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Violence on television has increased through the years

Published on -3/25/2013, 9:23 AM

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This is the fifth in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What is the effect of media violence on children?

A: A publication from Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation presented the results of the National Television Violence Study. The study analyzed television programs from 1994 to 1997. Data documented two out of three television programs contained violence, averaging six violent acts an hour. Fewer than 5 percent of these programs had any anti-violence messages, pro-social themes offering options to violence or any consequences for violence.

During the three years of the study, prime-time programs with violent content increased from 53 percent to 67 percent on broadcast television and 54 percent to 64 percent on basic cable. However, premium cable networks averaged 92 percent beginning in 1994. The Kaiser Foundation also reported since the 1960s, accumulating research has documented television violence is one of several factors that contribute to aggressive behavior in children and adolescents.

The UCLA Television Violence Monitoring Report also analyzed programs for three years from 1994 to 1997. The study measured qualitative judgments of students and researchers. The greatest concern of this study was the Saturday morning television shows. These programs had violence as central to the story, showed violence as an effective way for superheroes and villains to get what they wanted, and presented positive values toward the perpetrators of violence for their fighting abilities. However, in the three years of the study, the most popular of the violent Saturday morning shows decreased from seven to four.

The UCLA study also analyzed prime-time series and found the programs judged most worrisome regarding violent content decreased from nine series from 1994 to 1995 to two such series in 1996 to 1997. The only television shows that raised concerns were television specials. In 1995, five reality shows had real or re-created images of animals attacking or killing people. In the third year, the number of such shows continued to increase.

There is a small number of research critics who disagree with the evidence television violence contributes to aggression in real life. Their contention is the research methodology is flawed.

Through the years, several professional organizations have endorsed the research linking media violence as a causative factor in real-life violence. These organizations include the Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior (1972), the National Institute of Mental Health (1982), the American Psychological Association (1993), the Joint Statement of the Public Health Community (2000) and Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General (2001).

An article from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, written by Dr. Eugene V. Beresin, states the preponderance of evidence from research literature validates media violence exposure is an important factor in the etiology of violence. He reiterated other factors: child abuse, exposure to domestic violence, exposure to community violence, substance abuse and mental illness.

The effect of television has increased simply because of its availability. In 1950, 10 percent of American families had televisions. Currently, 99 percent of homes have at least one television set. More than half the children today have televisions in their bedrooms. Thus, not only is exposure to television programming increasing by leaps and bounds, but the opportunities for unsupervised viewing time greatly are increased because of televisions in children's bedrooms.

In an article titled "Reclaiming Our Cultural Mythology" from 1994 in the Ecology of Justice publication, George Gerbner, professor of communications and dean emeritus of the Annenberg School of Communication in Philadelphia, has directed studies of mass communication and its effects on culture. He is concerned about the alienating culture of television that has replaced interactive communications among families and communities. Children are learning culture from television rather than families, schools, neighbors and churches.

Gerbner has coined the phrase "mean world syndrome" to describe the consequences of violence on television to children who watch more than three hours of television a day. The first consequence is developing the belief the violence on television is normal and something everyone does. Even more important, violence is presented as a good problem-solving method.

The second consequence is the de-sensitization of viewers to the effects of violence on victims. They then lose the abilities to empathize, to assist victims and to protest. Violence becomes commonplace and acceptable. The third consequence of the mean world view is the debilitating sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Kindness to strangers might be replaced by fear.

Gerbner's over-riding concern is television content is driven by the global market. Television programs sold abroad are necessary for making profits in the industry. Violence is the same in any language and doesn't require translation. Violence has universal appeal.

* Next week's article will continue a discussion of the impact of media violence on children.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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