on TV in Asia. Eight countries including Japan joined in this project, and this was the first scientific comparative study on this topic within this region, though the portrayal of violence on TV was a subject which had been of great concern not only to the general public and pressure groups but also to broadcasters and governments. Again, the research was based on Gerbner's design. [11][12]

Because of the limited number of programs on some particular TV channels in each country, and because participating countries had rather different backgrounds, the comparison of various data among those eight countries was rather difficult. But there were some interesting and significant results from comparisons of programs produced in Asia and those originating from the West (mostly U.S. programs). Among the samples from this study, foreign programs throughout the eight countries had more violent incidents than local programs in general. More important was the cultural differences in the depiction of violence; some of the significant variations, from the viewpoint of impact on viewers, were depictions of violence in greater detail in the Asian programs and a tendency to glorify suffering of the victims. Heroes in Asian programs suffer violence as much or more than villains. The context of the violence also differs. In Asia violence depicted on TV is mostly caused by personal or interfamilial conflicts and not due to institutional factors as is commonly the case in Western programs.

In Brief Abstract of Violence on Television in Asia by Goonasekera and Yut Kam, the results showed the number of programs and the percentage of the samples of TV programs aired in eight Asian countries. The sample programs are both local programs and foreign programs, of which the countries of origin are also defined in the study. In a comparison of TV violence between programs of Western and Asian origin, the findings of the cultural differences in TV violence are as below:


Western Origin
More violent incidents
Less depiction of suffering victims
Violence depicted in less detail
Sanitized violence. Little or no blood
Both heroes and villains commit violence
Hero suffers less violence than villains
Villains from both upper and lower classes
Violence mostly within social and institutional conflicts
Discourage violence except in cartoons
Universal art form/low cultural discount

Asian Origin
Less violent incidents
Glorification of suffering
Violence depicted in minute derail
Blood commonly shown
Both heroes and villains commit violence
Hero suffers more violence than villains
Villains mostly from upper classes
Violence mostly due to personal vendettas, interfamilial conflict
Discourage violence
Culture-specific programs

Results of long-term panel studies

In the 1980's, there were some important research projects which analyzed long-term effects of TV on children, with various related factors included for analysis.

The first example was a study conducted by a group of researchers affiliated with the National Institute of Mental Health. First in 1983, they tried to analyze the relationship between exposure to TV violence and aggressiveness in pre-school children, by taking their family backgrounds into consideration as important factors. [13]

There was no significant correlation between exposure to violence on TV and aggressiveness in daily life for the children analyzed in this study; however, when the analysis was limited to pre-school children whose parents were not getting along well, some important tendencies were observed. In such discordant families, the more children were exposed to violent programs, the more they were rated as aggressive.

In this research project, cohort analysis was planned from the beginning. Thus, five years later, in 1988-1989, the same set of children at the ages of 9 to 11 and their parents were studied again to analyze the long-term influence of televiewing habits and other factors from their pre-school years. [14]

This research indicated that primary-school-age children tended to watch violent programs when they had stress from unhappy or irritating experiences at home or at school, but there was no evidence that showed effects on children's aggressiveness in daily life. The researchers explained that the catharsis theory could be valid. As for long-term effects, the following was concluded: it is not possible to predict problem activities or anti-social activities at the primary school stage from the degree of exposure to televised violence in the pre-school stage; however, children who were heavy viewers of violent programs when they were pre-schoolers tended to lack the support networks necessary for mental health. Another very important result was that there was a correlation between the children's current aggressiveness and their mothers' tendencies to watch violent programs five years previously.

Another example was a three-year multi panel study conducted by a research group at the University of Tokyo. One of the important aims of this study was to attempt to analyze the influence of TV on pre-school children, in as natural conditions as possible, with a wider notion of independent and dependent variables taken into account. Kindergarten teachers were asked to rate various kinds of children's behaviors including not only aggressive actions, but also basic social knowledge, linguistic ability, play and areas of interest, etc., and mothers were asked to list the TV programs their children watched regularly at home, for three consecutive years. [15]

Though "influence of TV on aggressive actions of children" was only a part of the whole study, a positive cross-lagged correlation between the aggressiveness of the pre-school children in the first year and a preference for "heroic or SF programs (action-adventure cartoons and special effects action dramas)" in the second year was found in their Preliminary Study (1983-85). It was significant only for girls, though positive for boys also. The results of past analyses indicated that aggressiveness caused a preference for violent TV programs, not vice versa. International comparison with the U.S., Sweden and Germany has started, and it is expected that the study will provide enriched analyses and interpretations of the research as a whole. [16]

Other empirical research on TV violence in the 1980's

A series of empirical research studies on TV violence and its influence on children during 1980's was conducted by Sasaki. [17] Past research on the influence of TV violence on children in Japan should be introduced as evidence of the power of media.

In A Review of Empirical Studies on Television Violence (1986), Sasaki adopted and revised four major existing theories of how people are influenced through viewing TV violence:

1) Catharsis, which posits that a vicarious participation in aggression reduces aggressive behavior.

2) Observational learning, by which aggressive behaviors depicted on television are learned and imitated by viewers.

3) Desensitization, through which people become used to violence, and are no longer upset or aroused by witnessing violence.

4) Enculturation, which assumes that a high exposure to television violence contributes to biased conceptions of social reality. [18]

Sasaki (1988) expected that enculturation is likely to occur when viewing TV programs that contain violence in settings which are more realistic and similar to the viewer's life. In order to find out about the relationship between the amount and the type of TV viewing and young viewers' perception of safety in the real world, a sample of 504 junior high school students was studied. The subjects were asked to pick their favorite TV program out of the list that was prepared for this study. The results showed no relation between the amount of TV viewing and the viewers' perception of safety in the real world and of trust in other people. However, some types of programs were found to affect viewers' perception of safety. If a program contains violence in a realistic setting of life similar to the viewers, such as "general dramas" rather than "crime-oriented programs", the viewers tend to learn what to do in case of the dangerous situation. It indicates that whether or not the influence of enculturation takes place depends on the type of TV program. [19]

When analyzing TV violence, it is often questioned which one of the following theories are true: "catharsis theory", according to which violent behavior is reduced by letting out stress through vicarious participation, or "observational learning theory", according to which the viewers imitate aggressive behavior. Sasaki (1989) conducted a study to define "which one of those theories takes place under what kind of situation" and "what kind of TV violence" has caused problems in viewers. The research classified violent TV programs into several categories by employing gratification types. Two types of surveys were conducted to categorize the types of gratification and to classify violent TV programs. The first survey involved 73 junior high-school students and 58 high-school students. The subjects were asked to list up to three programs they often viewed and to write an essay on how they felt after watching them. Thirty-three gratification items were categorized from the essays which were used in the second survey. The subjects sampled, 389 students, were asked to list up to three programs which they often saw and to answer 33 questions on a 5-point-scale. The seven gratification types were: diversion of the mind, identification with characters in the program, acquirement of knowledge, empathy, laughter, longing, and emotional diversion. Three types of violent programs were classified as follows by employing the seven gratification types: moving-violent programs, empathetic-violent programs, and funny-violent programs. The first type of violent program moved viewers and satisfied their knowledge gratification by showing historical facts. However, among the three types of violent programs, observational learning theory was anticipated in the second and the third types, while desensitization to violent behavior was predicted in the third type. [20]

As a follow-up study on the types of violent programs and on the four categories, An Empirical Study of the Typology of Violent Television Programs was conducted in 1993. The researcher intended to clarify the reason for the contradictory theories -- for example, that the catharsis theory suggests that watching violence on TV reduces violent behavior while the observational learning theory suggests that TV violence increases aggressive behavior among viewers. The researcher hypothesized that "the types of effects based on the theory of catharsis, observational learning, desensitization, and cultivation correspond respectively to the types of violent programs based on gratification". A survey of 680 randomly sampled subjects was conducted. The results of this study were based on the 268 mail questionnaires sent back. The factor-analyzed data revealed four types of violent programs: divertive, empathic, intellectually satisfying, and laughter accompanying. The nature of the four types of violent programs were analyzed and it was shown that these types of violent programs correlated to the predicted effects of the four theories of television violence. The catharsis effect was related to divertive violent programs while the observational learning effect correlated with intellectually satisfying violent programs. The desensitization effect was related to laughter accompanying violent programs, and the cultivation effect was related to empathic violent programs. Thus, the researcher's hypothesis was confirmed. [21]

Sasaki and Muto (1987) studied the problem of "ijime (bullying)" among students from the viewpoint of TV violence. Many TV programs featured at least one scene that used ijime as a source of humour. Therefore, according to this fact, it was hypothesized that children who watch more ijime TV programs tend to bully others, and that children learn ways of bullying by viewing those programs more than through any other medium. Also, as the third hypothesis, children who watch many ijime programs tend to be desensitized to bullying behavior. A survey of 977 junior high-school students was conducted. The subjects were divided into a group of frequent viewers and a group of infrequent viewers, and were asked if they had bullied before. Bullying was defined in terms of the nine ways of bullying which were found in the sample of violent programs. The subjects were also asked how they learned their ways of bullying and what they would do if they were to witness a situation of bullying. The results of a chi square test supported the first hypothesis but not the others. The researchers suggested further study of desensitization using more sensitive and accurate measurement strategies. The results also indicated that in the process of learning bullying behavior, personal media as well as mass media seem to function as sources of acquiring bullying methods. The researcher concluded by suggesting that control of the portrayal of bullying behavior on TV is necessary. [22]

Past studies in the U.S. and Europe supported the relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and viewers' level of aggressiveness. Sasaki (1986) conducted a study in order to clarify the relation between the two variables in Japan. A sample of 473 (249 junior high and 224 high school) students were asked to pick up to five programs from 25 violent programs and to answer 20 questions about their daily violent behavior. The results supported the hypotheses. The second purpose of the study was to clarify the relationship between the violence viewed on TV and the viewers' degree of desensitization to violent scenes. The researcher hypothesized that the more TV violence people watch the more used to it they become. The result indicated that there is a positive relation only among senior high school students, which could mean that the longer people are exposed to TV violence the more accustomed to it they become. The third purpose of this study was to find out about the influences of different types of violence on viewers' aggressiveness and on the degree of desensitization. Iwao's three categories of violent television programs -- random violence, purposive violence, and passive violence programs -- were used. The results showed no positive relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and the level of desensitization. However, there was a positive relationship between the amount of violence viewed on TV and the viewers' aggressiveness. The relationship was stronger when viewing random and passive violence than when viewing purposive violence. [23]

Research by specialists in juvenile delinquency

Research on the influence of media has been conducted not only by media researchers and child psychologists but also by researchers in criminal psychology. Various important studies conducted by the National Research Institute of Police Science cried to analyze relations between access to mass media and various other factors affecting children and delinquency/deviant behavior in juveniles. The researchers had the advantage of being able to include both average children and juvenile delinquents as research subjects. The depiction of delinquency and deviant behavior represented in the mass media -- not only in fictional programs but also in nonfictional programs -- has been focused on recently by researchers.

One such study, conducted in 1983, tried to determine characteristics of high school students who tended to conform to such mass media depictions. Results showed that those students tended to have complaints about family and school life, and had had more experiences of violent actions and/or of being victims. [24]

As a part of a more recent research project on the influence of organized criminal gangs (boryokudan) on juveniles conducted by the same institute in 1991, the juveniles' perceptions of boryokudan represented in the mass media were closely analyzed. The following are the main results from the study. [25]

First of all, mass media was the major source of information on boryokudan for both high school students and delinquents. Sources included both nonfictional reports such as TV news and newspaper articles, and fiction such as TV dramas, movies and novels. In general, average students got their information mainly from nonfictional reports, while delinquents relied more heavily on fictional sources.

Nonfictional reports on boryokudan tend to form negative images of boryokudan as terrifying, selfish, brutal, and so on. Fiction concerning boryokudan, on the other hand, tends to form relatively few negative images which, in some cases, are mixed with rather positive images such as sympathy, having a spirit of unity, and masculinity. Moreover, it is important to note that such fictional depictions tend to be regarded as reality by delinquents.

As for both high school students and delinquents, those who have frequent access to media reports on boryokudan are more likely to form positive images of boryokudan than those who rarely have access to such information. This tendency is more evident in delinquents than in average high school students.

Here again, the cause-and-effect relationship between access to media/depiction of media and unfavorable behavior and attitudes has not been clarified. Researchers in this field seem to be rather cautious about regarding mass media as a cause of juvenile delinquency. On this point, there is a very interesting and important insight by Fujimoto, a specialist in criminology in his paper Can Mass Media Be a Cause of Juvenile Delinquency? [26]

By reviewing the history of juvenile delinquency after W.W.II and countermeasures by government agencies, he pointed out that in each of the three peak periods of juvenile countermeasures by delinquency, mass media popular in each period became the target of criticism: movies in the first peak around 1951, TV in the second peak around 1964, and a variety of media including new types of comics for teens in the third peak around 1983. He hypothesized that it was natural for specialists to pay attention to mass media as a possible influential cause in each period that juvenile delinquency peaked, but that it is difficult to say whether or not those media were causes of juvenile delinquency, because there was not enough time lag between peak times of delinquency and countermeasures actually taken.

Recent research trends: Another boom in media research?

Next, I would like to introduce the most recent trends in research concerning depictions of violence, sex and other unfavorable subjects in the media. Since about 1987, there have been public debates on pornographic comics, video software (especially "horror videos" and "adult videos"), computer-game software (violence, sex), etc, on various occasions.

Government agencies have not only requested self-regulation by the concerned organizations, but have also conducted new research for further discussion and possible countermeasures. As for video software, the seriousness of the issue has been increased since a series of assaults on young girls from 1988 to 1989 was committed by a young adult who possessed nearly 6,000 video tapes including some "horror videos" in his room.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government (which had conducted various studies on children and youth, and on media) conducted a study on videos in 1991 and also on the multi-media environment more generally, with a focus on computers in 1992. The research in 1991 indicated, for example, that heavy video viewers (more than 7 hours per week) had a positive and open-minded tendency, but at the same time were a little more aggressive and unethical than average. According to their parents, those children had inferiority complexes and problem behavior such as delinquency and violence at home. [27]

It was also found through parental observation that children who often watched "horror videos" were uncooperative and aggressive. Children who often viewed "adult videos" seemed to have more problems. They tended to watch them alone in their own rooms late at night. They tended to have various troubles, were more aggressive and unethical, and had more instances of problem behavior and sexually deviant behavior.

One of the important findings of this research was a lack of adult understanding of the seriousness of the problems. For example, parents whose children often watched adult videos regarded their own children as having tendencies toward delinquency, but left their children to view those videos relatively freely. A little more than half of the video shops surveyed in this research answered that horror videos and adult videos had a negative influence on children, but almost no shops had self-regulation on selling or renting this kind of software because of financial considerations.

The Youth Affairs Administration, Management and Coordination Agency of the Prime Minister's Office conducted a nation-wide survey to collect basic data on the media environment surrounding youth in Japan in 1991. In 1992, the same Administration conducted a more specific study on the influence of current media centered on pornographic comics; this is one of the most serious subjects of concern in Japan. [28]

It was found that children who have access to porno-comics tended not only to have sex but also to produce violent and other deviant behavior, and that these tendencies were especially prevalent among junior high students rather than among senior high students. Here again, it was found that parents of those students underevaluated the media situation affecting their children.

Literature review on computer game violence

It has been over a decade since computer games were produced in Japan and introduced to the market that targets children. Although there have been many studies concerning the negative aspects of computer games on children, it was said that computer games play an important role in the formation of media literacy (Yuji and Mori 1995). Computer games may well contribute to and play an important role in the information-oriented society with multimedia. This notion was supported by a study showing that children who use computer games have faster information processing skills (Yuji 1996). The following studies give some insight into the pro's and con's of computer games.

A study on the use of computers among students of age 10 to 15 (primary school and junior high school students) and the influence of computer use on such psychological variables as level of creativity, motivation to achieve, and social development, was conducted by Sakamoto, Hatano and Sakamoto (1992) [29]. The subjects sampled, 663 students, were asked how frequently they use computers; this information was later on compared to indices used to determine social development. The results indicated lower levels of creativity, motivation to achieve, and social development among male students in grade school who play games on computer, while male grade-school students who use computer for word-processing had higher levels of creativity and motivation to achieve. Also male grade-school students who use computers for programming had higher levels of creativity. At the grade-school level, the correlation of frequency of use with these various psychological variables was lower for female students than it was for male students, and male junior high school students who played games on computers had higher levels of cognitive complexity.

Similar to the study conducted by Sakamoto et al., (1992), Sakamoto (1992) conducted research focused on the relationship between the frequency of children's use of video games and some psychological variables, such as social development, aggressiveness, attitude toward war, sociometric status in classroom, and school achievement. As children are in a personality forming stage and are still developing, it is possible that they are easily influenced by the use of video games. It has been said, though not scientifically proven, that children who use video games frequently and who do not often communicate with others would develop their social skills slower than those who do not use video games. By measuring the sample subjects' level of empathy, cognitive complexity, cognitive centrality, and cooperativeness as components of social development, the researcher intended to clarify the relationship between the frequency of children's use of video games and the level of social development. The sample population was 392 children of age 10 to 14 (primary school and junior high school students). The children were divided into two sub-groups in order to distinguish communication level: a group who usually play alone and a group who play with others. The results indicated that male primary school students who used video games frequently had a low level of both social development and school achievement and had a positive attitude toward war. There was no significant difference between children who played video games alone and those who played them with other children. Also, junior high school students who used video games frequently showed a high level of cognitive complexity. The study found that primary school students (male) "who played video games frequently obtained their popularity among classmates through their skills with video games". [30]

Most of the previous studies have focused mainly on the negative aspects and effects of computer games. In order to find out if there are any positive effects of playing computer games, Yuji (1996) conducted a study to assess the relationship between the use of computer games and information-processing skills. As computer games require high parallel information-processing skills and quick reaction times, it is assumed that players' information-processing skills are developed as well. The subjects for this study were a total of 46 (25 boys and 21 girls) kindergartners. The sample was divided into two groups according to the frequency level of their use of computer games. Pictures were used as stimuli to test the subjects' information-processing skills. Stimuli were four combinations of two colors and two shapes of frogs: a big-eyed green frog, a small-eyed green frog, a big-eyed pink frog, and a small-eyed pink frog. After Stimulus 1 was shown in the center of the computer display for two seconds, four patterns of Stimulus 2 appeared on the screen for one second. Then the subjects were tested to omit different colors and shapes from the first stimuli picture as soon and correct as possible. The results indicated that children who play computer games had excellent perceptual skills, motor skills, and information-processing skills. The researcher suggested that further study and comprehensive examination of computer games should be conducted, as such games may play an important role in the information-oriented society with multimedia. [31]

Yuji and Mori (1995) conducted a content analysis of game software. The purpose of this study was to define the content on covers of game packages, to analyze how much violence is included in action game videos, and to study the problem involving gender and aggressiveness. The results showed that most of the existing computer games are male oriented and clearly involve high levels of violence. However, the researcher insisted that there was no relationship between these contents and children who use such software learning about male-female discrimination and becoming more aggressive. The importance of this study can be seen from the point of view of media literacy. That is, the results showed that computer games play an important role in the formation of media literacy. If the male dominating and violence oriented content of computer games results in driving female consumers away, this is a problem which needs to be solved, as the author insisted. [32]

Mori and Yuji (1995) conducted another study with a slightly different perspective from their previous one -- they analyzed the contents of computer games and compared them with those of TV programs. The study showed the existence of TV violence on computer games. The results indicated not only that violence and gender differences in computer games are based on TV programs, but also that the frequency of violent scenes is higher in such games than on TV. [33]

Children's viewing habits and concerns of parents and teachers


Questions addressing what parents and teachers think about the effects of television on children have been included in various ways in many surveys to date. While the largest number of respondents replied that TV has both favorable and unfavorable effects, those who replied "more unfavorable effects" outnumbered those who replied "more favorable effects".

The main concerns of parents are children's imitations of violence, bad language in TV programs and commercials, and possible harm to children's emotional development. But Japanese parents do not seem to be very strict about televiewing habits at home and children are relatively free to choose whatever programs they like and to watch them when they like. [34] [35]

For example, about half of 1-2 year olds take the initiative in turning on the TV and watch without any adult nearly half of their total viewing hours. After reaching age 3 to 4, children tend to watch TV more often by themselves or with other children, rather than with their parents.

Children up to 2 years old watch with great interest various TV programs intended especially for pre-school children; almost all these pre-school programs today are broadcast by NHK, the nation's only public broadcaster. Among these, With Mother (1959-), which is the longest-running children's program in Japan, has been especially popular among Japanese children and parents. (With Mother is similar to BBC's Playschool or Playdays.) Many start watching this program even before their first birthday.

Even infants below one year old show a considerable response to TV; surveys indicate that in the case of infants 4 to 7 months old, more than half show interest in the sounds and pictures of the TV screen, and that infants begin playing with TV sets by switching them on and off as early as the age of 6-7 months, since TV sets nowadays are quite easy to handle. More than one-fourth of 8-9 month olds imitate handclapping and more than half of one-year-olds mimic callisthenics on TV. Furthermore, children between ages 1-1/2 and 2 are seen more and more imitating songs and spoken words heard on TV programs and commercials. [36]

Children past age three become increasingly interested in animated cartoons, SF fantasy dramas with special effects, and variety shows for general audiences mostly broadcast on commercial channels, as their interest in pre-school programs declines. Differences appear around age 3 or 4 in the program preference of boys and girls. (Boys like programs which include actions they can imitate and use later in play with friends, while girls prefer family-type stories.) Role-playing by imitating characters on TV becomes popular at the age of three and four. As for imitating violent actions and vulgar language, 50 percent of children showed at least some such influence from TV. This tendency is stronger among boys, frequent viewers, and also among children whose mothers are rather strict about their children's televiewing. Children in this age group also want to own toys and games, books, stationery or clothes and bags associated with favorite TV characters.

As for family rules about children's TV viewing, in the case of 1-2 year olds, "what to view" is the biggest concern of parents; then as children grow, their parents' concerns move to "total viewing hours a day" and "when to view" rather than program contents. One reason why Japanese parents are not very strict about children's TV viewing can be explained as follows. Since popular programs invariably tend to become the subjects of exchanges (through role-playing, imitating characters, and conversations) among their play group or at school, children who are ignorant about such TV programs often find themselves left out. Parents worry quite seriously that their children will be ignored or treated badly by their friends.


Unfortunately the first impression many people have of Japanese children's TV programs seems to be of animated cartoons and SF dramas often with violent actions and/or vulgar expressions. However, many visitors from other countries are surprised at the existence of other kinds of programs, including a variety of school broadcasting from kindergarten through senior high school levels and also other kinds of quality programs for children's home viewing, including TV Picture Books (stories), Fun with English, I Can Do That Myself (cooking and other how-to topics), Music Fantasy: Dramas (classical music) and News for Children (weekly news magazine for children and parents) provided on both of the NHK's terrestrial TV Channels (General TV and Educational TV), and one of the NHK's two DBS Channels.

As for TV school broadcasting, it started in Japan in 1953. From the very beginning, an organization called the All-Japan Teachers' Federation for Studying the Use of Radio and TV in Education has played an important role, contributing to progress in the effective use of broadcasting and improving the quality of programs, in close co-operation with NHK.

The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute has conducted nationwide School Broadcast Utilization Surveys since 1950. The purpose of the surveys is to get basic data on the dissemination of audio-visual equipment and the use of NHK's radio and TV school broadcasts, and also to evaluate programs through teachers' observation and to study teachers' attitudes towards various media. The data are used as a basis for discussion on the further development of school broadcasting and related materials.

As of 1996-97, 95% of Japan's primary schools were making use of NHK's TV school programs. The rate was 54% for kindergartens and 70% for nursery schools.

Some of the NHK's school broadcasts have been sent to various countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa -- broadcast in their local languages -- with some financial support from Japan in response to requests from these countries. This, however, might not be widely known. Not only programs, but various specialists in producing educational programs have been sent from NHK to these countries to assist in development of their own educational broadcasting.

More than 95% of Japanese children go to either kindergartens or nursery schools before their entrance to primary schools at the age of six. And teachers of kindergartens and nurseries recognize the overall influence of TV on children most frequently; both the positive and negative effects.

One of NHK's surveys in 1996 indicated that in 73% of the kindergartens throughout Japan teachers answered that the children's language deteriorated as a result of their imitating TV vocabulary, 65% reported that children sometimes acted roughly by imitating TV violence -- kick-boxing, professional wrestling, jumping down from high places, imitating gun fights, etc. -- and 56% believed that TV had some harmful effects on the emotional development of children, for example, misunderstanding of the concept of "death". These are all examples from entertainment programs chosen by children themselves and watched at home, often without adults, as already mentioned.

As for television's overall influence on small children, many teachers answered that "there are more bad influences than good". This negative view held by teachers seems to be connected with their reluctance to use TV at kindergartens and nursery schools, and it may well have contributed to the gradual decline in use of educational TV for children since the beginning of the 1980's. Some teachers explained that they do not want to use TV, since children spend quite a lot of time watching TV at home. (Though children's total viewing hours are less than that of the adults as it is in many other countries. According to NHK's survey in 1996, preschool children between 4 and 6 years watched TV for an average of 2 hours and 21 minutes a day, and those in primary school, 2 hours and 13 minutes; the average daily viewing hours for all Japanese over 7 years old was 3 hours and 34 minutes.)

However, there is an obvious difference between the programs children choose to watch on their own at home and those used at kindergartens and nursery schools under the guidance of teachers. Considering the fact that this gap widens as children grow older, and that proper discipline regarding TV viewing is generally not given strongly at home, kindergartens and nursery schools could have an important role in education about media, by helping children cultivate a more selective attitude towards TV and various other media, including videos and video games. [37]

Further development of research

As various studies have already indicated, it is very difficult to explain clear-cut "cause-and effect" relations between exposure to violence in the media and aggressiveness of children in real-life. Even so, it is important to further develop research on "multiple effects of media violence on our society" with more sophisticated and newer approaches and methods, especially under circumstances where the portrayal of various kinds of violence and other unfavorable subjects have been increasing and seem to be becoming more and more vivid, not only on TV but also in many other media such as video software, video games, comics, cinema, etc. In this context, as a researcher in the area "Children and Media", I am particularly interested in the following three aspects.

Research on "media violence"

The first is the importance of more precise analysis of "the possibility of different effects of media violence in different cultures". Though there have been some studies in this area so far, we still need more precise and deep analysis.

There seem to be types of violent expression which can be understood and felt in a similar way in most societies around the world. However, there seem to be other types of violence, as well, that is "violence" which is felt and understood quite differently depending on the viewers' culture. In other words, some particular depictions which are acceptable to one society might be seen as too violent in another society. Moreover, children and adults in each culture might have different perceptions and attitudes.

From my own experience through discussions with researchers from various countries, I feel the necessity for a scientific analysis on this point. By analyzing various reactions of both children and adults to the same TV programs in societies with different cultural backgrounds (and also International experiences), we would be able to learn how similarly and differently people perceive the same visuals and show their reactions to "violence" and other depictions in the media. It is, of course, very important to analyze the mechanism of how and to what degree such depictions of violence could affect behavior and attitudes of the viewers, especially children, via a long-term study. This kind of International research could be useful and important not just for discussions on media violence but for International co-operation in media development as a whole, including effective exchanges of TV programs and ideas related to children's use of media. [38]
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:53 pm


Emphasis on the positive aspects of the media

My second point is the necessity for emphasis on the positive aspects of the media; that is, the importance of development of research and related activities to create and widely distribute TV programs and video software, etc., favorable for and attractive to the viewers, especially to children. I have been working along these lines at NHK's Research Institute, and this approach was one of the characteristics of research on "Children and Media" throughout the 1980's in Japan. [39]

We have been studying both TV programs and children's reactions to programs in various ways to give helpful data to our producers for improvement of current programs and also for development of new programs. Various programs of NHK's School Broadcasting already introduced have been developed based on many kinds of studies. Many other studies, especially for young children, have been conducted by the Research Project on TV (Media) Programming for Two-Year-Olds since 1978.

This project requires the co-operation of TV producers of NHK, media researchers such as myself, and specialists in various fields such as developmental psychology and pedagogy, etc., and attempts primarily to develop quality programs for young children between 2 and 4 years who are the heaviest viewers among children in Japan and who are also at the most important stage in learning viewing habits. The researchers have adopted the method of viewing-experiments with a distracter. These studies are carried out in an experimental room using test-produced programs, and involve analysis of various reactions of children (such as viewing attention, verbal reactions, and various non-verbal reactions). [40][41]

With support from the studies within this project, various new programs have been developed for young children. When a new Yoga calisthenics segment was planned to be introduced in With Mother, NHK's pre-school daily series, eight segments were produced under different conditions: performers, variety and number of Yoga poses, amount of instruction, etc. The responses of 2-year-old children to each segment were recorded and analyzed, and several suggestions were given to the producers: the smaller the number of poses, the more the children tended to watch the segment. Children showed more imitation if they were given more instruction. "Talking to viewers" instruction was positively correlated with imitation by children. As a result, improvements were achieved for the final production of a Yoga segment called Hi, Pose for broadcasting. According to another study conducted after the start of broadcasting of this newly developed segment, imitating the movements of this segment was most popular among children age 2 to 2-1/2, the core target audience.

Another good example is the one-minute animation series Kids Like Us which was also introduced as a part of With Mother. In this case, the members of the research project began working to develop this new idea, based on the research results from a wide range of earlier studies. After much discussion, it was decided to produce various characters reflecting typical traits and behavior of children between 2 and 3 years old (such as tendencies to be hard-to-please, mischievous, untidy, gluttonous, forgetful, etc.) and each segment features understandable, simple stories, just one or two minutes long.

The purpose of this animation was to let children watch these characters repeatedly, in various different stories, then reflect on their own behavior, and also learn the fact that there are various types of people in our society. One important decision was not to give comments such as "Don't do this" or "Do this", since it is important for children in this age group to learn how to judge their own behavior.

The experiment as a formative research was conducted with the same method for the final production of Kids Like Us. Follow-up surveys held after the start of broadcasting, through mothers' observation of their children's reactions and also observations of some specialists, showed that this new series was achieving the main projected goals. [42]

Though it takes a lot of manpower, a large budget and time to conduct these types of experiments and surveys, it is very important and meaningful, of course, for producers and researchers. Moreover, it is very meaningful to give parents opportunities to think about the quality of TV programs for children through these various studies.

There is another example I would like to introduce. That is an interdisciplinary project focusing on the influence of TV on toddlers, infants and fetuses conducted under leadership of the President of the National Children's Hospital. This project consists of a pediatrics group, a cultural anthropology group and a media research group. It is an especially important feature in this project that many specialist pediatricians have joined the studies on TV.

For example, one of the studies indicates that even infants (8-months old) may recognize pictures on TV in a way similar to adults. In another study, pediatricians discovered a response indicating abnormal behavior in an 18 month old toddler, first by a questionnaire about televiewing habits at home answered by her mother. A follow-up clinical examination revealed that this toddler was hearing-impaired. An observational study was carried out to assess the behavior of handicapped children toward TV in an experimental environment, and a group of pediatricians started thinking about developing new sensory test methods using television.

Though this project paid attention both to the positive and negative effects of TV, the basic approach was to understand the meaning of "watching TV" in today's society and to find out how this medium could effectively be used to benefit mankind. [43] [44]

Importance of education on media

Finally, I would again like to emphasize the importance of education on media. As I have already mentioned, this is, of course, very important for children as a vital step in learning how to watch TV and how to enjoy other media in a way which will benefit them. As children grow older and their understanding of the mechanism of the media deepens, various media can be important tools which children can use to express themselves. It is also very important for adults to understand the newest media environment as a whole both for themselves, and also for giving effective advice to children from various view points: as a parent, as a teacher, as a provider of various software for children.

Concluding remarks

Though analysis and discussion of negative aspects of media is, of course, necessary, I feel strongly that it is equally important to pay attention to positive aspects of the same media, in order to encourage and increase desirable output from each media and thus to make the total media environment around us beneficial to the future of our children.

In this context, various forms of co-operation would become more and more important, including interdisciplinary and International co-operation. There has been a clear trend among members responsible for researching, producing and broadcasting children's programs and educational programs, towards seeking new forms of effective International co-operation in a wider sense now than ever before. [45]

I believe that it is essential to think of children's growth, education and media development not in terms of one nation or society, but rather from a global viewpoint, in terms of the future of all humanity. With so many countries now paying special attention to "Media Violence", it is my wish that those concerned utilize this "trend" and think of it as a wonderful chance for us to work in harmony to reach a favorable solution which will put an end to the problem once and for all, and at the same time enhance the often neglected positive side of media as a whole.

Several researchers in the past have said that the Japanese society tends to react according to a catharsis theory more than other cultures in the world, thinking of the fact that Japan has a relatively low crime rate and at the same time a large amount of violent media contents, at least so far. There is no scientific proof of the theory yet. It could be that the Japanese tend to relieve their stress by watching aggressive TV programs and by playing violent video games. However, it was also mentioned earlier, that the "violence" in the Japanese dramas is often followed by scenes showing the after-effects of victims and the process of their suffering, something which may decrease the tendency towards aggressive attitudes and behaviors among the Japanese viewers.

Many of the past studies have found the power of media to be a source of negative influence. However, if the effects of media are so strong, it is possible that the media could be used for something positive. Researchers should place more emphasis on how to make positive use of the power of media for children in the future.

A future study needs to be conducted with an emphasis on the possibility that cultural differences, and differences in individual experience, play a role as factors which determine the perception of "violence" (in the real world and in the media). Findings from such a study might be beneficial for future TV program productions and exchanges. Past International studies on TV violence, in which Japan also took part, proved that there are different characteristics in violent scenes between Japan and the U.S. and among other Asian programs. As regards how we perceive such violent scenes, research suggests that there is an existing disparity due to cultural difference and cross-cultural experience/understanding.

Growing International concern about the nature of children's rights prompted the organization of the Japan Prize Contest to hold a symposium entitled "Listen to Children -- Children's Rights and Television" in November 1996. (Japan Prize is an International contest for educational programs established in 1965 and organized by NHK.) There were quite a number of programs from different parts of the world entered in the Contest that dealt with children's rights from various viewpoints, such as child abuse, peer pressure, bullying, children in poverty, children in war, and so on. The thrust of the arguments among specialists in educational programs was that children should be made aware of their rights and allowed to have a say in how educational programs both for children and for adults should be produced.

Therefore, I recommend that future media researchers conduct further studies that would encourage the points raised during the symposium, and that the media business people concentrate on positive use of the power of media in order to create more favorable TV (media) environments.



1. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the official views of NHK.

2. In addition to the kinds of studies introduced here, NHK conducted a series of studies on educational programs for children and school broadcasts, by using a program analyzer, primarily to improve those programs but also to develop new ones.


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:58 pm

Children, Media and Aggression: Current Research in Australia and New Zealand


This article offers an overview of recent and current Australian and New Zealand research relating to the topic of children and aggression in the media. We set the terms of our account fairly broadly, to include research addressed to the perennial questions of the effects of overtly aggressive content, as well as the perceptions and responses of the audience (children and parents). We consider also related topics such as the representations of ethnic minority groups in the media, crime programs, and media treatment of sexual abuse. Hence, 'aggression' here includes forms of physical violence as well as symbolic intimidation and oppression. We concentrate mainly on research published since 1990 (and forthcoming), but occasionally touching on earlier work where it is relevant.

Our goal is to illustrate the range of recent research and perspectives. We have not attempted to provide critical evaluations of the research. However, we do offer comments where we believe researchers' findings prompt further investigation and lead to interesting new lines of inquiry. First, we sketch the background with a summary of debates about the media in the two countries. Then, we turn to what we will loosely label 'effects' issues: for example, do young people become more aggressive as a result of viewing aggressive TV content or playing violent computer games? Next, we turn to the consumers themselves, discussing work addressed to children's interpretations and understanding of media content. Finally, we review findings of several projects that relate to parental mediation and intervention.

Research and policy background

There has been a long tradition of interest among Australian and New Zealand researchers in children's and adolescents' responses to television content, including aggressive content (e.g., Edgar, 1977; Hodge & Tripp, 1986; Ling & Thomas, 1986; McCann & Sheehan, 1985; Noble, 1975; Palmer, 1986; Sheehan, 1986; Shuker, 1990). Debate about media content and regulation is healthily vigorous in both countries. In Australia, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, the body charged with classifying most of the audiovisual media marketed in the nation, holds an annual conference in which classification officers, politicians, civil servants, media representatives, academics and others meet to discuss research and policy issues. The Australian Broadcasting Authority, the organisation responsible for developing and monitoring standards of television and radio broadcasting publishes regular newsletters on current issues in these media. Both bodies undertake extensive research into issues relating to media classification, community standards and concerns and patterns of media use (Aisbett, Paterson, & Loncar, 1992; Paterson & Hellmers, 1993; Paterson & Loncar, 1991; Sheldon, Aisbett, & Herd, 1993). In New Zealand, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) undertakes or commissions similar research (Bassett & Shuker, 1993; Watson, 1992, 1993; Watson, Bassett, Lambourne, & Shuker, 1991). The BSA also fosters debate about issues such as aggression in the media (e.g., National Television Violence Seminar Papers, 1991). Recent debates in either or both of the countries have included concern about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the television broadcast of movies with M level violence during midevening, the content of Pay TV, the viability of the 'V' chip, the regulation of computer games, and children's access to adult materials on the Internet.

There is a keen awareness of the principal enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that children have a 'right to be protected from material harmful to them' (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1990a; Abbott, 1992; Biggins, 1995; Griffith, 1996). This priority is acknowledged in the legislation governing the work of bodies such as the ABA, OFLC and BSA. It is promoted by pressure groups such as Young Media Australia, a training and advocacy organisation which publishes Small Screen, a monthly review of events and publications relating to the effects of films, television, video games and new media on children. In New Zealand, there is an array of similar groups and the Mental Health Foundation has conducted an extensive and apparently effective campaign to force public broadcasters to reduce the amount of violence on television (Abbott, 1992).

As in other countries, there are diverse opinions about the influence of violent television content upon young viewers, and about the kinds of responses that policy makers, parents, and professionals should make (Abbott, 1992; Biggins, 1995; Hodge, 1989; Prior, 1995). For example, the Australian College of Paediatrics (I994) has published a clear and strong statement that the sheer quantity of time spent with television indicates that 'television viewing must rate as a critical influence on the development of children', that a regrettable part of this influence is due to the (increasing) violent content, that 'there is a relationship between viewing violent television and aggressiveness' and that '(v)iewing of television violence can also reduce inhibitions against aggression and lead to a belief that solving problems through violenct means is 'normal' and acceptable' (p. 6). Paediatricians, the statement concludes, have a role in bringing the pervasive effects of television to the attention of parents, and in promoting healthier uses of the medium.

On the other hand, there are sceptics. Among these, Hodge (1989) argues forcefully that ideological assumptions about the nature of children (as vulnerable innocents in need of protection or as potentially wicked savages in need of restraint) fuel much of the Australian debate and policy concerning the desirability of certain types of television content. These assumptions are often compounded, he suggests, by middle class elitism in the arena of cultural choices. Hodge argues that the regulation of children's television content can serve to counter the wishes (and hence the rights) of children themselves, by depriving them of programmes they wish to see and inflicting other programmes that arguably well intentioned adults like but many young viewers do not. 'If anyone bothered to listen to what they [children] see and say, it would quite spoil the game' (p. 170).

When members of the public are asked if they have concerns about any aspects of what is currently shown in television, the most common topic, mentioned spontaneously by about 25-30% of the sample, is violence (based on Australian data, reported in Paterson & Loncar, 1991). Concern with violence tends to vary with the age, gender and parental status of the respondent -- older people, women, and parents tend to be more likely to register concern. About 44-47% of respondents indicate that they have no concerns or 'don't know.' Studies of people who complain about television content (either to the ABA or directly to a broadcasting company) confirm that violence is their foremost concern (Aisbett et al., 1992). Audience research indicates widespread community support for classification schemes, generally high awareness of what the classification symbols (e.g., G, PGR, M, R, I etc.) stand for, and frequent reference to the symbols when making viewing decisions (Paterson & Hellmers, 1993).

There is a strong civil libertarian tradition in Australia, and a majority of the community appears to prefer informed consumer choice to censorship of the media. In a large scale study of community attitudes towards the acceptability of 'R' rated content on Pay TV, the ABA found that 82% of respondents agreed that adults should have the option of watching R rated programs, and 69% agreed that R-rated movies provide entertainment which is of interest to many adults and should be available to them. 69% thought that R-rated violence should be permitted in this context. Most (85%) felt that, if R rated programs were to be shown on Pay TV, then it would be important to receive information about them before they were broadcast (Australian Broadcasting Authority, 1994).

In sum, violence in the media is a perennial focus of concern in Australia and New Zealand, as in many other countries. The topic is debated and investigated within a social climate characterised by a wide range of ideological positions, a strong community concern for the well-being of children, and a majority commitment to adult freedom of choice in media use.

Effects: the impact of television and computer game content

Effects studies appear not to be prevalent in contemporary research in Australia and New Zealand. However, there are some exceptions, and there is certainly continuing interest in the issues. We discuss examples here concerning television and computer games.


The media do not operate, of course, in a sociocultural vacuum. Often, messages about aggression are consonant with other values promoted in children's lives or with activities in which they are encouraged to engage (Sanson & Prior, 1989). An obvious example is aggressive toys. These afford children practical means to play-act events and behaviours that may coincide with television content, or even be inspired by it. Furthermore, many of these toys are marketed via children's television, either in overt advertisements or as products associated with specific programs and characters.

Following Huesmann's (1986, 1988) information processing account of the effects of viewing aggressive media, Sanson and Di Muccio (1993) reasoned that exposure to violent cartoons and subsequent play with toys based on the cartoon series should provide children an opportunity to rehearse aggressive scripts derived from or strengthened by the programs. Children aged 4 to 5 years in small mixed gender groups viewed for 21 minutes either an aggressive cartoon or a neutral cartoon, and then played for 15 minutes with either aggressive toys or neutral toys (the toys were commercial products based on the cartoon materials), and for another 15 minutes with the opposite set of toys; other children participated as controls, also playing with the toys but not viewing either of the cartoons.

Several measures of aggressive behaviour and prosocial behaviour were collected prior to viewing (i.e., to establish baselines) and after viewing. The results are complex, and are reported separately for working class and middle class participants. However, they do demonstrate higher levels of aggressive behaviours in children who were both exposed to the violent cartoon and played with aggressive toys; prosocial behaviour was low in these children. The authors are careful to note order effects, gender differences and considerable individual differences among the participants, with a majority of children showing no aggression, and two boys contributing a great deal. They conclude that the results justify public concern about the effects of heavily promoted antisocial toys representing aggressive cartoon characters.

Sanson et al.'s definitions of aggressive behaviour were clear and well operationalised, but one issue which remains open to future research relates to the children's intentions and the severity of their behaviour. The researchers counted the incidences of a range of verbal and physical acts, some of which might well be more aggressive than others (e.g., destroys property vs. boasts or brags), and some could be playful rather than designed to hurt (e.g., wrestling, shooting guns -- we assume these Melbourne preschoolers were only operating toy guns). It would still remain of interest that watching a particular type of television program could promote either or both of 'real' aggression and 'playful' aggression, but it might influence our models of the role of media influences upon aggressive behaviour if we were able to distinguish among these. The Sanson et al. study provides a timely push towards such work as well as a valuable guide to design and measurement issues.

Computer games

There has been considerable interest in Australia and New Zealand in the uses of new media, especially computer games, by young people. In Australia, computer games are classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification following guidelines similar to those employed in the classification of films, with the difference that material which would receive an 'R' in the movies (Restricted to persons over the age of 18) is refused classification in computer games (see Bedford, 1995, for a discussion of adults' rights in this context).

Dutkin (l995a) undertook a commissioned review of the available (International) literature investigating the place of computer games in the lives of contemporary children and adolescents, considering both negative effects (such as 'addiction', learning or encouragement of aggressive behaviour, impairment of family life and school performance, health consequences) and positive effects (such as cognitive and perceptuo-motor skill enhancement, heightened peer interaction, development of familiarity with computers).

Durkin concluded that the research did not justify assumptions of widespread ill effects. Incidence of obsessive involvement in computer game play is low in most surveys of children's leisure time use, and there is little evidence of deleterious consequences for social life or educational progress. On the topic of aggression, Durkin stressed that there were only a small number of studies published (in contrast to the large literature on television and aggression), and that these had yielded weak or inconsistent findings. Some studies pointed to an association between arcade play and aggressiveness, but not between home play and aggressiveness; surprisingly little success had been obtained in experimental studies attempting to find greater aggressiveness following laboratory exposure to violent games. However, Durkin noted that most of this literature was reporting work conducted in America and Britain in the 1980s, and it remains possible that the picture could change in the light of new research and in response to changes in the games themselves (such as greater realism and higher levels of violence). He suggested also that there is a need for research appropriate to the Australian cultural context (for example, Australia scores lower on most indices of real-life violence than the US and this may interact with any influence due to game content).

This report resulted in some debate in the national media. Some commentators have interpreted the literature differently from Durkin, and argued that 'We have no proof of no harm from video games, and we have some proof of harm' (Biggins, 1995, p. 85). Biggins argues that where researchers have failed to find proof of harm, it may be because of general deficiencies in social science research, or of sloppy methodology. Biggins holds also that the parental community is 'ill-equipped to guide and take responsibility for children's access to video games' (p. 89) and therefore favours conservative classification of this medium. Biggins makes the general point that the information superhighway could helpfully be flagged: 'Proceed with caution -- children crossing.'

Most parties to this debate tend to agree that the amount of research available is limited. Since the Durkin (l995a) report, some new Australian research has been completed. Ask, Winefield, and Augostinos (1997) drew on competition-aggression theory to argue that violent video games can elicit aggressive behaviours because of their competitive themes. Essentially, the thesis is that when placed in a competitive situation, people are prone to become angry, hostile and aggressive. The authors propose also, along lines similar to Huesmann and Sanson et al., above, that people may develop from earlier experiences schemas in which competitive environments become associated with particular cognitions, most notably hostile and aggressive patterns of thought. In a preliminary test with high school students, Ask et al. found that children do perceive competitive situations as more aggressive than cooperative situations. The investigators then conducted an experiment with other male and female adolescents in which participants played a video game in pairs, such that some individuals were competing against their partner, and others were cooperating with their partner. The hypothesis was that participants in the more competitive situation should demonstrate more aggressive responses, which were defined here as the proportion of 'kills' of adversaries on screen (computed as the ratio of kills over kills + avoidance responses). Earlier American research by Anderson and Morrow (1995), with college students as participants, had obtained such an effect, though Ask et al. (1997) saw that study as confounded because the participants gained points for 'killing'.

In the Ask et al. (1997) study, the participants were not rewarded with points for killing. The participants' mean kill ratios were virtually identical in the competitive and cooperative situations (.67 and .66, respectively). The researchers also solicited participants' evaluations of their partners, to test the hypothesis that competing against someone was more likely to evoke hostile reactions than cooperating with someone. No difference was obtained. Although these findings might be taken as contradicting the competition-aggression account, Ask et al. note that their participants reported enjoying the game played (Donkey Kong), found it easy and not very frustrating. Hence, the game -- if it is perceived as 'fun' rather than 'battle' -- may not provide an optimal test of the theory. Certainly, it does indicate that aggressive responses are not an inevitable consequence of playing competitive video games.

Ask (1996) reports a variant of the experiment using a more ostensibly aggressive game (Mortal Kombat III), with male high school students as participants (their female peers did not want to play). In this study, participants played initially in a series of trials and then, a week later, took part in a knock-out 'tournament' with financial prizes at stake. The game allows the possibility of aggressive types of moves and nonviolent moves. During the trials, the winners tended to use more violent moves and during the tournament, aggressive moves increased. Ask concludes that participants 'had an inclination to produce violent moves when there was more competition'. He cautions, however, against oversimplistic interpretations that this demonstrates an effect of video games on social behaviour, and points out that the experiment does not test transfer effects (i.e., learning about the efficacy of violence in a game context which is then transferred to 'real life' contexts). His current research is addressed to this issue.

In sum, interest in the effects of violent media content remains an active research area. Studies of children reacting to television and adolescents playing with computer games yield complex but provocative findings, Much remains to be settled about causal relations and about the meaning of aggression in these contexts, but recent studies underline the need for continuing investigation and point to new methodological developments and refinements that could usefully be exploited by other researchers.

Children's perspectives and experiences

A large proportion of recent Australian research has been concerned with aspects of children's experiences of the media, their patterns of use and preferences, their reactions to and their interpretations of media content, This work ranges through the very earliest experiences of television viewing through to the perceptions of school students.

Infants and toddlers

Collaboration between the coordinators of a large scale longitudinal study of emotional development in early childhood (Brent Waters, Judy Ungerer and Bryanne Barnett) and researchers at the Australian Broadcasting Authority (Margaret Cupitt and Daniel Jenkinson) is providing rare data on the television experiences of infants. Although it is well established that contemporary children spend time in the environment of television sets and VCRs from the beginnings of life, research into early responses to these media has been relatively scarce. In this study (Cupitt, Jenkinson, Ungerer, & Waters, 1997), data were collected from 157 parents (primarily mothers) when their child was aged 4 months, 12 months and 30 months. The sample included participants from a wide range of backgrounds, initially recruited when the mothers were attending obstetric clinics in central Sydney. Using interviews, viewing diaries and questionnaires, the investigators sought information about the amount, intensity and social contexts of early television viewing, the kinds of programs to which children were exposed and their reactions to them, and parental concerns and mediation strategies.

Infants in this study were viewing on average 5 hours per week of TV at 4 months, increasing to almost 10 hours at 30 months (with considerable individual variation). According to the mothers' perceptions, the intensity (manifest concentration) of children's viewing increased over this age span. The peak viewing times for 4- to 30-month-olds were 6-9 a.m. and 6-9 p.m. Children viewed a wide range of program types, including children's programs but also news, sports, and drama content. Children's programs increased as a proportion of total viewing during the age span, though even at 30 months these constituted less than half (45%) of the children's viewing. Viewing intensity was highest for these programs, though intermediate levels of perceived interest were reported for news, light entertainment and drama.

80% of mothers reported that their children imitated things seen on television, and 18% said theirs did not. 55% of children were reported to have imitated games, activities or scenes, 47% imitated dances, mimes, actions or movements and 45% imitated music, rhymes, songs or noises. In contrast, only 13% were reported to imitate aggressive behaviour.

The meaning of this finding is open to debate and warrants further research. The characteristics and severity of the behaviours and the intentions of the children were not recorded. It is possible that mothers over-interpret rough-and-tumble play, which would be becoming increasingly prevalent in children entering the toddler stage (Durkin, 1995b). On the other hand, it is also possible that mothers were oblivious to some ramifications of viewing aggressive material: for example, if delayed imitation occurred, perhaps when the child was less closely supervised, it might be harder for lay observers to relate this to television experiences. It is also possible that imitation rates are lower in very young samples, who lack the motor skills to enact some of the behaviours seen on television.

A subset of the sample (37 mothers) was asked what they thought their child (at 30 months) had learned from television. Most reported positive learning, such as vocabulary, counting skills, music, but one quarter reported that television had made their child more aggressive. Again, this is a potentially important finding, but one which should be interpreted with caution. How do the mothers determine causality (a task which has challenged many of the world's leading social scientists for decades)? Are they accurate, or do they under- or over-estimate the effects of television in this regard? How can we disentangle the developmentally increasing capacity of the toddler for robust and aggressive behaviours from his or her accumulating television viewing experience? What is distinctive about the one quarter of children (or families) where aggressive learning is reported? What do parents do when they discern influences of this kind? This ongoing study raises many fascinating questions and provides findings collected in a broader social-developmental context than is typically accessible to media researchers.

Kindergarten and school age children

Turning to older children, several different research groups have reported findings based on children's own accounts of their media (usually, but not only, television experiences). The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) has conducted extensive research into children's opinions about television content (Sheldon, Ramsay, & Loncar, 1994; Sheldon & Loncar, 1995, 1996). Sheldon et al. (1994) report the findings from qualitative and quantitative studies investigating 9- to 12-year-old children's attitudes to violence, kissing and swearing on television. Over 100 children participated in preliminary focus groups, and over 1,600 took part in a survey.

It is often asserted in public debate that audiences, including the young, have become inured to violence in the media as a result of the sheer proliferation of aggressive content. Sheldon et al.'s (1994) study indicates that the true picture is more complex. For example, about half of their sample certainly professed liking programs that were 'action packed' with fights, guns and car chases. On the other hand, nearly two thirds said that they did not like to watch programs that show children being hurt or 'whacked'. Almost as many disliked programs which showed animals being hurt or parents arguing and fighting. When asked in the survey whether they had ever viewed anything which had upset or bothered them, 50% of children spontaneously listed incidents involving violence (contrasting with mentions of nudity and swearing, which appeared in only 8% and 2% of responses, respectively). Independent research by Cupit (1997) yields compatible findings. He asked 1,500 South Australian upper primary children to identify scenes that they had witnessed on videos that left them with unwelcome memories, Approximately 25% of children spontaneously mentioned themes related to violence.

Durkin (1990) summarises an interview study of Australian kindergarten children's reactions to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an imported American series that inspired seemingly universal enthusiasm among young viewers and corresponding alarm among parents and educators. At the time, there were many allegations in the Australian media that young children could not differentiate fact from fantasy in TV, and reports that children nationwide were slavishly emulating the Turtles' martial arts practices. In fact, Durkin's interviewees proved well aware that the Turtles were not real and elaborated that their aggressive play was not for real, either. Similar findings are reported by Sheldon and Ramsay (1996) in a more extensive series of interviews about, among other topics, the Turtles' successors, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Interview studies can provide insights into children's perceptions and reasoning, but of course are limited as tests of the social consequences of viewing a particular type of material (often, this is not their primary focus). It is certainly possible that children react to aggressive media in ways which they do not recognise consciously or cannot articulate. The commercial effectiveness of the Turtles and Power Rangers enterprises could hardly be refuted, and others have argued, partly on the basis of clinical observations, that we need to monitor the subtle incorporation of aggressive cartoon heroes' values and problem solving techniques along with their T-shirts, pencils, cups and other accompanying products (Young, 1990). Sanson et al.'s (1993) investigation of the interaction of program content and associated toy play are also of obvious relevance in this connection.

Tulloch and Tulloch (l992a, 1992b; Tulloch, 1995) have conducted several studies designed to investigate whether young viewers interpret all forms of violence in the same way, and whether tolerance levels vary with genre and social institution. In one study, they tested the responses of 1,277 Sydney school students, in Years 4, 7 and 10 to four twenty minute episodes of aggressive television content. Their stimuli included a portrayal of domestic violence in a popular soap opera, documentary footage of police violence, a compilation of scenes of sports violence, and a war drama (Tulloch & Tulloch, 1992a). Students' responses were collected in questionnaire-type judgments of the rights and wrongs of the behaviours presented and evaluations of alternative solutions, as well as in essays on 'what the program was about'. The findings are complex, involving interactions among age, social class and gender, and varying across the programs. However, one of the most important outcomes was that the children did reason very differently about violence in different contexts. For example, almost all responded that domestic violence was intolerable, not 'natural' and that something could be done about it, whereas many felt that violence on the sport's field 'just happens' and 'no-one can stop it really'. The authors argue (1992b) that children treat domestic violence as shown in television as a serious issue and have strong feelings about it; television may have a role to play in raising awareness of this social problem. These studies open up interesting methodological possibilities for researchers investigating young people and media violence, and raise important questions about the role of perceived reality in learning from television. We know from other Australian research that children often report that they do not like watching the news, in part because it is 'boring' but also because it contains realistic accounts of horrific, violent and frightening events (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, 1990; Palmer, 1986; Sheldon & Loncar, 1996).

Low and Durkin (1997a) have investigated developmental and representational processes in young viewers' interpretations of a TV genre that is often associated with antisocial and aggressive content: police programs. Police and crime-related dramas are popular among young Australian viewers (Sheldon et al., 1994) as they are in other countries (Huston et al., 1992), but they are well known to offer a distorted account of crime and police work, as well as other cognitive challenges to the young viewer (Durkin, 1992; Durkin & Howarth, 1997). Low and Durkin invited children and young adults to relate what happens in a police program. In this way, it is possible to examine whether children have themselves acquired scripts (cognitive schemas, about the typical sequence of events for crime consistent with elements of popular television. For example might children learn that, 'If you need some money, you could steal it from a bank' or that 'You beat people up when you want something'. In fact, no evidence emerged of these kinds of scripts in any age group. However, even the youngest children did have structured, script-like knowledge of what happens in police shows. All participants regarded the commission of a crime as integral, but most also knew about the course of events thereafter: for example, even the younger children believed that arrests/imprisonment follow crimes, and older children knew more about intermediate processes (such as investigations, chases, and other legal activities). In another study (Low and Durkin, in press), even relatively young children demonstrated not only an awareness of the intent of criminals but also some appreciation of how members of the public (e.g., witnesses) and legal institutions (such as the courts) play a role in the administration of justice. One implication of these findings is that, at least with respect to the crime genre, children do not select isolated bits of actions or scenes (aggressive or otherwise) but organise their understanding of the programs around a series of sequentially connected events.

If children do develop scripts for crime programs, are these reflected in their understanding of real life crime and police work? In another study, Low and Durkin (1997b) asked children aged 6 to 12 to estimate how often police engaged in activities that are shown frequently in television (high speed pursuits, aggressive arrests) and activities that are shown infrequently in television (routine patrols, handling order maintenance cases). Half of the children were asked to estimate how often these activities were undertaken by real life police, and half were asked how often they were taken by television police. Children in the television condition demonstrated reasonably accurate awareness of which activities police shows depict frequently or infrequently. However, children in the real life condition tended to overestimate the frequency of some activities, and to underestimate the frequency of others -- and these inaccuracies fell in the directions predicted by television content. Among the activities that were seen as very frequent in police work were aggressive behaviours such as dramatic chases and rough searches. In other words, these young viewers appear to be constructing their social understandings with reference to their most readily available source of information: television. One important qualification, though, was that children were less influenced by television when it came to estimating the frequency of police activities that they have opportunities to observe directly (such as routine patrols).

In sum, there is a growing interest in children's own accounts and interpretations of what they experience in the media. Various methodologies are used, ranging through interviews, script generation tasks, and experiments. If a common thread can be discerned it is the recognition that children's media use is not a unidirectional phenomenon but an interactive process influenced by cognitive and linguistic development and social context.

Parental mediation

A prominent aspect of the social context, of course, is the family. Another major theme of recent work has been the ways in which parents become involved in children's media use. Researchers have become increasingly interested in parental mediation partly in response to theoretical developments within media research (Huston & Wright, 1994) and developmental psychology (Goodnow & Collins, 1990; Sigel, McGillicudy-DeLisi, & Goodnow, 1992) and partly in response to political and sociocultural realities: the recognition that, whatever the legislative climate, primary responsibility for children's media use will fall to their caregivers.

The Sydney infancy study reports that most of children's early viewing occurred in the presence of a parent, and this was especially likely in the case of news, current affairs, sport, light entertainment and drama programs (Cupitt et al., 1997). In effect, the parents' own viewing habits were the primary determinants of children's exposure to television content, though during the age span studied children became slightly more autonomous in electing for children's programs when they were available.

Cupitt et al. (1997) found that mothers were ambivalent about the effects of television, perceiving positive consequences (such as broadening experiences and educational gains) but also negative or harmful influences. In open-ended responses, concerns about violent/war content were expressed by 59% of mothers. This figure was higher than those for sex (25%), news and current affairs (22%) and cartoons (21%). Mothers were concerned that violent models could encourage the acceptance of aggression and other undesirable values.

Very similar figures are reported by Skoien and Berthelson (1997) in a study of parental attitudes towards video game play. Most respondents (94%) indicated that they perceived educational value in the games, but almost as many (87%) perceived the games as displacing other activities and almost all (98%) regarded the games as having the potential to encourage negative gender role stereotypes, aggressive behaviour and addiction.

Several researchers have addressed issues relating to parental regulation, Sheldon et al. (1994) found that almost all (98%) of parents of young children claimed to have rules restricting their children's viewing of television in some way. Nearly half (48%) claimed to regulate viewing of programs containing violence. 89% of parents in the Australian Broadcasting Authority's (1994) survey of attitudes towards R-rated material on Pay TV indicated that they used one or more methods of intervention to influence their children's television viewing, and only 7% indicated that their children were able to select their own programs without any parental guidance. Skoien and Berthelson (1997) report that about 85% of the parents in their study indicate that they have acted to restrict their children's computer game play at least occasionally (we turn to their strategies below).

A major study initiated jointly by the ABA and the OFLC has investigated a wide range of issues concerning the uses of electronic entertainment in Australian family homes (Cupitt &Stockbridge, 1996). Parents and their 8- to 17-year-old children participated. The project had a qualitative phase (involving about 80 parents) and a quantitative, survey-based, phase (involving over 700 families). Parental concerns about media uses and their strategies for regulating electronic entertainment in the home were addressed, as well as the relative patterns of use of different media by the children. The report provides a wealth of additional findings on the reasons for rules governing uses of electronic media, the respective perceptions of children and parents about the rules, the relationship of media use to family routines and parental work, and young people's game preferences.

The data provide a clear reminder of the importance of viewing parental attitudes to the media in a broader context. Parents were given 15 different possible factors that might impact upon a child's life and asked to identify (giving their first, second and third choices) those items that most concerned them in relation to their own child's well-being. At the top of their list came 'Education' (35%), followed by 'Personal safety and security' (25%), 'Quality of life' (13%), 'Drugs' (12%), and then 'Electronic entertainment' (6%). The rating for electronic entertainment (which included arcade games, CDs and cassettes, cinema, computers, computer/video games, telephones, radio, television and video) was marginally greater than 'Employment' (4%) and 'Natural environment' (3%).

A majority of the parents had rules about when TV could be watched (82%) and when computer games could be played (75%). Fewer parents had rules about the content of games (56%). In general, parents were less concerned about the content of games than the content of television. One of the major reasons was that games were seen as less realistic. Interestingly, violent, combat-style games ranked relatively low in appeal compared to platform games.

Parental strategies to influence their children's television viewing include rules about times for viewing (reported by 50% of parents), set bed times (48%), monitoring programs (40%), and discussions about suitability of programs (31%; respondents could provide more than one response). 31% of parents said that they used the classification system or TV guide to choose appropriate programs. Note that the classification system operates by default when viewing hours are restricted, as programs classified Adults Only are allowed only after 8.30 p.m. Paterson & Hellmers (1993) found that very few parents report that their children view TV alone after 8.30, and these tended to be older children. When the classification systems for all three media (television, films and videos) were considered, over 70% of parents used classification information at least some of the time.

The strategies parents employed to restrict video game play were solicited by Skoien and Berthelson (1997). 35% of parents used direct or coercive strategies (such as prohibiting play or intervening to turn the computer off, 23% suggested or encouraged alternatives, and 42% used rules and regulations (such as designating specific times for play, allowing play only after educational or household work is completed). These researchers also investigated parental guidance styles, adapting instruments devised originally in the study of families and television (Bybee, Robinson, & Turow, 1992; Van der Voort, Nikken, & van Lil, 1992). Their results indicate that parental beliefs about video games predict the kinds of guidance used: for example, parents who saw educational value in the games tended to favour unfocused guidance, while parents concerned about content used evaluative guidance, and parents concerned about displacement emphasized restrictive guidance. Future research could usefully investigate the consequences of parental intervention, and of parental default.

These claimed levels of parental regulation might be open to the challenge that surveys will tend to elicit socially desirable responses: parents may not be willing to disclose that they allow their children to access unsuitable programs or computer games. However, Cupitt and Stockbridge (1996) collected reports on family regulations from both parents and their children independently, and then examined the extent to which they were congruent. In the majority of cases, the parents and children gave consistent responses. When there were disagreements, there was a tendency for parents to claim there were rules and children to claim there were not -- though this varied across media. Most parents will probably agree that there are intergenerational differences of opinion about the status of domestic rules and regulations! But, overall, the children's responses tended to validate their parents' accounts.

In sum, Australian findings from several different large scale studies indicate that the majority of parents are involved in children's media use. Parents monitor what children watch and, to a lesser extent, what they play on their computers. They set rules about amounts and schedules. Sometimes, they intervene to divert children from particular types of content and to encourage them towards others. Parents convey their own attitudes about the media, and about the behaviours displayed or provoked, by direct and indirect means. It remains the case that we know little about the processes or the consequences for children's appraisals of their media.

Related topics

Finally, we mention briefly two topics of current concern to researchers and policymakers in Australia and New Zealand that overlap with concerns elsewhere in the world and are certainly very pertinent to the rights of the child: the treatment of indigenous peoples in the media, and the topic of sexual abuse. Although these issues are of obvious importance, research is presently in a very preliminary phase. However, it does have the potential to broaden our undemanding of the relationships among aggression in society and children's experiences of the mass media.

There is growing concern about the presentation of minority groups in Australian media, most notably Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people tend to be both underrepresented and misrepresented. They appear infrequently in many areas of television, for example, but when they do they are often associated with antisocial behaviour, drunkenness, violence and civil disturbances and race riots (Bell, 1993; Bosrock, 1993; Cuneen, 1994; Goodall, 1993; Nugent, Loncar, & Aisbett, 1993). Aggression in this context, then, is manifest in the media's contributions to the cultural marginalization of a minority group, in the stereotyping of ethnic groups as aggressive and problematic, and in the possible encouragement in the larger community of racist attitudes and aggressive behaviour towards people of indigenous background (Cahill &Ewen, 1992). The representation of Maori people in New Zealand's media is associated with some similar concerns, though the more complex history of colonial relations in that country has given rise to a correspondingly more ambivalent (occasionally very idealised) pattern of representation (Blythe, 1994).

Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the reactions of young (or other) viewers to these aspects of content. However, Sheldon and Loncar (1996), in interviews with 117 Australian children, found that elementary school children were aware of the scarcity of Aboriginal people in television, and were particularly positive about a show dealing with issues of racism if they themselves had experience relating to this problem. Much remains to be investigated concerning the impact of inequitable and negative racial images, and the potential for positive images.

Our final current issue derives from analyses of the ways in which the Australian and New Zealand media treat the problems of child sexual abuse and domestic violence (Atmore, 1996, in press a, b). Atmore discusses how the media contribute to heightened awareness of child abuse, and develops a feminist perspective on the nature of 'moral panics' and the interweaving of journalistic and ideological purposes. Given the likely durability of this topic, important questions arise concerning the impact upon children's perceptions of their personal safety and adult behaviour, though as yet relatively little empirical research appears to have been addressed to these matters.

In sum, we suggest that these are two topics that are very pertinent if we wish to understand the interrelations among aggressiveness, media and young people. With respect to the first, the unique histories and multicultural compositions of each country mean that Australia and New Zealand have particularly important responsibilities in respect of Article 17 of the UN convention that states should 'encourage the mass media ... to have particular regard to children from indigenous and minority groups'. With respect to the second, the ubiquitous occurrence of sexual abuse, and of media sensationalism of the problem, prompts many questions for media researchers -- as well as formidable conceptual and logistical challenges that we have yet to address.


Research is being addressed to a wide range of issues related to aggression and young people's media in Australia and New Zealand. Community concerns have been investigated extensively, and diverse approaches have been taken to investigate the possible consequences of viewing or playing with aggressive media content. It is probably fair to say that the balance of current research attention is directed towards the perceptions, experiences and understanding of young viewers themselves and the priorities and mediating strategies of parents. Research developments have reflected developments in the electronic media, though traditional media such as television remain of focal interest, too. It has been suggested here that among many prospects for future directions greater attention to issues that certainly involve aggressiveness (such as ethnic representation, crime, sexual abuse), but which have been hitherto relatively neglected by researchers in this field, could prompt us to diversify our investigations and our methods, ultimately contributing towards a fuller understanding of the relationships among young viewers, their families, their media and the larger society.



1. G = General (suitable for all ages), PGR = Parental Guidance Recommended (parental guidance recommended for persons under 15), M = Mature (recommended for mature audiences 15 years and over), R = 18 + Restricted (restricted to adults 18 years and over).


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:06 pm

Fighting Against Television Violence: An Israeli Case Study


On May 1st, 1994, an article under the title "Dozens of Children were Hurt in WWF Style Fights" appeared in the Israeli's major daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot:

"Hocked" on the wrestling television series WWF, dozens of children from the north were hurt when they tried to imitate their idols with friends. Parents living in Nahariya claim that as a result of intensified viewing of the television series -- in which all the exercises are staged -- many children in the town became "addicted" to performing the exercises in reality.

Dozens of children in the north have broken hands or legs during WWF style fights. A 10-year-old boy told Yediot Acharonot: "We were practicing and one of the boys broke his leg. I accidentally broke a girl's arm. Those were just from a few blows. But I have been expelled from school three times because of these kinds of accidents." Yesterday, after performing a backthrow and head turning exercise, a 15-year-old-boy in Nahariya lost consciousness. Luckily, he woke up after a few minutes.

As a result of the intensification of these accidents, the citizens of Nahariya are demanding a restriction on broadcasting of the wrestling series. Ilana, one of the children's mother: ''The blows exchanged at school have become routine. Dozens of children are being sent home after wrestling. It all starts as 'pretend' and ends 'for real'".

This and similar news items in the winter of 1994 exposed the Israeli public to a phenomenon which concerned staffs of many elementary schools at the time: Violent behavior associated with an American wrestling series on television. The Chair of the Education Committee of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) organized a special meeting on the phenomenon with Knesset members, educators, television-industry representatives and academic experts. The effect of television violence was a headline for a day.

The purpose of this article is to document this particular case study as an illustration of the potential of an integrated struggle against the effects of television violence on children by the education system, the public, the regulators, the broadcasters and the academia. The case study begins with background about the development of Israeli television, the context in which media literacy curricula have developed, and the current state of the concern over broadcasting violence on television. This is followed by a description of the particular case study in question -- the nature of the program, the findings of the research project and strategies advanced in fighting back the negative effects.

Television as a national force

Concern for the possible contribution of television violence to general societal violence has not attracted much attention in Israeli society in the past. A rare exception is Bachrach's study of the differential effects television violence had on Israeli children raised in two very different environments -- a city and a kibbutz (Bachrach, 1986; Huesmann & Bachrach, 1988). Part of the cross-national research project directed by Huesmann and Eron (1986), Bachrach found significant correlations between viewing television violence and peer-rated aggression for the urban children, but not for the kibbutz children who at the time, were being socialized in a unique environment.

The absence of interest in television effects may be explained by the unique historical context in which television has developed in Israel. This country is currently undergoing a major communication revolution -- from a single public non-commercial television channel established in 1967 to a mixed, American-style system in which commercial and public channels compete for audiences.

The delay in the commercialization of Israeli television is the result of a four-decade debate about the potential influence of television on the development of Israeli society in general, and that of the American-style commercial format, in particular. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Israel's renowned Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and his supporters argued that American style television, with its capitalistic value system and foreign cultural attributes, would have a strong negative influence on important national efforts to recreate and nourish the development of a unique Jewish Israeli culture. After the 1967 war, new ideological and political concerns led to the decision to include television in the public broadcasting system. Among the primary reasons for this action was the claim that through television Israel could communicate to her hostile neighbors and residents of the Occupied Territories. Indeed, it was hoped that the broadcast media could advance dialogue between the two peoples (Katz, Haas & Gurevitch, 1997; Lemish & Lemish, 1997).

Television then, has been presumed to play a role in the nation's development. For example, given Israel's continuous security situation, the media has emphasised coverage of news and public affairs. In analyzing data on Israeli leisure, culture, and communication during the first 20 years of monopolistic Israeli television, Katz, Haas and Gurevitch (1997) concluded that television supported the norm of collectivism in the sense of "shared and simultaneous pursuits, governed by norms of self-sacrifice and mutual obligation, performed in the knowledge that everybody else is similarly occupied" (p. 19). For example, watching the 9 o'clock evening news magazine on the only existing television channel has become "a sort of civic ritual during which the society communed itself" (Katz, Haas & Gurevitch, 1997, p. 6).

The limited number of viewing hours during the first two decades of Israeli's television and society's general positive attitude toward television's role in national integration may explain the lack of debate over effects of television on children in general and on children's violence in particular. For example, in a survey of parents of 2-11 year old children, Levinson and Tidhar (1993) found that 77 percent of parents evaluated educational television's impact on their children as positive, and only 3 percent as negative; in comparison to 46 percent and 16 percent with regards to cable television. So while cable which was just being introduced, was clearly perceived as less positive than educational television, it was still evaluated positively by half of the parents.

Concern over the role television plays in Israel's life has developed in exactly those areas of its strength -- in its involvement with politics, in its role in national development, and in the development of cultural identity. Out of this public debate emerged in the late 80s and beginning of the 90s what appeared to be a national consensus calling for institutionalization of media literacy programs in schools.

Television literacy in Israel

In the last decade, as Israeli society was gradually experiencing the major changes in the media environment, three national media literacy curricula have been adopted by the Ministry of Education: a television literacy curriculum for the elementary school system, a television and film literacy curriculum for the middle school system, and a mass media curriculum for the upper division school system. Simultaneously, teacher training programs have been developing general and specialization courses in media teaching and production, publishers have been preparing textbooks, and thousands of students at all levels of the school system have begun formal study of the media. Parallel to this trend, most major universities in Israel established formal programs for the academic study of mass communication.

Achieving such a unified national interest is very unusual in a country whose public life is characterized by deep divisions and disagreements over most significant political and policy issues. Analysis of how this consensus was achieved reveals that alliances developed among persons whose political and ideological views usually find them disagreeing on almost every other issue. "Media literacy" was perceived as a desirable educational goal by persons with very different points of view representing completely different ideologies. For some, it was aimed at developing tools for preventing the Americanization of Israel. For others, it was perceived as a means for educating future citizens against political manipulation. Unusual coalitions of interests were formed around ethical issues -- portrayals of women and children, pornography. Finally, many were concerned with television's unique surveillance role in Israeli society in regards to dependency on current affairs information and interpretation, and the potential empowerment of citizens.

The result of these various efforts was that media literacy was offered as a cure -- or as a conscience comforter -- for every social ill. While there seemed to be a broad agreement on basic principles of media education -- such as the understanding that media messages are constructed and that they are socially-politically-culturally contextualized -- the agendas of different educational enclaves of Israeli society led to development of their own variation of media education programs.

This resulted in a situation in which actions in the field are driving media literacy in different directions and that implementation is at the mercy of persons in positions of power who advance a variety of curricula based upon their own ideological interpretations and interests (for a complete discussion see Lemish & Lemish, 1997).

The changing television scene

Since its introduction at the beginning of the 90s, cable television in Israel has been expanding very rapidly. Approximately 60 percent of Israeli homes subscribe to cable (70 percent in the densely populated Tel-Aviv metropolitan area) and there are indications the number is continuing to grow. In addition, in mid 1993, the Second Television Channel was permitted to expand its schedule and to experiment with commercials. These major changes have dramatically increased the amount of viewing hours available to Israeli viewers, number of viewing options offered to them, as well as the growing dependency on the International television market, mainly, of American fare (Nossek &Tidhar, 1994; Weimann, 1995; 1996).

Thus, the public discourse discussed above may be changing as Israeli culture moves away from collectivism towards individualism, as manifested by consumerism, along with a decrease of consumption of high culture and an increase of popular media and the like (Katz, Haas & Gurevitch, 1997). Possible support for this thesis comes from Weimann's (1995; 1996) study of the introduction of cable to Israeli society. Weimann found in his sample of 180 households significant changes in consumption of television, in the social context of viewing television, and in feelings and attitudes towards the medium. For example, increased viewing time was accompanied by uneasiness and even guilt feelings (as expressed in agreeing to statements such as: "watching TV is often a waste of time"; "I often watch TV more than I intend to"). In addition, Weimann found an increase in worries expressed about children's viewing and attempts to control viewing which often resulted in conflicts.

The awakening of interest over television's impact on children reached its peak in January 1994, following the brutal murder of a taxi driver by two middle class teenagers. The media's role in encouraging and contributing to legitimization of violence was debated in the daily papers and in the broadcast media. It was under these special circumstances -- the recent dramatic growth of television options and the shock of a senseless murder that this first major public debate over television and violence took place -- over the case of WWF.

WWF -- The television series

The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) programs present wrestling matches performed in an arena in front of live audiences. Operating under the guise of a sport, WWF is in fact a booming entertainment industry and a unique cultural phenomenon. This form of wrestling is distinctly different from other televised sporting events: it appears that there are no clear rules or agreed upon code of behaviors. Almost every form of violent act seems to be allowed and possible until the brutal defeat of the opponent.

In fact, the WWF is a form of sport-parody: The rules of the game are there to be broken, the referee exists so he can be ignored (Fiske, 1987). While in other forms of sport the opponents have an equal chance at the competition, the differences between WWF opponents are emphasized from the start: "good guys" and "bad guys" are identifiable to viewers through their names, costumes and appearance, the gadgets they use, their reactions to the audience, their body language and facial expressions and the like. The "good guys" are often handsome Caucasians promoted in Euro-American culture as images of the Good and Powerful. On the other hand, the "bad guys" are often dark skinned, physically grotesque, ridiculously dressed and non Euro-American in appearances. These wrestlers purposefully break the rules, ignore the referee, cheat on their own partners and evoke feelings of meanness in the excited audience.

The 1994 case study

WWF was broadcast in Israel on various channels during different days and hours of the week. Due to the growing public concern, a focused field study of the effects of this particular violent program on children was launched in the Spring of 1994. [1] The major goal of the study was to examine the role WWF played in the lives of elementary school children. More specifically, this case study was undertaken in order to study the more general phenomenon of the effects of television violence as they are filtered through a host of mediating variables within specific contexts (for a full discussion of this project, see Lemish, 1997).

The study developed through three phases and included quantitative and qualitative measures:

(1) Survey of 285 questionnaires completed by principals of elementary schools.

(2) In-depth unstructured phone interviews with 75 elementary school principals.

(3) Visits to nine schools representing different profiles of Israeli society. 901 questionnaires were completed by children in grades 3 through 6 in these schools. In addition, 254 open-ended interviews were conducted with children of those classes who volunteered to be interviewed.

Behavioral effects

The findings of the three stages suggest unequivocally that WWF wrestling was a distinct and disturbing phenomenon in many Israeli elementary schools during the academic year of 1993-1994. The violence accompanying WWF fights was unique and separable from other forms of school violence. Wrestling was done within a mock-arena, in front of a cheering audience, applying mostly pre-planned agreements, which included character identification and specific fighting tactics. Interviewees were all of the opinion that the phenomenon increased violence in the schools and the rate of injuries to a degree never known before and not repeated since its decline. It was emphasized that the WWF type violence was not just a different version of school violence, but a different entity -- qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

These findings support the literature dealing with the contribution of television violence to violent behavior (for recent meta-analyses, see for example Geen, 1994; Gunter, 1994; Paik & Comstock, 1994). Further, the study provided evidence that modeling behavior does indeed take place in a deferred manner under favorable social conditions, and that it is effective even with older children (in this case 8-12 years old) -- than those usually examined in experimental studies. These data also illuminate the dilemma of direction of the causality of the violence effect: The more violent children, as identified by peers, were indeed heavier viewers and heavier imitators of WWF. However, children who were identified to be non-violent, including some girls, played violent WWF games as well. In other words, viewing WWF was found to reshape and increase violent behaviors first and foremost among children labeled as violent but also among some of the non-violent children.

One possible interpretation for why this may be true for some non-violent children and not for others, emerged through children's discussion of their confusion over the fantasy and reality aspects of the series. Such blurring has been related in the literature as facilitating imitative behavior. For example, in a meta-analysis of studies of television violence, Hearold (1986) concluded that perception of realism was an important factor in the relationship between viewing violence and behaving aggressively. Van der Voort (1986) found that the more realistic children found a television episode to be, the more they watched, were involved, took it seriously, perceived it as violent and judged it to be more exciting. Van Evra (1990) suggested that younger children are particularly vulnerable to these effects due to their difficulties in making the necessary distinctions between fantasy and reality.

Gender differences

The gendered role of WWF in children's lives emerged as a central theme as the study unfolded. Opposition to WWF served to reinforce their gender identity for most girls. For them, WWF, as other sporting events, legitimized the masculine world view of "the roughest guy wins". The emphasis the girls' discourse put on the violent aspects of the program, and more specifically, on the violent nature of males, support Byrson's (1978) view of televised sport as a form of male monopolization of physical force. Watching and imitating WWF was perceived as part of boys' "nature" and normative behavior. As the literature suggests, most girls in this study, appreciated violence less, watched it and imitated it less, and were more critical of it, than boys (Van der Voort, 1986; Van Evra, 1990).

For other girls, albeit a minority, WWF provided an opportunity to safely experiment with the adoption of male norms of behavior. These were the ones who shared in the interviews their pleasure in playing WWF fights at home, where the possibility for social as well as physical sanctions was minimized. The home environment allowed them to experiment with their physical as well as psychological abilities to fight, either with younger (thus usually weaker) or with older (thus usually playful) siblings (for an analysis of these findings from a feminist perspective, see Lemish, under review).

Cultivation effects

Children in this study identified the WWF series as representing a foreign ideology and culture. This culture was characterized by an extreme form of "more-ness": "More" in the positive sense -- richer, bigger, more developed, more creative, more varied and the like. But, also, "more" as fear and as criticism -- more violent, wilder, more dangerous. These perceptions were incorporated in a worldview based on previous encounters with popular media which present the United States as a violent and rich society in a homogenized stereotypical way. In that exciting all-powerful culture called America, violence is a central theme. Regular viewing of WWF seemed to contribute to perpetuating this mythical belief "that one is living in a Mean World" (Gerbner & Gross, 1976). Since such programs pertain to a realm of experiences otherwise not available to young viewers (most have never been to the United States, for example), their influence may prove to be lasting by presenting selectively limited mental frames for future references (for a full discussion see Lemish, forthcoming).

The educational system fighting back

As WWF-related injuries increased (principals' reports estimated at least 150 physical injuries requiring professional medical care, an additional 400 injuries which required first aid within the school and countless injuries which did not require any medical attention), and newspaper exposure mounted, schools were forced to take action. Most of the principals interviewed reported how they engaged in a process which required drafting all the resources available -- pedagogical and others -- in order to directly confront the WWF phenomenon. Two general strategies were adopted -- short and long term treatments:

(1) Short term treatments: putting out the fire

Short term treatments often resulted from the shock and unexpected distress following a dangerous injury on school grounds. Immediate reaction was called for and it was taken on four levels -- individual, class, school and parental.

Individual level:

Principals adopted a strict and unequivocal punishment policy. This included explicit banning of any WWF-related activity (including wrestling, wearing T-shirts advertising WWF, bringing WWF figures to school or playing with WWF game cards). Punishments for disobedience included reprimand by the principal, summoning of parents, a written reprimand in the student's personal file, deprivation of privileges (such as permission to leave the classroom during breaks), prohibition on taking the school bus, special homework, special school chores and even removal from school for several days.

Class level:

Teachers, school councilors, special education teachers and even the principals themselves held special discussions during class hours in an effort to drive home the seriousness of the matter. Children were presented with media reports on the danger involved in WWF-related fights and with evidence from injuries sustained in their own school. Students were encouraged to write letters complaining about WWF broadcasting to newspapers and other media representatives including directors of cable channels; to stage and discuss simulations of WWF fights; to express themselves through creative writing and the like. Special effort was devoted to explain to the children the theatrical nature of the series.

School level:

General assemblies were devoted to discussing the phenomenon of WWF fights and to stating school policy. Teachers' patrols during breaks were intensified and their duties directed to handling the fights. Students' Councils were asked to join in the efforts. Students volunteered for special "fight against WWF" patrols. Joint student and teacher teams re-wrote existing regulations to include items referring directly to such fights. New school institutions were established, such as "Peace Council", "Tolerance Committee", "Non-Violent Trustees" and others. Older students volunteered to tutor younger violent children. Special awards were granted to students who were commended for actions against school violence. Special efforts were devoted to developing "The Active Break": A structured plan of activities during recess time, which included fun and sporting activities, music and dance, and creative arts. All of the above were developed in the hope that these activities would limit the opportunities for WWF-related fights to develop.

Parental level:

Activities included summoning special parents meetings, circulating written materials and establishing Parents Councils to join in the efforts to eliminate the phenomenon.

All in all, all principals emphasized the genuine tremendous educational efforts which were invested in the attempt to fight back against this new, escalating phenomenon.

(2) Long term strategies: a window of opportunity

Long term strategies were characterized by an attempt to incorporate the struggle with WWF related behavior within general educational efforts against other negative phenomena in schools such as violent behavior, deterioration of school discipline, disrespect towards friends, etc. WWF provided a "window of opportunity" for advancing implementation of such plans. In many cases it served as a catalyst for legitimizing prioritization of budgets required to advance educational programs.

The negative consequences of WWF-related activities in schools significantly motivated the interest and willingness of the educational staffs to adopt innovative approaches and curricula, even if out of a feeling of "no choice". Two types of educational programs were implemented:

Media Studies:

These included the spread adoption of the formal national media literacy curriculum for the elementary school and other initiatives, such as analysis of current affairs, study of animation, development of critical viewing skills, production courses and the like. Clearly, WWF served as a legitimate excuse to go ahead with the principals' plans to advance such efforts.

Interpersonal Communication:

These programs included the development of personal skills through various innovative educational programs which emphasize values such as tolerance and mutual respect, development of self-worth, and skills in decision making, mediation, problem solving, among others.

It is important to emphasize, that without exception, principals strongly perceived their efforts to have been productive: All reported that their preventive measures as well as educational efforts resulted in a drastic decrease in the number of fights which took place at school and in many cases in its complete disappearance. The interviews with the children confirmed this observation. Many of them referred voluntarily to the success of the various efforts as responsible for the decline of their own violent behavior, as well as that of others. Many quoted in detail "horror" stories related to injuries and their consequences and seemed to have deeply internalized the expected school policy.

Intervention by the Council of Cable Broadcasts

The Council of Cable Broadcasts is the public statutory body appointed by the government to regulate the performance of cable franchisers. As such, the Council is in charge of developing policy in regards to type of broadcasts, including topics, contents, quality, variety and scale. In addition, it is responsible for future development, including new cable services, specialized channels, utilization of satellite broadcasting and the like.

As the Council's attention was called to the dangers posed by the broadcasting of WWF, the Chairperson decided to take action at various different levels. First, she invited an academic researcher (the author of this article) to inform the Council on research on influences of television violence on children. She also agreed to advance this research project and dedicated finances for its execution. The results of the project were distributed to journalists in the various media as well as to all broadcasting organizations.

Secondly, the Council initiated negotiations with the cable franchisers for the purpose of limiting broadcast hours and for warning young viewers of the possible negative effects of attempting to imitate the program. The result of these efforts was the production of short public broadcast announcement which included a popular young actor explaining to the children that WWF is just a television show and should not be modeled. This announcement was tailored to meet the research findings whose implications included the need to clarify the fictional dimensions of this pretend "sport" series. The announcement was broadcast twice during each airing of WWF on the Sports Channel, as well as on the popular Children and Family channels, as part of a special campaign. Some of the school principals interviewed incorporated references to these broadcasts in their appeal to the students. The students, on their part, quoted the broadcast as a source of information on the fictional nature of the program.

An additional side-effect of this case study was the establishment of an open channel of communication between academic professionals and broadcasters, through the mediating of the regulator. This has already been proven fruitful in a number of cases. One example was the recent discussion initiated about the broadcast of violent promos during children's viewing hours. A Violence-Monitoring Project initiated and sponsored by the Council as a tool for supervising the cable broadcasters located a specific problem in promos for violent movies. While the movies themselves are scheduled for late hour broadcast, their promos are broadcast during all hours of the day and on channels viewed heavily by children of all ages. The content of the promos is illustrative of the core issues concerning the effects of television violence: They often consist of harsh and violent scenes, which are shown as an "incentive" for further viewing. Violence is presented in an attractive yet de-contextualized manner: there are no reasons or motivations for the behavior on one hand, and no consequences on the other. Since there is no story but hyped visuals and sounds, it is impossible to distinguish the "good guys" from the "bad guys"; therefore violence is perceived as normal action for all.

As a result of intensive discussions of the WWF case, the promos as well as examination of various definitions of television violence in various content analyses of research projects (for example, the Mediascope, Inc., 1994-5), the Council reworded the existing regulation and now prohibits the broadcast before the hour of 22:00 of "any broadcast which includes harsh or blunt visual, verbal or audio related expressions of violence, sex or suffering, or broadcasts which are the object of imitation; no promo will be broadcast before the above hour which includes the above content; and no promo to a broadcast of that kind, even if it does not in itself include such content, will be broadcast in the children's channel."

Finally, the Council clarified its policy in regard to handling issues of this nature: An integrative approach which includes focused research, long term educational campaigning for the development of television literacy, and secondary legislation (such as the above limiting broadcast hours for violent content). The Council, a regulator, opposes -- as do most academics in this field in Israel -- the possibility of formal general legislation which will expropriate the issue from the broadcasters and their regulators. Such legislation, it is argued, is deemed impossible to implement and enforce and it is perceived as posing a severe danger to freedom of expression and the independence of Israeli broadcasting system.


The case of WWF related fights in the school system in Israel created an unusual opportunity to reconsider the relationships of television violence and the modeling of violent behavior under well defined and focused conditions. The phenomenon appeared suddenly, as the broadcasts on the Sports Cable Channel and on the commercialized Second Israeli channel became popular. The behavior in question was uniquely different from any other school violence and easily identified by interviewees. Participants came from all profiles of Israeli society -- urban as well as rural children; middle-class as well as lower class; secular as well as religious populations; from the heavily populated center of the country as well as its peripheral north and south.

In addition, the phenomenon has declined as sharply as it appeared, a year later. Several complementary explanations can be offered for the possible social mechanism involved. First, the Second Channel took the program off the air for various reasons, public pressure included. However, the program continued to be broadcast regularly, several times a week, on the cable channels. Yet, a significant decline in WWF type wrestling was noted even in the schools located in areas served by cable television. Therefore, three other lines of explanation which emerged from the interview data may be proposed: First the effectiveness of the preventive and educational measures taken by the schools, as described above. A second, related explanation is that children came to understand that the program is staged and recognized that many of its elements are unrealistic. In the interviews, many of the children argued that realizing the program is staged reduced their pleasure in viewing it and their inclination to imitate it. Finally, fads and fashions seem to be playing a role here too: At the time, a new activity was gaining popularity during school break (playing and swapping collectable colorful little plastic discs) and gradually replaced WWF fights. During the two years that have passed, these and other activities have come and gone. However, the danger that a new violent television fad will appear and will again popularity like a brush fire as did WWF fights is always there.

Finally, a discussion of violence on Israeli television and children can not be complete without taking into consideration the unique geo-political reality of the Israeli-Arab conflict in which these children are growing up. One result is that children are heavily exposed to documentation of real live violence. In an early study of the effect of the 1973 Yom Kippur War films on children, Cohen & Adoni (1980) found that the movies stimulated fear and emotional arousal in children. The effect was stronger for those children exposed to the war film with a battle sound-track than for those exposed to verbal narration. However, effects were weaker for children who discussed the movies with their parents.

In the last two years, children in Israel have been exposed, while viewing television in their natural home environment and often without mediation, to the most terrifying sights of the consequences of human violence -- an assassination, terrorist attacks, bombings, suicide-explosions. The horror of these sights includes mutilated bodies, body parts, blood; the cries of pain and trauma of the injured; the heart breaking sights of the mourning for victims. The debate over the ethical issues involved in live-coverage of disasters has now penetrated both the public and professional arenas, as well as in mass communication theoretical analyses (Liebes, in press). The special threat posed to the well-being of children has yet to be studied. Real violence of this magnitude is framed in the most negative terms, its perpetrators as inhumane, and the results devastating. The possible emotional damage to young viewers is a question well in order: Does viewing of this sort cultivate the "mean world" perspective? Does it incite fear and pessimism? Does it encourage the legitimization of further violence (such as retaliation?) Does it contribute to the value that "might is right"? Do children carry some of these values and perceptions into the viewing of entertainment television, such as the WWF series? Or vice versa, does fictional television violence support such values? From what we know from the existing literature in regards to viewing of less explicit violence (such as the coverage of the Gulf War in 1992), there is good reason to believe that children do not remain untouched by exposure to such television viewing (Buckingham, 1996; Cantor, 1994, 1996; Cantor, Mares & Oliver, 1993; Derdeyn &Turley, 1994; Hoffner & Haefner, 1993; Morrison & MacGregor, 1993; Wober & Young, 1993).

As the WWF case study illustrates, what seems to be called for is a major attempt at joint efforts: An active public that reacts to what it perceives as a threat to the wellbeing of children, regulators who are quick to respond and demand change from the broadcasters, social-action research to provide the supporting data for taking action, an education system willing and able to explore innovative pedagogics, and broadcasters who accept the social responsibility that goes with their profession. This is a mode of cooperation and social responsibility necessary in order to advance the development of civil society.



1. This study was initiated and supported by a grant from the Israeli Council of Cable Broadcasts. The author wishes to thank the Council Chairperson, Michal Raphaeli-Kadori and Broadcast Policy Advisor Gideon Ganani, for their cooperation. In addition, she would like to thank Vered Seidmann for her valuable assistance in the project.


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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:08 pm

What Do We Know About European Research on Violence in the Media?


Public concerns on the likely effects of media on children and youth has given rise to considerable research. The first part of this article will describe the state of research about children and young people in Europe and then examine the changing face of research in Scandinavia if not necessarily the debate about violence.

In a recent survey of academic research on children and the media in the fifteen countries which currently are members of the European Union, Linne (1996) demonstrated that in the sample of one hundred and seven universities who answered this questionnaire, fifty-one universities were active in the field of Children and the Media. The countries where research about mass media and children has been most developed in the 1990s are those of north-western Europe, namely the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland (in that rank order).

On the question of how the researchers would evaluate the development of research in their own country, Italy, Spain, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal all reported that the state of affairs regarding research was relatively poor. The responses from the UK, Germany, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Ireland were much more positive. This I believe, has less to do with demographic factors such as size of population, than a combination of social and historical forces.

The questionnaires were filled in by one hundred and seven Departments of Media Studies, Media Policy, Sociology, Journalism, Psychology, Audience Research and Media Education within the European Union. The respondents were professors, directors, researchers and lecturers.

The major approaches used in the research, according to the respondents were firstly sociological, followed by social psychological and then psychological approaches. Very few mentioned a literary or humanist approach or, indeed, a political-economy approach. However, the surprising result here is not so much that the latter approaches mentioned were rarely used, but rather that the sociological had such a firm position in the 1990s. I would argue that this is a European trend rather than an American one. The sociological approach is one where researchers relate the child's media use, awareness and pleasure in a social context. The research which had been undertaken, or was in process, covered both positive and negative effects of the media. The most frequent response was that the studies had dealt with media and violence, followed by media education and media and positive effects, and subsequently media and general negative effects. Less frequent, but nevertheless evident, were research studies about media and fear, media policy and media organisations and structures, media literacy, and reception analysis.

Thus I can draw the conclusion that, contrary to the familiar assumption that research about children and the media has been concentrated only in a couple of fields, it has actually followed many different avenues. One should remember, however, that I was asking about research carried out in Europe from 1990 and onwards.

The research had also used many different theoretical frameworks, again a finding contrary to common assumptions. The reception analysis framework was often referred to as significant for current research. This is surprising, as it is a fairly new theoretical approach. The second and third most used frameworks were the more traditional 'effects' and 'uses and gratifications' traditions. However, other recent research approaches were also quite frequently used. Here I refer to cultural indicators and semiotic studies. Thus, again, contrary to what current literature about children often argues, this survey demonstrates that research about children and young people is not simply informed by traditional research frameworks.

The most frequently cited methods used were surveys, in-depth studies and literary reviews, followed by group discussions and participant observation. Interviews, using mainly closed questionnaires, were also quite often used. Laboratory experiments, which had been a research tool often used in the 1960s (for example, most of the research on children and violence on the screen was based on this method), were mentioned by only a few respondents. Again what is significant is that there is not a single research method that dominates. I would interpret this as a very positive trend as no method is perfect in itself and one might gain more knowledge and understanding using a pluralistic approach. It is pleasing to note that so few researchers are using laboratory experiments, as these have been severely criticised for their artificiality.

The most studied media was, without any doubt, television followed by video. Surprisingly enough one quarter of the respondents pointed to radio as their main medium of research. Advertising in television followed, and one should note that this makes television an even more dominant medium in research about children and the media. Around a quarter or less stated that film, video-nasties and computers in general, had also been studied. Some twenty percent mentioned that newspapers, computer games and books had been investigated.

It is interesting to see that books as one of the oldest media, still has the same interest for researchers as one of the newest, i.e. computer games. Interactive television is a new medium much discussed, but so far only eight percent of the scholars in the Higher Education Institutions of the fifteen European countries had been studying this specific medium.

The scholars' evaluation of policy implication and distribution of the research

More than half of the academics believed the research about children had policy implications for the media. The most frequent answer was that research had affected television and the school curriculum. Around ten percent believed that advertising and radio had been influenced by research and others mentioned film, books, newspapers and computer games.

Sixty-five percent of the respondents active in the field of children and media mentioned that teaching about children and the media took place in their institutions (73 percent had indicated that research was carried out).

A surprisingly large percentage of the scholars reported that they were lecturing to primary and secondary schoolteachers (41 percent). Lecturing to interest groups was also quite frequent and so was lecturing to parents. Twenty-four percent of the scholars also mentioned that they lectured to broadcasters in workshops or conferences. However, it is significant that most of these answers were given from scholars from the UK, Germany, France, the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. Thus the picture drawn here was mainly based on the north-west of the European countries. The situation seems to be very different in the other countries, especially the Mediterranean countries, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal. Portugal, like Luxembourg, reported that no research in this field had been undertaken there.

There is little knowledge about research in other European countries, which are not members of the European Union. Norway and Hungary, for example, have quite a well developed research tradition in line with the other north-western European countries, but because of the former Cold War there is very little knowledge of Eastern European countries.

Eastern Europe

In a workshop (1996), arranged by the European Children's Television Centre (E.C.T.C) in Greece, I interviewed the Heads of Children's Television from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), and Romania. They informed me, that to the best of their knowledge, there had not been carried out any research about children and the media in their countries. This does not mean that this is absolutely correct, but if I had carried out similar interviews with the Heads of Children's programmes in north-western Europe, I know (from discussions with them) that they would be well aware of that research had been carried out in their own country, even if they would not necessarily be up to date.

In the light of this I welcome a booklet written by Irving and Tadros (1997) Children's Film and Television in Central and Eastern Europe. It does not deal with research in the twenty-one countries, but at least it informs about the legislation about violent images. Here follows a short summary.

In Albania, there is a system of self-regulating, "ensuring that violent and erotic programmes are not aired at times when children might be watching television" (Pepo, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 14).

In the Republic of Azerbaijan the rules are: "For public protection, the distribution of films promoting violence and cruelty is liable for a prison term of up to two years or a fine of the equivalent of 700-800 times minimum wage" (Mirkassimov, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 15). Rather harsh, it appears.

From the Republic of Belarus, Andreev informs: "Any use of mass media, literature, shows, etc., which include pornography, the worship of violence and cruelty, or anything which may offend the human dignity and influence children in any harmful way by encouraging them to break the law is punishable by the law" (Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 16).

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, "the production and distribution of films is not governed by legislation. No special laws exist to regulate either children's film or children's television" (Selimovic, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 18).

In the Republic of Bulgaria, Dereliev et al. explain that a law was passed about radio and television in 1996: "In programming scheduled between 06.00 and 23.00 it is not permitted to include shows potentially harmful to the psychological, physical, and moral development of children and young adults" (Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 19).

The production and distribution of film are not subject to legislation in the Republic of Croatia. However, broadcasters, "must not offend the public morality, must not show pornography, accentuate violence or provoke racial, religious and ethnic hatred" (Alajbeg et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 21).

In the Czech Republic, "the broadcasting of programmes promoting violence and sex is prohibited by Czech television, which has set up an ethics panel to make recommendations in these matters" (Bajgar et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 23).

Estonia passed a law in 1992 and in article 48 it is stated: "It is forbidden to produce or demonstrate to children any printed material, films videos, or any other implements which propagate cruelty and violence" (Salulai et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p 24).

In the Republic of Georgia minors are protected from watching pornographic or violent films by law (Chigogidze, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 25).

The Hungarian Media Law of 1996 is very similar (Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 26).

The Latvian Electronic Mass Media Act of 1995, article 18.5 states: "Between 07.00 and 22.00 programmes containing violence in visual or textual form, plots associated with the use of drugs are prohibited" (Ruben is et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 28).

Lithuania passed a law in 1991 prohibiting "broadcasting of pornography or violence" (Luiga, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 30).

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia approved a law in 1997 and in article 35 it is stated: "Broadcasting of programmes with indecent content, and in particular with pornography or violence, shall not be permitted" (Lozanovski et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 31).

Moldova has a new law on mass media, but which does not specifically address children. However, the public broadcaster has adopted internal regulations (Pirtac, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 33).

The Broadcasting Act of 1992 in Poland also addresses violence on the screen (Grudzinska, in Irving and Tadros 1997, p. 35).

In Romania a law from 1994 prohibits pornographic and violent images (Chirila et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 37).

In Russia the Law on Mass Media of 1991 protects children from viewing pornography and violent images (Menshikov et al., in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 40).

The Slovak Republic has an Audiovisual Law from 1995. The protection of children from violent images on the screen has not until recently been acknowledged as problem in Slovak-produced shows. However Grujbarova argues: "Violent scenes are appearing more often, in imported television programmes and in foreign television programmes available through satellite or re-transmitted on cable. Without legislative initiative we can take only administrative measures ... in the form of licence terms or recommendations for broadcasters ... aimed to prevent excesses of violent contents or forms on screen" (Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 43).

In the Republic of Slovenia the public broadcaster RTV is preparing to accept a set of International regulations using the European Broadcasting Union model (Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 45).

Finally, in the Ukraine there are no specific laws mentioning violence on the screen (Polishchuk, in Irving and Tadros, 1997, p. 47).

Thus it appears that the majority of Eastern European countries recently have adopted legislation against the showing of violent images on the screen, at least during certain time periods.

It is also important to remember that after the first World Summit on Television and Children, in Melbourne, Australia, in 1995, a Children's Television Charter was accepted by many television networks all over the world. The Charter is written down in seven bullet points stressing: high quality; the right to see and express the children's own culture, language and life experiences; and that governments, production, distribution and funding organisations should support indigenous children's television. Paragraph 4 explicitly refers to violence and sex: "Children's programmes should be wide-ranging in genre and context, but should not include gratuitous scenes of violence and sex."

Research about violence on the screen: a case study of Scandinavia

The argument this part of the article will pursue, is that although research about images of violence in the media has been on the agenda over four decades, the evidence about the impact of violence on the screen varies, not only from researcher to researcher, but between research communities. The research efforts have been differently framed and the emphasis and interpretations of the results have led to different arguments.

In this case study I will analyse how research traditions have changed in Scandinavia from the 1960s to the 1990s. It is significant that the most prominent research theories oriented in the USA: the Catharsis Hypothesis, the Aggressive Cue model, the Observational Learning Theory, the Reinforcement Model and the Cultivation Model (De Fleur and Ball-Rokeach, 1982). Four out of these five models or theories assume that mediated violence can influence aggressive behaviour (the Catharsis Hypothesis being the exception).

These theories had a great impact on European research in general, and also in Scandinavia. Researchers in Scandinavia in the 1960s especially favoured the models which argued for the impact of violence of the media on young people. This might appear rather absurd when one considers the difference in media proliferation between the Scandinavian countries and the USA at that time. Denmark had from 1951 to 1986 only one television channel and three radio channels, all following the public service broadcasting model and financed by license fees (DR) (Nordahl Svendsen, 1989). Television in Sweden was similarly introduced as a public service medium (in 1956) and granted a monopoly of broadcasting (SR). A second television channel was opened in 1969 within the same corporation (SR), also without advertising. In Norway only one public institution existed with one radio channel and one television channel (Ostbye, 1992).

Times have changed. In Denmark, Nordahl Svendsen (1989) reports that, apart from the new channel TV 2, which is financed through advertising (3/4) and a licence fee (1/4), Danes can now receive nine local television channels. Satellite television can be received by 61 percent (1994), and 53 percent of Danes (1994) can choose to watch Swedish television channels and 48 percent German television channels. There are (1995) two terrestrial channels, three satellite channels and two satellite/pay channels.

In Norway, a second television channel was established in 1992. In a country where the population was used to receiving only one television channel (apart from roughly one-quarter of the Norwegians who also in earlier days could receive Swedish television), its citizens could suddenly choose between two domestic channels, and, in addition, five satellite channels from Britain, France, Germany and the rest of Scandinavia and two satellite/pay-TV channels.

In Sweden the developments were similar. In 1985, the first Swedish households were connected to cable on a commercial basis. In 1994, 60 percent of the population had access to satellite, and "in the late 1980s satellite channels intended for Swedish audiences -- TV3, TV4, TV5 Nordic, SF-Succe and Film-Net -- became available to cabled households" (Cronholm, 1993, p. 5). In 1995 there were three terrestrial channels, five satellite channels and four satellite/pay-TV channels.

McQuail's argument (1990) that the developments of broadcasting in Europe have gone from the "old order" of national monopolies to the "new order" of duopolistic system, can now be applied to the Scandinavian countries.

It is important to describe the changing media systems in Scandinavia. Research is never free-floating, but must be seen in the context of the society, as the media systems are highly significant part of that society. This must be of special importance when discussing the discourses of research on violence on television, because one valid argument appears to be that the discourses would vary with the amount of television a society offers its citizens, and that the quantity of television, theoretically, if not necessarily, might influence the availability of violent images.

Public concern about media violence and its alleged effects, was evident in Scandinavia. In Sweden, for example, the Swedish branch of The Save the Children Fund ran two campaigns against violence on television during the 1970s, and actions have been taken by parent associations and groups concerned with children. However, writing in 1977 von Feilitzen noted: "the judgment is commonly made that the Scandinavian countries, particularly perhaps Sweden and Norway, have the least television violence in the world" (p. 61).

This appears paradoxical. Given that the media systems at the time were so restricted, and that the output of violent programmes was rather small, why did researchers, The Save the Children Fund, other organisations, parents and general debaters worry so much? The answer comes promptly in von Feilitzen's argument:

Even if Swedish television is on an average less 'hard' (violent) than in many other countries, such series have also been broadcast which are high on the American violence ratings, such as Kojak, Baretta, and Rockford (von Feilitzen et al., 1977, p. 62).

One can question how violent the above-mentioned programmes actually were compared with the satellite programmes and video-nasties of later decades, but it is essential to realise that this argument was considered to be an urgent one then, as it also appears to be today in both Western and Eastern Europe.

However, there is another trend in the early Scandinavian research, apart from the focus on the seemingly rather low output of violent programmes. Most of the early Scandinavian research reports are summaries of foreign studies, above all American ones. The media systems in the USA and Scandinavia were, of course, very different in those days. However, this did not appear to bother Bruun Pedersen from Denmark (1984), who concluded:

It is unthinkable that something would appear which changed the main research evidence we have referred to earlier: 'violence on television has harmful effects on children and young people'. It is about time that we proceed from this conclusion and establish controls on this, because in a very few years the violence influence from television will have a scope much larger than today. We should be prepared for when that time comes (Bruun Pedersen, 1984, p. 77).

On the whole Scandinavian researchers at the time were not afraid of applying foreign research evidence to the Scandinavian setting. The main arguments were that foreign programmes with violent images were part of the Scandinavian output and that the few Scandinavian studies undertaken agreed with International research. However, already in 1977, Vaagland from Norway argued: "It is risky to use American results as a base for arguing about violence on Norwegian television" (p. 3).

The other classical discourse was over the question of whether researchers had agreed on the results from the research or not. This is obviously connected to the debate about how applicable research from other countries is. Bruun Pedersen (1984) from Denmark clearly gave his opinions about the relevance of the research.

One who didn't agree was Vaagland (1977) who pointed out that politicians and other moral entrepreneurs had accepted the conclusions from foreign studies without asking questions about the methods used. For example, he was critical of laboratory experiments with young children which tested levels of aggression in children's behaviour after viewing violence. Aggression was defined as beating an inflatable Bobodoll without any negative consequences for the child.

Vaagland's position thus is fairly similar to the critical position of some British scholars working in this field at the time. Halloran (1978) pointed out that much of the research on violence had been carried out in the USA and that cross-cultural generalisations were not really valid because the USA, media-wise and otherwise, historically and at the present time, differed from what was prevalent in many other countries.

Although the first Scandinavian studies pointed to the importance of parental influence and the child's background and also the relatively limited number of violent incidents on television (Linne, 1969; Vaagland, 1977), and thus were less alarmist than many results of studies from the USA, the debates continued. The effects that were mostly discussed in the Scandinavian violence debates at this time were children's imitation of violence; modelling; reinforcement of existing violent tendencies, fear and desensitisation (Linne, 1982).

As there were so few Scandinavian studies carried out, most of the debates in the early years were not only influenced, but based on American models and paradigms. The more critical British tradition at the time, here illustrated by Halloran's work, was much less influential on this specific issue.

Recent trends in Scandinavian research

In 1993, a major book on violence and the media based on Scandinavian research was published (von Feilitzen, Forsman and Roe). The chapters were written by fourteen scholars from the Nordic countries, who all either studied violence in the media for a considerable time, or had written their doctoral theses on the subject. It is interesting to note that most entries do not deal with violence on television, but rather analyse violence in videos, films, computer games, music videos, or pornography.
Many different dimensions have been covered in these studies about video violence. However, I would argue that the most interesting dimension, seen in the light of this paper, is not much dealt with. Only one of the articles discusses the effects of watching video violence. More essays point to how video violence is used by different subgroups in a socio-cultural content. The research about video violence has thus to a great extent taken another path than was expected when one refers to the early concerns about videos. Perhaps this can be explained by a new framework.

It also seems clear that those major Scandinavian film scholars, currently studying violence in films are more interested in discussing and analysing subcultures, narratives, genres and the cultural and historical contexts, than even approaching the traditional questions about harmful effects of viewing these violent films.

Jensen (1993) asserts that during the last decade violence-as-moving-image has found a new medium to be developed in, namely computer or video games, and that this specific medium appears to celebrate violence. The screen is swarming with street-fighters, aliens and combat soldiers with pump-guns. It is also a medium which is gender specific. Reception and media ethnographic studies as well as direct observation confirm that this is "a man's world" (p. 151). Jensen claims that there is very little research about computer games in the Nordic countries and that the scarce International research has been based on traditional effects models and psychological theories, "without attempting to understand and describe the phenomenon in its social and cultural context" (p. 152). The social context in this case is Denmark and Jensen writes about masculinity, and power plays, after having described the various genres and narratives. His conclusion is that the fascination for young men in playing these games is that they are a play room where one can create one's own power. "A possibility to live where one has the power -- rather than where one is powerless" (Jensen, 1993, p. 170).

In the very beginning of Forsman's article about violence in music videos he manifestly positions himself declaring: "It is often claimed that music videos contain more sex and violence than other television genres. Sweepingly it is maintained that the 'violent narrative style' creates everything from concentration problems to perpetrators of violent acts. It is not only from the USA we hear statements like this; even in Sweden there exist new moralistic doomsday prophets and crusades against all imaginable popular and youth cultures" (Forsman, 1993, p. 175). He then studies narratives and genres and concludes that violence taken up by researchers -- is that of reception analysis and the nature of 'pleasure' derived from viewing. We have already reported a similar trend evident in the research of 15 European countries. Forsman also adds the possibility that violence is used by television channels and the rock music industry as a way to attract younger audiences.

Similarly, Svensson (1993) affirms in his study of pornographic violence that it is currently often claimed that pornographic film reaches more people today then ever before, because of the home video market, and the expansion of cable-television. Pornographic films are also regularly broadcast on satellites. He argues that there are interesting similarities between the debate about 'extreme violence' and 'pornographic violence' and that in both cases the debates about harmful effects are mixed up with demands for more censorship. He concludes that there is no clear research evidence that pornography causes violent crimes, including rape. Svensson does not believe that research about the effects of pornography should be used as an argument for censorship of pornography in societies. This should be a political and not a research decision. He concludes that censorship against pornography is not necessarily beneficial because, in his view, the increased censorship is more dangerous than are the possible harmful effects of pornography.

These studies are all concerned with 'extremely violent' images, as the scholars point out. What emerges from this last-mentioned collection of studies is an apparent consensus not to discuss 'harmful' or other effects of computer games, violent music videos or pornographic videos. From a interpretative perspective, they analyse this intriguing world of violent images and their function for subcultures. There also appears to be a consensus in their condemnation of 'moral crusaders' who are looked upon as being against popular and youth cultures. As the scholars, not only those just mentioned, but also those who have studied 'extreme violence' in videos and films, frequently refer to the 'moral crusaders' in their texts, we must assume, that the debates about harmful effects of different forms of media violence, have continued in the Scandinavian societies.

How are we to explain that researchers in the Scandinavian societies during the period of restricted media policy, few television channels, no satellites, hardly any video, few films with 'extreme violence' and no violent music videos or computer games or pornographic video images, whatsoever, discussed and studied media effects and were extremely wary of the future development of the media, whereas many researchers now when these night-marish developments appear to have happened, are instead studying the images, rather than the effects of the images?

Other Scandinavian research, however, has a different emphasis. Anita Werner (1994) in Children in the Television Age gives a conservative estimate that 0.1 per cent of boys in Norway can be affected by media violence and behave with increased aggression. Ragnhild Bjornebekk (1994), also from Norway, points out that the debate about violence and its effects has been with us for many years but that the results are contradictory and probably says more about the person writing than something important about the function of violence for children and young people.

Von Feilitzen gives a list of other important factors relating to aggression and violence that research has pointed out: "The child's and adolescent's personality, capacities, and earlier aggression; conditions in family, school, and peer groups (for example, aggression at home, a school that does not encourage one's capacity, lack of popularity among peers); socio-cultural background and societal conditions (although the last-mentioned conditions have not been empirically studied). Thus, the 'entertainment violence' plays in the long (as in the short) run only a contributing role and comes in as a faint reinforcement in a syndrome of other far more important circumstances" (Feilitzen, 1994, p. 149). She also points out that: "Sweden has had only a slight increase in the number of violent crimes. On the other hand, we have had a substantial increase in theft and other economic criminality" (von Feilitzen, 1994, p. 152).

Bjornebekk (1994) argues that, in contrast to the USA, children as murderers or perpetrators of serious violence are uncommon in England and Norway and that the rise in crime in both countries, are mostly related to property. Von Feilitzen (1994) states: "In sum, different persons experience excitement, violence, horror, and power -- as well as other media and cultural contexts -- very differently, need it differently, and attach different meanings to it" (von Feilitzen, 1994, p. 159).

The changed face of Scandinavian research

I introduced some trends in the research debate about violence on television in the 1970s in Scandinavia. One was the discussion over whether one could apply research violence findings from other countries (mostly from the USA) to the Scandinavian context. Most common among researchers at the time was a clear acceptance that one could, building on the argument that the Scandinavian countries imported fiction films and programmes from the USA. Only occasionally were there voices of dissent from this view.

In the 1990s the situation is completely contradictory, because now only occasionally we hear arguments agreeing that findings from the USA could be imported to the Nordic context.

One reason for this is that today there exists much more Scandinavian-based research in comparison with some twenty years ago -- research which on the whole has demonstrated much less spectacular effects than was assumed. At the same time there is a growing awareness among social science scholars not to study the media in isolation, but in its social context. Another argument from the 1970s dealt with the question whether researchers had agreed amongst themselves on the validity of the (foreign) findings and there were strong arguments that there existed a consensus among the majority of the scholars for doing so. Again occasional voices protested and criticised the American research as being psychologistic, artificial and parochial. However, building on the conviction of the validity of the (foreign) research, Scandinavian scholars demanded that 'something had to be done' and requested more censorship.

This argument was coupled with the fear of an expanding media system which in the future would allow more violent images to be imported. Although the researchers from the 1970s anticipated (and feared) media development and media expansion, they did not suspect what an enormous explosion of media was to follow. For example, in 1981, the Danish Media Commission, voted against for establishing a Nordic satellite channel (NORDSAT). The decision was partly based on the arguments that the channel would carry imported programmes from the USA and that Scandinavian viewers would prefer American fiction programmes to Scandinavian programmes.

Now in the 1990s the Nordic countries have experienced rapid media development and there has also been rapid development of research on the media (Carlsson, 1995).

However, the most intriguing and rather unexpected trend is that direct/sole television causal effects on violent behaviour are not even mentioned in the literature from the 1990s. All the research findings, when mentioning violence on television, treats television as a possible contributory factor in real-life violence but never as the sole cause. Viewing violence on television might, at the most, contribute 0.1% to 10% to the level of violence in society (Werner, 1994; von Feilitzen, 1994) and the groups who can be affected by violence seem to grow smaller and smaller (Linne, 1995).

There are also voices from Scandinavia denying any harmful effects of watching violence on television. Thus when the Scandinavian countries only had one public broadcasting channel each or two (in Sweden), and then very restrictive policies about the import of violent programmes, the 'moral panics' among the researchers seem to have been much more explicit than now. This trend is extremely clear when one is analysing studies concerning 'extreme violence', from video nasties, to horror films, to violent images in music, to pornographic violent images and violent computer games. The researchers studying these areas and themes were not interested in questions about effects, but they studied the content, the images and how different sub-groups used the media material and negotiated the texts. It is evident that today much more research is carried out about the media than only a decade ago and this is probably due to the proliferation of old and new media. Contrary to what one could have predicted, however, the research in the 1990s is not at all as dominated by effects studies.

Have the researchers in Scandinavia changed paradigms or at least attitudes? It is important here to remember, that most researchers during the early years were trained as social scientists and that in Scandinavia at the time, social sciences were very influenced by the American behaviourist traditions. Most of the voices from Scandinavia from the 1990s, working in the effects tradition, proceed much more carefully than their early colleagues. Undoubtedly this is also based on the fact that the research community actually knows more about the media surrounding us, than they did in the 1970s. There is a growing hesitation to explain complicated social phenomena to one powerful single cause. The other part of the answer is that there are now many more voices in the 1990s -- among these are scholars trained in other disciplines, mostly the humanities. Having another background their research interests have been geared in other directions. There is still a paradox in the Scandinavian scenario, namely the frequent mention of never ending 'moral panics'.

In the very early years it appears that scholars participated and argued for more censorship, but in the 1990s most of the researchers quoted are opposed to more censorship, even though they are discussing 'extreme violence' and not the 'Kojak-type' violence.

The 'moral entrepreneurs' seem thus no longer to be the researchers, but parents, politicians, journalists, and generally concerned public debaters. While, in the 1970s, the arguments were that research had proved that it was dangerous for children and young people to watch violence (or at least large amounts of violence) on television, the majority of the research community today would avoid statements like this. This, of course, might cause frustrations for 'the concerned' who are convinced that the tide of violent images must have some direct causal effect on children and young people. When the Scandinavian researchers point out that 0.1 percent to 10 percent of the build up of aggression might be contributed by watching violent television, films, videos, etc., they cannot predict which of the children will be affected. This, coupled with a growing hesitation to explain complicated social issues with one cause, might be another reason for most media scholars in the 1990s in the Scandinavian countries to study constructions and narratives of media images and how the media are used and negotiated by different subcultures, rather than to continue to concentrate on the elusive effects of violent media. After having examined the Scandinavian countries as a case study, we now return to the general European picture. Here we look at how academics themselves evaluate the research that has been undertaken in this field.

A European scenario

In the survey referred to earlier (Linne, 1996), where I had received answers from one hundred and seven Higher Education Institutions in the fifteen member states of the European Community, forty-five percent of the scholars said that they themselves had carried out a study about violence and the media or written on the theme.

I asked the last-mentioned academics to evaluate the linkage between media violence and violence in society: "What is your personal opinion based on your interpretation of the research evidence on the causal link between violence in the media and violence in society"? Twenty-two percent of the scholars stated: "there is an evident causal link" . Thirty-three percent said: "there is a vague causal link only for some children". Four percent answered: "there is no causal link". Twenty-nine percent of the scholars chose to tick: "the question about violence in the media is too simplistic to explain complicated social phenomena". Two percent of them discussed "multi causality" and ten percent did not answer the question. The answers can be interpreted as an indication of the well-known divide in the research community.

On the other hand, only a fifth of the researchers active in the field in 1995 (when they answered the questionnaire) believed "there is an evident causal link".

The vast majority of the scholars were more in doubt. Thirty-three percent each went either for the "vague causal link" or find it "too simplistic to explain complicated social phenomena" with one cause -- the media -- or denied all causal links (four percent).

I also asked about policy implications of the research on violence for the mass media industry in the academics' own country. Forty-seven percent of the scholars answered that they believed the research had policy implications for the industry.

On an open question twenty-four percent mentioned legislation and again twenty-four percent stated that research contributed to debates about violence on the screen. Fourteen percent mentioned that new guidelines had been adopted in their country and ten percent that scheduling had been changed. The rest of the answers deal with that teachers and parents now know more about the elusive question about violence on the screen and therefore could guide the children better. Other scholars mention that the research had instigated important debates about censorship and advertising.

I also asked if scholars applied research evidence from other countries to explain effects of mediated violence in their own counties. Forty-nine percent of the academics said they did. Most of the answers came from the countries which had not been able to carry out research in their own environment -- mostly the Mediterranean countries.

Finally I asked which country, in their view, had produced useful research about children and mediated violence. The fifteen European Community countries were listed and I had added the US, Canada and Australia, as these countries often are referred to in relation to violence on the screen. The majority, sixty-seven percent, of the European scholars pointed to that relevant research had been carried out in the UK, a country where scholars persistently have argued against the direct/causal effects of violence on the screen to violence acts in the society (Halloran, 1978; Murdock and McCron, 1979; Howitt and Cumberbatch, 1975; Buckingham, 1993; Gauntlett, 1995; Barker and Petley, 1997). However, almost the same number of scholars (65 percent) mentioned research carried out in the US, a country where research often has argued for causal effects (Bandura, 1968; De Fleur and Ball-Rokeach, 1982; Comstock, 1990; Gerbner, 1994).

The third most frequent mentioned country was Sweden (forty-three percent), which is on one hand quite surprising as it has a relatively small population, but on the other hand research about violence in the media has been a persistent theme. Germany followed in fourth place (thirty-nine percent), Australia in fifth position (thirty-seven percent). Canada came in surprisingly low in the sixth position (thirty-one percent). The Netherlands followed with twenty-six percent and Denmark and Finland received twenty percent and eighteen percent respectively. Ireland and Italy each were referred to by six percent, Austria and Spain by four percent and Belgium by two percent. Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal were not mentioned at all. Two percent of the academics mentioned research from Japan.

Overall, the academics in the European community reported that little research had taken place in the Mediterranean countries and much more in the north-west of Europe. The question of the relevance of research about violence and the media mirrors the indigenous academics description. Given that it is important to carry out research in a societal context, as research never is free-floating or indeed "objective", it appears that it would be of the utmost importance for the European countries, especially those around the Mediterranean and the countries from Eastern Europe to research images about violence. There were more voices from the north-western part of Europe who mentioned that relevant research about violence had been carried out in the UK and Scandinavia and more of the voices from the southern part of Europe who mentioned research from the US. As the case study from Scandinavia demonstrated, it might not be wise just to adopt research paradigms and research evidence from one country to the other.

As a result of this present research I would, therefore, recommend that the first priority should be that research in these countries should be encouraged by the European Community and UNESCO in order that a body of research, relevant to each country, can be built up. I would add that this research needs to be undertaken carefully with the specific socio-historic needs of those countries taken into account. This is the only way in which we can build up a more systematic and relevant bank of knowledge, on which it would be possible to base decisions.



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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:12 pm


Why Do We Watch Television Violence?: Argentine Field Research


Violence in television programs and its repercussion on children have been the subject of extensive research.

Opinions in the debate range from those who consider that the screen is a mirror of social reality to those who believe the effects of violence to be devastating, particularly for children and adolescents. The former tend to justify it, while the latter would like to do away with it.

Social reality deserves a complex analysis; when humans are at stake one cannot jump to conclusions. This paralyzing complexity often results in a third position where everything is seen as relative and where the relation that both children and adolescents establish with television is thought to depend on their family and social environment, on their personal characteristics, etc., something which has come to be known as 'mediating variables'.

Though true, this should not prevent us from finding the unifying variables and the relations that enable us to understand and explain in order to transform.

When faced with the problem of children's relations to TV, these three approaches can hardly provide feasible answers for those responsible for children or for media production; we seem to be at a dead end.

For over twenty years, I have carried out field research, by combining systematically quantitative and qualitative methodologies while working with psychological techniques so as to approach the problem also from the unconscious level. Here I will briefly present some of the angles of analysis and the findings of various works, where scales, rates and similar variables were used to enable comparisons throughout time and different samples.

The findings show the need to focus on the TV problem from two different overlapping and simultaneous levels:

• A general more inclusive level, leaving practically nobody out, related to the conversation contents, the subjects that television introduces in public debate, in society and in our everyday life.
• A second level in which program contents act as compensatory mechanisms arising when there is some type of deficiency -- either individual or social.

At the first level, both children and adolescents draw elements from the language, fashion style, social or relational issues to communicate, thus conforming to a television subculture. Television here has a socially leveling function by providing children with a common language enabling them to share a common experience: television.

A work carried out on a sample of 2,000 children from urban areas (Merlo-Flores, 1980) showed that all children watch television, even those that do not own a set, since they go over to their friends' homes. The most curious finding was that they report to each other whatever they have not been able to watch. Television programming has become the unavoidable subject of conversation. Those unable to follow it are left out as if living in a foreign country. It is interesting to observe how children manage to avoid this.

It is easy to watch how children play, talk, get angry or show affection for each other, through elements drawn from television. One of those elements, perhaps the most repetitive, is that of aggression. Whether good or bad, heroes or bandits, cartoon, science fiction or real characters, they all show that violence is the quickest, most efficient, clean and consequence-free way to solve problems and to attain objectives. It has been repeated ad nauseam that children imitate what they see on TV. When carrying out experimental studies researchers sit with a number of children to watch films containing violence, and with others to watch similar films without aggressive content, in order to observe their immediate behaviors. They are looking for the obvious: imitation.

Television with its load of institutionalized violence, gives children and youngsters "permission" to use it. A message is conveyed together with the way of decoding it, violence is a "legitimate" means. Aggression has grown into a new communication code, particularly for the youngest. But does this mean that children become aggressive? Not necessarily so.

This getting used to violence brings about a greater aggression in the usual way of communicating, but does not modify the structure of children's personality, making them violent. Those children who already are aggressive by temperament or due to family, social or individual problems, select and integrate violent elements from television, while children with what may be deemed a "normal" load of aggression may watch the same program and choose the same character for identification, yet, unlike their more aggressive peers, do not select or integrate violent elements.

Here the second level related to the compensation for deficiencies and needs comes into play. Both social groups and people project their problems, their needs or wants into what they select and integrate from TV. There is enough evidence to affirm that this material also can be used as a projective social and individual test, since it contributes not only to the knowledge of the specific deficiency but also to the knowledge of the specific compensatory mechanism used.

Following the more or less permanent traces left by this process is of fundamental importance, for evident research findings state that children's relationships to media violence depend on the load of aggression with which they approach the screen. Obviously long and short term consequences will differ.

Here working with the relation between children and television becomes essential, taking into account particularly the simultaneous and overlapping levels of analysis.

My hypothesis is that although children with an aggressive personality structure, while watching TV initially reach a catharsis, [1] in the long run this adds potential to their violent traits by reinforcing them. Moreover, they will have learned multiple alternative ways of manifesting aggression and of justifying it as a legitimate means to reach their objectives.

On the other hand, children who do not present an aggressive personality structure learn to communicate via violent codes (ways of speaking, "playing," etc.), consistent with the level of imitation; these children not only do not modify their personality structure but in the long run this familiarity with aggression as a code of communication makes them afraid. These are the adults that visualize the world as hostile.

About fifteen years ago, I started a research work as an attempt to confirm the well known hypothesis that violence increases aggressive behavior in children: Television as Compensatory for Needs (Merlo-Flores, Usandivaras and Rey, 1983). Knowing children's personality traits, particularly in terms of the degree of aggression, seemed to me of fundamental importance. Therefore I worked with Dr. Raul Usandivaras, an Internationally well known psychiatrist, who carried out various studies regarding projective tests as diagnosis tools. The qualitative methodology applied was designed so as to take into account children's environment and the bonds established therein. In 1994, I repeated the work keeping the methodology, the school and the age group constant (Merlo-Flores, 1995).

Important research findings

The most important findings from this research work are:

• Identification with television models only takes place in the presence of family conflicts.
• The television content selected and integrated is only used as a compensatory mechanism by children or youngsters suffering from some kind of want.
• This compensation does not necessarily take place through programs most often seen or commented on by children but through their favorite characters.
• The child unconsciously selects and integrates those specific elements precisely consistent with his problems. All children presenting difficulties in their family ties identify themselves with leading TV characters.
• Though the same character or person may be selected by a great number of children, each one of them will only select or integrate that trait which makes up for his specific need.
• Children with similar problems will draw from different characters similar compensatory elements.
• A careful analysis of what and how they select and integrate contents will enable us to deal with this material as a projective test; thus we can unveil not only the need but also the actual compensatory mechanism used, an aspect which standard psychological tests fail to show.
• These findings are valid both at personal and social levels. The needs and wants of significant groups in our society are projected into the selected and integrated television material. Here we may speak of a projective social test.
• In both cases television plays a similar role to that of dreams.
• Violence presented by television is used as a code of communication; this does not necessarily mean that inner personality structures will be modified.
• Violence is selected and integrated specifically through the target characters of a projective identification.
• Violence on television is only selected and integrated by children showing aggressive traits as seen in the analysis of the projective tests.
• Even when identified with an aggressive character, children with a "normal" degree of aggression for their age neither select or integrate their aggressive traits.
• Violence drawn from television, whenever manifest aggression is seen in a child, acts as a means of attaining a catharsis. [1]

These findings are only a close synthesis of what, in the fashion of a hypothesis, is to be demonstrated in this chapter.

Case study

The purpose of the following work is to delve into the deeper unconscious aspects that lead us to prefer certain television characters and programs; to analyze the material selected, the reasons for its selection and the use made of the material; and, finally, to establish the relation between one's own aggression and violence as featured in television characters and programs.

Methodological aspects

Approximately ten hours work was spent on each child. The techniques used for gathering information were:

1) A battery of psychological tests:

a) drawing a person's body

b) drawing a person of the other sex

c) drawing an animal

d) writing a story with the chosen animal

e) drawing a family in action

f) three free subject drawings in color

g) writing a story using one or all free drawings

The basic aim was to determine aggression, identification and family ties.

2) A questionnaire on the use of television.

The questionnaire was designed as an open interview on a number of subjects in a guide. It included the following questions:

1. What programs do you like best?

2. What do you like about these programs?

3. Which is your favorite character?

4. What do you like about him?

5. Would you like to be like him?

6. In what way?

7. What for?

8. Would you like to be like him when you grow up?

9. In what way?

10. What program do you like the least?

11. Why?

12. What character do you like the least?

13. Why?

14. Do you discuss TV programs with your friends?

15. Which programs?

16. What do you talk about?

17. Do you play things you see on TV?

18. What do you play?

19. With whom?

20. Where?

21. What other games do you like to play?

22. What sports do you play?

23. How often?

24. Where?

25. With whom?

26. If a child comes up to you and calls you names, what do you do?

27. If you were a grown up and a thief broke into your home, what would you do?

28: How many hours a day do you watch TV?

3) Children's life history as told by parents.

The usual model for interviews was used to draw up the guide, adding a few supplementary questions regarding parents knowledge of their children's TV habits.

Procedures of analysis

Once the information was gathered, the results of the projective tests were handed to a psychiatrist (Dr. Usandivaras) for interpretation. He was asked to pinpoint the topics he considered highly relevant for the study:

• aggression
• identification with one's own sex
• role identification
• family ties

Questionnaires and life histories were studied by analyzing the same items simultaneously. With regard to children's preferences special attention was given to the outstanding ones checking for coincidences, or the lack of them, with family and personality traits. Before knowing the results of the psychological study, an individual analysis was carried out for each case.

Therefore, initially, the analysis of the material gathered took place separately: the tests on the one hand, and the questionnaires and stories, on the other, only to match the results at a second stage.

Schematic analysis of relations between variables

Four variables of manifest behavior associated with television were selected:

• conversation
• selection of aggressive elements from the screen: mention of deaths, shootings, fist blows, etc.
• games
• character identification

Three family and personality variables were derived from the psychological study:
• family ties
• identification
• aggression

The variables Conversation, Games and Identification stand in the analysis of the material gathered as more clearly manifesting the degree of apprehension and internalization of television patterns by children (variable justification).

The psychological study was based on the variables known as Family Ties, Identification and Aggression; the choice was part of an effort to detect their implication concerning greater or lesser receptivity to television violence as manifest in behavior.

Conversation deals with the use children make of television content as a subject of conversation with their peers. It could be discussed either within or outside school. In the first case it is considered a superficial manifestation possibly conditioned by the environment. The second case implies a personal choice to discuss television subjects. This first variable itself is consistent with the level of apprehension.

Games refer to the use made by children of television contents in their games. The importance of this variable with regard to the world of children can never be overemphasized. It is also interesting to see here whether these games take place exclusively within the school environment. Although also related to the apprehension level, this variable is manifest to a greater degree as the child here not only airs the subject but also incorporates it into his activity.

Identification with the character is said to exist whenever the child expresses his/ her wish to be, either at present or in the future, like the chosen television character. Here we are at the internalization level, for the identification responds to the individual's innermost personality traits. Let us not forget that personality itself is gradually formed through a series of identifications.

The personal and family variables were selected in order to determine a) the presence or absence of problems in family ties as probable cause of a greater assimilation of television violence; b) whether aggression as a personality trait was affected by the internalization of violent patterns drawn from television; and c) if an adequate identification with their own sex served as a cause concomitant in the integration of such patterns.

Although these variables, being specifically psychological, are dealt with as such by specialists carrying out the analysis, when describing the way they were gathered and processed our definitions will be operational.

Aggression means as manifest in tests on aggressive attitudes (in as far as it deviates, one way or the other, from the adequate discharge usually corresponding to the age).

Identification refers to the adequate or inadequate identification with sex and roles. Sexual identification refers to the degree of adjustment between the biological sex and the perception of belonging to the same sex. Identity is constructed by means of different integrated models and is defined by relationships. Understanding this basic trait can possibly be related to the assimilation of violent behavioral patterns.

Family ties was assigned great importance since previous works have indicated a relation between parental image, communication, etc., and certain preferences in children's choices of television programs. A deeper analysis of the reasons for possible conflicts is not as relevant for the study as the particular way in which the child perceives the relationship with the family group. It is common knowledge that what often appears as a conflict situation, feelings of abandonment or fantasies of being slighted by the family group can be modified by adequate treatment or simply outgrow. This makes the findings valid only for the moment the test is carried out, so precautions were taken to have both the interview conducted and the test taken on the same day.


This schematic study shows:

• All children discuss television based subjects: this is what is known as using television as a common frame of reference. Thus, TV acts as a socially leveling factor, enabling children's access and use of a single code of communication.
• Children's identification with a television character was always present whenever problems in the family ties were found. 85% of the children sampled had some type of family conflict.
• In all cases with good family ties identification by the child with the television character was not found.
• Although 66% of children's games include elements or issues drawn from the television programs, no element link with personality variables was found. Even so it may be considered as part of the shared frame of reference.
• Sexual and role identification is adequate in most of the children (58%). The 42% showing inadequate sexual and role identification show difficulties in their family ties and an "identification with television characters".
• In the tests, 66% of children show signs of aggression, this trait being again associated with family conflicts. All members of this group show an identification with television characters. However, not all children who identify themselves with a character have aggressive traits.
• Preference arises as the variable determining the use made by children of the television programs. Practically all children watch programs because other children do, yet, identification is only found in those who prefer the program.
• Children presenting signs of aggression select the violent traits from their favorite characters and programs.
• Fifteen years later similarities and differences among the various variables studied became evident. Results regarding the degree of aggression and the selection of violent screen elements remain 100% constant in both studies. When the first work was carried out, the proportion of children with a good sexual and role identification stood at 80%. In the 1994 research work this had changed dramatically -- only 20% children showed a good identification. Although generalizations based on qualitative work are not possible, I still want to point out the fact that in many family drawings the mother received preferential place and size, often aggressive ones, while the father figure appeared as much smaller.

Television as a means of compensating for personal wants -- some comparative examples

We will now compare similar cases in order to specify and clarify the relation between them.

Ricardo and Matias

Two children with very different personality traits, Ricardo and Matias, prefer the same characters with supernatural powers. In the tests Ricardo showed a correct sexual identification and no signs of aggression; his family ties are good; according to his mother he is afraid of being alone. He watches [TV] an average 6 hours a day, but never with his mother.

Matias, on the other hand, shows evident signs of aggression in all his drawings and presents a correct identification; yet, through the life history as told by the mother, the female figure appears as dominant in the family. The child is with his mother "at all times" except during school hours; she watches "every" television program with him. According to Matias he watches TV between 6-1/2 to 8 hours a day, is afraid of darkness and of being alone. Both children have professional parents.

Let us turn to what each of these children states about his favorite character: Matias chooses an imaginary character with powers; he likes the violence about him, "I would like to be like him when I grow up". He discusses his favorite programs with friends and, at home, usually makes believe that he is one of theses characters ("I like him and the way he lies"), imitating everything they do, "particularly the strength". This child not only identifies himself with the character but he plays this game at home where he is not conditioned to do so as he would, for example, be at school where friends may choose television subjects to play.

Ricardo chooses the same character "for the good he does", but admits he "wouldn't like to be like him at all". He discusses with friends what he watches on TV, they talk about "its production and the science fiction elements in it", in other words, about factors we may regard as incidental. He does not mention the character as an element in his conversation. As for playing TV subjects, he admits doing it: he mentions football, that is to say, he does choose a game specifically drawn from television, but a popular sport also broadcast on TV.

Although both children watch TV for many hours and have chosen the same character, there is an obvious difference between them: Ricardo neither identifies himself with any character trait in particular, nor draws from any of them for his games; namely, he uses the entertaining aspects and the subjects for his conversation. This means that we are at an apprehension level: the child draws from TV at a superficial level. At this level television acts as a means of social leveling conveying the patterns, theme, and language serving to conform a frame of reference where everyone shares a common experience.

In Matias, identification with the character can be clearly seen by the way it is integrated with his games and conversation; what Matias looks for in the character responds to some characteristics in his personality. He needs a powerful and fearful figure to identify with and thus possibly channel his great aggression, transferring his fear to others by becoming the frightening character. Here we face a selective and integrating process responding to deep personality traits that upset his normal development.

Pedro and Santiago

Let us now study two children with similar problems that have also picked the same character: Pedro and Santiago are the only children in the sample whose parents are separated. None has a clear idea of the situation in the family and from the life history told by their mothers they appear as introverted and afraid of being alone. Pedro is a child who shows his aggression and suffers almost total loss of sight in one eye. Santiago's drawings and stories, on the other hand, show no signs of aggression.

Both pick Joe, a character from the Bonanza series, as their favorite character and identify themselves with him. Santiago likes everything about him, he wants to be like him even as a grown up, "to ride on horseback alone around the country", but does not refer to any aggressive character trait. Pedro also wants to be like him, yet he repeatedly points out his wish to be a "good shot" and talks about guns, shooting and fighting with pleasure.

The aggressive child thus chooses a character for those aspects, while the other prefers other behavioral traits. Pedro's eyesight problem no doubt is the reason for the great importance he attaches to being a good shot. Once again we see here the possible need of a masculine model being compensated whereas the interesting projection of a physical problem like the loss of eyesight is also observed.

Adriana and Mariela

Adriana and Mariela both seek "joy" on television. In the tests both girls present a satisfactory identification with their sex but have feelings of abandonment and isolation. Mariela does not even draw other family members, which is very unusual in a test, although understandable when knowing her parents' attitude towards her. She is left alone most of the day and expected to perform most household chores which are usually a mother's task.

Both Mariela and Adriana's parents have high school education and work outside the home. The choice of joyful characters becomes these girls' defense against sadness and anger. Mariela picks the female entertainer of children's programs (Xuxa) as the character she wants to be like when she grows up, so that she can be "joyful". Adriana chooses another children's program entertainer; she wants to be like her now and in the future "to be happier", "because she is always cheerful". They also choose cartoons because they make them laugh.

Special interest was given these two cases and Dr. Usandivaras was consulted. He commented on how the search for joy as a means of denial and compensation, by turning repressed aggression into kindness, acts as a defense mechanism against depression caused by intense feelings of abandonment. We see here a similar conflictive situation and the same defense mechanism: the search for joy as denial and compensation of the repression. Yet the characters expressing it and being identified with are quite different. Once again television appears to be acting as a compensatory mechanism that may also be thought of as an oniric function, a sort of daydreaming used to attain psychological balance.

Maria and Silvia

Let us now compare Maria and Silvia who chose the same character: a police woman. In her tests Maria shows signs of aggressive discharge, an adequate identification and some difficulties in her family ties (fantasies of being left out). She spends most of the day with her three brothers. As for her parents, they report that Maria plays and talks with her mother (she keeps nothing from her) but does not watch television with her, while the father watches in the evening and occasionally at noon.

Silvia shows clear signs of aggression in her tests, particularly in the oversized manly female figure. As for the relationship with her family there are signs of little communication. Silvia, unlike Maria, has a younger sister she is friendly and protective towards, though dominant. Her parents say that Silvia tends to become irritable, still they do not know what causes it, and that she does not discuss her affairs. If ever she discusses anything it is about family issues and she does it with her mother. Although Silvia is all day with her, there is no mention of sharing any activities either with her or with the father who comes for dinner. There is only mention of her relationship with the sister she plays and fights with, and whom she favors as company.

Let us see now why each of these girls choose as her favorite character the police woman. Maria picks her because she is "strong and powerful". She likes her because "she is always the best, she hides, stands for other people and always wins". Maria admits talking about police women and playing this with brothers and sisters (a game in which the boys are being persecuted). She feels identified with them: "I would like to be like them, because if anyone should attack my parents I could defend them. I can also jump and climb quite high. When I grow up I want to be like them, to be strong."

Instead Silvia chooses the police woman because she "goes into action; I would like to be like her in everything when I grow up ... to save people ...". At home with her sister she plays that she is a police woman and has powers. Strangely she chooses a program she is "not allowed to see but I see it anyway for I go to bed very late".

Both girls choose the same character to compensate for similar wants. Maria seeks to stand out and differentiate herself in a family group she feels excluded from (being excluded generates aggression). Thus, the search for a successful female figure combines channeled aggression (being a police woman) with recognition. Silvia, on the other hand, by identifying herself with the police woman seeks to get into action as an overreaction to a family that does not seem aware of her position in it.

Ricardo and Ana

A particular case is that of the twins, Ricardo and Ana, children of professional parents. The father is a psychiatrist and the mother a social worker though not working. The family gets together on weekends, holidays and Wednesday evenings.

Ricardo shows no sign of aggression in his tests. His sex identification is adequate and there does not seem to be any problems in his relation with his family (roles are well defined). He shares most of the time with both mother and sister, whom he plays, talks, and also fights with. His only fear is loneliness. He shares a bedroom with his sister and never watches television with his parents.

Ana, on the contrary, is dominant and protective of Ricardo. According to their parents, she prefers to imitate actions of strong women with powers. She seems to fear nothing and is quite an extrovert, affectionate and cheerful. Usually talkative, particularly with her mother, she sometimes watches television with her father. Which are their television choices? Ricardo enjoys programs with "science fiction", as his parents also agree. His favorite character is Robocop because of all the things he can do, "though I wouldn't like to be like him at all". He discusses the making of films with his friends. He does not play this character or any other subject drawn from TV. Apparently television only provides him entertainment as the test data also confirm. As for Ana, she prefers Hunter's partner, a police woman, "because she likes it when she runs after someone". She wants to be like her both now and when she grows up; if she were like her she would run races and beat her. In this case we can appreciate how consistent with their personal characteristics and family ties the different use that the two children, of the same age and family, make of television. Ricardo seems well integrated in the family, showing no signs of aggression or lack of identity. Therefore television becomes a mere entertainment while, at the same, keeping its socializing function. Ana, instead, needs to discriminate herself from her twin brother and gain a position in her family. By identifying herself with a police woman she can, as a woman, gain recognition from her successful father and siblings, coming out as a winner before them.

This case is particularly interesting in that it presents two children within the same family environment, where the differentiation for television receptivity is given by emotional needs consistent with individual psychological processes.

Carmen and Veronica

We turn now to the case of Carmen and Veronica. The program chosen as favorite is Pa, a soap opera presenting the relationship of a widower with his three daughters. Carmen is a girl with signs of repressed aggression as a defense against the environment in her tests; she has an adequate identification but family problems (lack of communication, a feared paternal figure and a need to remain secluded from the family). She has two brothers, one older and one younger. The father is a university graduate with a hierarchical position at work. His mother, a housewife, has grammar school studies. The family gets together in the evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. Carmen spends most of the time with her mother and shows a dominant attitude toward her brothers. She is an extrovert and very sociable. "She likes to stay overnight at the houses of friends she hardly knows."

Veronica presents clear signs of aggression and repressed expansion, identity problems (confusion, she is embarrassed when it comes to feminine parts of her body), and highly dissociated family ties: a disqualified paternal figure and an omnipotent mother. Both her parents are professionals, he is a physician and she is a lawyer, "although I do not have a practice so that I can take care of the girls". She has a younger sister and her pregnancy reportedly cost her mother "blood, sweat and tears". It should be noted that this pregnancy followed a miscarriage. According to her mother, Veronica confides in her, she loves girls and is very tidy: "she washes her butt, she is a darling, feminine, her closet is unbelievable ... nobody would say she is 9, she does not sit with her legs astride". The mother states she has been teaching her all this to bring her up as she was: respectful, feminine, having good manners and habits. When referring to the programs she watches, she says "we watch".

Let us compare the common choice made by these girls. Carmen chooses Pa because they are fun as a family, just as Friends will be friends and The Simpsons. She states watching television is her "favorite pastime," and she usually discusses "with cousins and friends what we watch." She rejects programs as Zorro and Incredible Hulk for "they are for men".

Veronica, instead, says she "adores Pa" and went to see the play. She constantly compares each character with her own family. She identifies herself with the daughters, who "sometimes get along with their Dad and sometimes don't". She wants to be like her mother: "she is like me, a woman" and adds "I want to be a doctor like my Dad".

The same program allows for different projections. For Carmen Pa stands as the ideal family: exciting, with a loving and rewarding father. This family compensates for her feelings of being left out and the lack of communication within her own family environment, the same feelings that make her wish to be permanently away from home. On the other hand, the program provides Veronica an important frame of reference regarding the father and the feminine roles. The father in Pa is a clear figure with a predominant position in the family as opposed to the disqualified image of her father. In this fictive family the mother is absent, making room for a somewhat different meeting space for both father and daughters -- as opposed to the omnipotent role played by Veronica's mother that gives no chance for individualization. Obviously for both girls Pa stands as the ideal family, the one they dream of to compensate for the actual difficulties with their own.


From the comparisons of the projective tests run with children, from their answers on TV subjects, and from the life histories as told by parents, a clear association arises between character traits, seen in the psychological study, and what the child manifests about TV through language, games and particularly identification, or lack of it, with the characters portrayed in the media.

On the one hand, it might be said that the child uses and needs those "patterns", language, contents, etc., to communicate with his peers, by using the same television language, sharing experiences that, though not their own, are common to all of them. That is why we see some children who hardly watch television or talk about it at home, discussing the subject at school.

In this sense, TV can be said to act as an element of social leveling, since it conveys a unique message that may be shared by all, making children feel on an equal standing through the same shared knowledge they use to communicate. This is the most general aspect of the learning carried out by the child by means of television. It is also the shallowest, for the elements being used are incidental and the process takes place, unconsciously, without any manifest intention of learning. This subtle learning, by reading "between the lines", may affect speech, gestures, attitudes, general habits and in the long run, the culture.

Thus, we are concerned to see that there is no child whose intellectual, emotional and spiritual life is not directly affected by this television "sub-culture", competing to a greater or lesser extent with traditional socializing agents. Most children spend more time in the company of the television than at school or with their parents.

We can also talk about a deeper training carried out by television contents. This responds to the various psychological or personal needs of children who no longer draw from incidental aspects of the television subjects, but from actual characters they identify with to different extents. They want to be like them, today and in the future, that is, they are taken as life models.

These characters respond to different compensatory traits of their own personal complex of problems, favoring defense mechanisms of either denial or idealization before feelings of loneliness and anxiety, mishandled aggression or even physical problems. In this sense we can no longer speak of only grasping the television message but also, in certain cases, of a process of identification.

Identification is a selective process; it responds to deep personal needs and therefore it can be inferred that influence takes place to a much greater extent at an individual level. Emotions, basic needs for affection, are satisfied through daydreaming in front of the television.

As seen in these findings, children learn from television; they either use the message, the issues, the language or its style, and not only in their conversation but often in their games as well. It is their own common frame of reference conforming to a child subculture, both new and unknown to the adult at the same time.

Since children cannot possibly watch everything TV has to offer, whether for parental decision, lack of time, or whatever, it is interesting to observe how they manage to get to know, usually through friends, about the programs exclusively for adult audiences and off-limits for them. This is important because in a way it means everything on TV can enter into the children's world.

As for the deep internalization of television patterns (identification), the elements apparently accounting for this selective individual receptivity to a single TV message are those of needs, particularly when referring to the family.

All children with some kind of conflict in the family identify themselves with television characters. However, those children with a good relationship with their families do not and only use TV as the subject of conversation and games with their peers. Moreover, the closer a child is to what we may call normal or carefree, the more incidental and superficial the aspects he draws from TV, generally only to use them in his conversations.

Learning is carried our in two stages: imitation and identification. When beginning, learning comes through imitation; when faced with deeper wants, identification takes place. What goes on as this reality is imitated? Is it an open door to "magic thought"?

McLuhan (1987) states that TV conveys highly active and participant experience; the child is always actually the associate TV producer. The mosaic quality and the little information characteristic of image triggers a "warm" or "highly participative" effect. "Any information obtained must be completed by the observer". According to McLuhan's hypothesis, children complete whatever television has to offer with their own reality.

Following the findings of the research work, it could be said that whenever reality is unsatisfactory, children complete it with elements they select and integrate from TV. This selection and integration of favorite characters and programs may serve as projective tests providing elements never available from any psychological test so far, for these may show their needs, but not the compensating mechanism appearing clearly in the use that children make of television.

It is important that we ask ourselves here which consequences may arise in children who are exposed to a programming whose only aim is consumption, lacking profound awareness of the formative and socializing role it fulfils.

The choice of programs reflecting a social reality

There is a trend in every research where age is taken into account with regard to program choices -- the older the person the greater the selection of adult programs. It follows that children's preferences also change as they grow older: from those typically for children to more adult subjects. This apparently obvious relation was confirmed in the above-mentioned research work, when both variables were crossed regardless of children's social levels (see Table 1a).

After applying the statistical test of X2, the result as a measure of significance was 189.8, a value which for a 5% risk level generously exceeds the value required to confirm the interdependence between studied variables.

The chart depicts clear trends: Interest in programs with themes for children, particularly cartoons, slowly decreases as viewers grow. This does not mean they do not watch them, only they do not prefer them. An interesting case is that of educational programs, that is, those designed to teach. Only 10% of all children chose them, a trend which rises up to the ages of 11 and 12.The trend reverses as the children become 13 and older.

If we take into account the characteristics of this group, as shown in the descriptive analysis, we see once more the close relation between reality as lived by the child and the use he makes of television. Naturally, programs dealing with adult issues are increasingly preferred as children get older, which is only natural since the real world is where they should learn to live. To adapt better, they are supposed to know about these realities.

Table 1a. Children's Program Preferences by Age


These trends are more clearly marked when regrouping the information:

Table 1b. Children's Program Preferences by Age (regrouped data chart)


To determine the statistical significance of the age/program relation, X2 was again applied. The result 135.7 (critical independence value 12.59) shows a strong relation between the two variables.

Why do we want to stress such an obvious relation? Simply because when considering both variables and taking the children's different social background into account, the relation is no longer obvious. Once again, the social background stands as the clue for understanding both the relation and the influence that television has on children.

The most important findings from such an analysis are:

• As children get older the preference for children's programs decreases while there is a growing interest in adult issues. This relation was clearly proven statistically significant among children from the social levels A, B and C, that is, those living in a high and medium level socio-cultural environment.
• However, children at level 0, that is, those living in slums, conventillos and orphan boarding schools, still prefer children's programs regardless of age.

These findings are absolutely consistent with the results of the case study which shows how children with problems of loneliness or abandonment turn strictly to children's programs. In other words, the deeper the problem or the greater the want, the more likely its resolution is sought through a more general or undefined compensation achieved through mechanisms we might call primary, such as the search for joy or regression. These children do not find a way out of their problems, not even through compensating mechanisms ... they simply flee. Isn't this the same reason teenagers give for using drugs?

• This trend, marked and therefore easier to see in this group of children, is also found among children with serious problems regardless of their social status.

The same conclusion is reached by advertising professionals when using segmentations based on psychographic methods. Aiming at the most "vulnerable", they study vulnerability types based on more basic needs. Hard variables as sex, age, educational or economic level are no longer used when considering the population; the new research technologies group persons according to the so-called "soft variables", dealing precisely with deep private needs and wants.

Further results are:

• Children from the middle social levels show the greatest diversity of interests. This becomes evident in that they include as preferred choices or options every one of thirteen program categories used in the study. Children from higher and lower levels chose only half the options.
• Younger children obviously have fewer interests, as observed in every group. Still, those from the middle class present the widest variety of program types as choices, that is, they are open to various possibilities.
• It is also remarkable that in the lowest social level group (0) younger children (7 and 8 years old) choose a comparatively higher percentage of adult programs, as compared with children from other levels.

Findings, as they build up and are analyzed with regard to the different aspects related to the development and adaptation of children, show how reality is projected into the selection and integration of television contents. They also show that this selection and integration will depend, from a psychological perspective, on the individual needs of the child, and from a sociological perspective on "soft variables", which allow a segmentation and grouping of children, youngsters and adults according to their needs or wants.

Television as a compensation for social wants

Findings obtained on an individual level are also valid for the different groups conforming to our society. The Vals or Risk segmentation used in publicity, where the population is grouped according to the so called "soft variables" or "the deepest and most powerful individual needs", is also valid when studying children in relation to the product "television".

To be honest with ourselves we will have to acknowledge that television programming is just a product, and children its potential consumers. This, at least, is a fact in most countries where there are no other criteria than the exclusively commercial one, when it comes to program selection. No matter in which light we choose to see it -- some programs may aim higher than others, but if the rating is not high enough to compete with other broadcasting stations, the program is discontinued.

People's needs may be said to provide the stimuli ruling behavior and, by this means, they stand as the root of the functioning of both society and the culture.

The most outstanding and active of man's psychic needs is perhaps the emotional response to others. In a modern city, the individual finds reciprocal interaction easier in formal terms, without having to evoke emotional responses. In this situation his or her psychic need remains unsatisfied. S/he is actually caught in a feeling of loneliness and isolation, which is more depressing than genuine solitude, for we all know what it is like to be alone in a crowd. A person's need for favorable responses stands as the main stimulus for sociably acceptable behavior.

When our children and youngsters turn to television, they do not do so, as it is usually (and easily) said, for entertainment or information; rather they are desperately seeking to learn what they must be like to elicit a favorable response from others, and not to be alone. "Experience determines a subject's behavior. But this, in turn, derives from the contact with the environment in which he lives. Therefore, to understand both individual personality and general personality, it is indispensable to know the environment" (Ralph Linton).

If we limit our study to the number of hours a child or youngster spends daily before TV and the use they make of the contents in their conversations and games with their peers, we cannot but wonder if the "television environment" is the ruling environment in their lives.

Who do they "communicate" with most -- their parents or the television? Who do they turn to when feeling lonely? And when they do not know how to behave to gain acceptance? Which are the never questioned and globally accepted ideal social models for identification?

The individual use of television by the child or the youngster can be generally applied to our society groups. This use is not restrained to the time lapsed between switching on and off the set; rather it dynamically permeates everyday reality.

When taking into account the prevailing psychic, affective and cultural needs in our child and teenage population, they are found to match similar trends in the use made of the television. No matter which program they draw the elements from in order to achieve social adaptation, what identifies them is the use of a common means, television, for attaining their ends.

Thus, groups with similar traits, for example, children or adolescents with problems of loneliness, abandonment and frustrations, will find on television the outlet for those situations they are unable to cope with by watching programs of a neat cut for children: cartoons or entertainment programs for children.

Others, with the possibility of getting out of a very low cultural and social level through their intellectual capacity, as shown in their school performance, spend the greater number of hours before the screen as compared with their social group. They claim they do so to learn ... yet no one chooses didactic programs (Merlo-Flores, 1996a)!

There are also those with a poor identification with their parents. The only resource they turn to for models is television. Today, unlike in the past, no child will choose a teacher or an uncle as model. Whenever an adequate identification is lacking, the screen magically solves the situation by presenting heroes who never die, who everybody knows and accepts.

To find the clue to the interpretation of the television and child relationship process, children and adolescent populations must be considered as grouped according to their most imperious needs regarding their adaptation, development and, basically, their acceptance by others.
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Re: Children and Media Violence, by Ulla Carlsson

Postby admin » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:13 pm


The paradox as a symptom

The great paradox is that at a time of overrated image, when being young, successful, blonde, beautiful, almost perfect, and when studies are followed to keep up with the joneses, children and youngsters choose to view reality shows, violence, and issues where human misery is portrayed. Young people are trapped in a culture that fails to offer models, an essential element for adequate growth. Personality is conformed through a series of identifications. Young people stand as their own models, everyone wants to be young; young people are wanted in high positions, experience gained with age does not count as much as the vigor of youth. Being young is a value in itself, as if one could choose. Life phases seem all upset, young people have become models for adults.

A study I am working on with Michael Morgan from Massachusetts University, conveys interesting data regarding life models from a sample of 1,000 Argentine youngsters. We asked them who they wanted to look like and why. The most remarkable aspect is the extremely high level of dispersal; there are no common models for the young.

A 7% chooses one of the parents (3.3% the mother, 2.3% the father, 1.4% both parents) and a 6% talk about what I call sacrifice models, since they are dead, like Gandhi, Che Guevara, Eva Peron and Theresa from Calcutta. Most of the remaining choices fall, with very low percentages, on people from the media. What we may call life values are mentioned basically with regard to sacrificed models and parents. Is there worse violence than not being able to be oneself?

It is important to remark about the reasons why young people prefer programs containing violence. Most of the true deeper explanations belong to the unconscious level.

One phenomenon of the times that we cannot overlook is that life stories used to be told by the elderly, parents, teacher, priests; the young received information according to what their elders deemed convenient, respecting their phases. Today television is the indisputable narrator and its messages no longer respond to children's developmental phases, but to economic concerns of a group of adults.

The stories connect with the unconscious mind and the unconscious functions by means of primary associations. The tragedy, literature and cinema filled and still fulfils this narrative function but television is the indisputable "grandmother storyteller" of our age. The story has always filled the mission of showing, uniting and giving meaning to the internal contradictions of human personality.

Another fundamental element to take into account in this analysis is that we ought to approach television from an emotional standpoint, with our perceptions and feelings instead of rational logic -- the image acts, in the psyche, as the nexus between sensory, perceptive, emotional and motor experiences, on the one hand, and language on the other.

Television has taken the lid off repression. The id, the long repressed dark side of the heart, is on the screen available to everyone. Television has pulled down a formerly insurmountable barrier behind which the dark side of human nature together with what had been veiled and repressed come into the open, the pendulum swinging to the opposite side.

Young people perceive the violence, envy, misery presented on the high rated programs as related to them, to their innermost being, they recognize themselves in it and get to know themselves from formerly forbidden angles -- angles they never would have dared to mention or even surmise as their own. Commenting on one of the highest rated reality shows in Argentina, a 16 year old said to me: ''they show human misery, yet when I watch them I wonder how much of it is in me." How long is it since the word misery was used other than to denote material poverty? I had almost forgotten how true it is -- misery dwells also in ourselves and in me. And I had to be reminded by a 16 year old adolescent! Word of restricted usage ... misery.

This also accounts for the systematic rejection by most adults of The Simpsons. I would rather call it adult incapability to read it from the same angle as children and youngsters do. A young woman of 21 talking about The Simpsons in a focus group said "it's what happens to us every day, even our physiological needs that are so embarrassing to us, it's mixed feelings; and one feels uneasy watching this, yet at the same time, it is such a great relief".

At the 1995 Melbourne World Summit on Television and Children, 30 children held a full session acting very rational and committed. However, the last question was: "What program do you prefer?", and absolutely all of them chose The Simpsons. Leaving all logic behind, to enter the plane of emotions, Barr becomes the model for numerous children to the consequent teacher's and parent's horror. The younger children prefer him because he makes all the mistakes, because he is terrible, because we like him, because what happens to him also happens to us.

When the feelings conveyed by the screen are either too strong to be taken in, or cannot be related to experience, they become disturbing. For this reason children, when asked about programs that younger children should not watch, claim they cannot see them for they cannot understand them. They do not mean this from a rational perspective, for they are not talking about programs on politics or economics. Rather they mean they cannot assimilate from the emotional perception, they cannot put into words, they cannot relate to their own experiences.

If parents are asked, "What are they going to say?" they add. They are also aware of the great difficulty adults have in expressing their emotions.

These are the most common answers in a research work with a focus group methodology, which I am working on together with senior students from the University of Buenos Aires. We work with 150 children of ages 11 and 12 whom we asked to act as judges determining what younger children could and could not watch, justifying their decision.

In another focus group a 22-year-old said: "television contents are like triggers, sometime watching lesbians I can talk about things that otherwise I wouldn't have dared to ... like my fears, my sexuality. It is like inner recognition, and this creates strong bindings because I can share what I really am inside ... "

There is a great number of testimonies like these with young people who can explain the reasons for their choice of programs containing violence, sex, scandals, pornography, intimacy -- as if youth were going through an path of inner search for identity from the darkest areas of their own nature. A difficult and lonely path, that adults should understand and accompany, because the big risk is their noticing only the dark side of human nature, believing that is all we are.

Listening to the little ones when demanding limits is just as important as helping them when faced with "what they cannot understand".

However, understanding youngsters and children and the use they make of violent television contents does by no means imply the justification of their broadcasting and production.


Obtaining knowledge, particularly of oneself, is one of the most arduous tasks man has to face to gain unity, and only by knowing himself can he establish deep ties with others. That is why television is used to make up for the biggest needs of man in this age: getting to know who he is, recovering his identity in a historical period when one is what one seems to be, and in the second place, to accomplish a deep interpersonal communication, when the consumption and materialistic culture drives us to communicate through possessing, through the memory numbing overdose of information, forgetting that the greatest need of a human person is to know himself in order to realize himself.



1. Catharsis in the Aristotelian sense of the word, i.e. purification of strong emotion, as a result of involvement in the tragic drama.


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