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Television Violence and Children's Behaviour

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Television Violence and Children's Behaviour Concern about children and popular media has a long history. Plato proposed to ban poets from his ideal republic, because he feared that their stories about immoral behaviour would corrupt young minds. In modern times, moral pressure groups have tried to 'protect' children from popular literature, the music hall, the cinema, comics, television and 'video nasties'. It's important to see the issue of TV violence and children's behaviour in a broader social, cultural and historical context. Why is it such a popular subject? This isn't often the fate of academic research issues. Well, it may be partly that it's a convenient scapegoat. Blaming the media can serve to divert attention from other causes of change, and so claims about the 'effects of television' can be massively exaggerated. At the same time, we can hardly ignore the fact that TV does feature aggressive and violent behaviour. One commentator notes that by the age of 14 the average American child has seen 11,000 murders on TV (Harris, 1989). In fact, studies have shown that violence is much less prevalent on British TV than on American TV (Gunter & McAleer, 1990). However, the type of programme matters: there's more violence in cartoons than in many other fictional programmes, but children do discriminate between cartoon violence and more 'realistic' violence. NeverthelEss, violence is commonplace even on British TV. 'Effects Research' There has been a considerable amount of research into inter-relationships between the viewing of violent films, videos and TV programmes and aggressive behaviour by the viewers of such material, in particular the behaviour of children. My words were carefully chosen in that description. More commonly, research is framed as being concerned with what are called the 'effects' of television. This perspective represents the dominant paradigm in TV research. In its crudest form the relationship between children and television is portrayed as a matter of single cause and direct effect, which puts this kind of research firmly in the behaviourist tradition: based on what's sometimes referred to as the 'magic bullet' theory. ...read more.


Another problem with field studies is that they are far more complex and expensive to set up than laboratory studies, which means that we don't have so much evidence from such sources. This consequently skews findings in favour of laboratory studies. Laboratory experiments are more likely to find positive effects than other methodologies, partly because of the narrowness of their focus, and partly because lab studies reporting 'null findings' are much less likely to be published in the academic journals. In the academic world no news is not good news! So lab studies may tend to exaggerate effects. Another technique in television research is the survey, but these are not of much use in studying young children. Longtitudinal studies, or studies over time, can of course involve any kind of mix of techniques, but have special advantages in testing causal hypotheses. Theoretical Stances Various hypotheses have been offered to describe processes of influence which violent TV might have on children's behaviour. All I can do here is to refer to some of these proposed processes briefly. No single process is likely to offer an adequate explanation. Short-Term Influences Modelling/Imitation: Social learning theorists (such as Bandura) emphasize the 'observational learning' of particular kinds of aggression from a 'model'. Those who employ this argument see film and TV characters as models from whom children learn behaviour which may be imitated in everyday life. Unless they had seen the film The Deer Hunter the American teenagers who killed themselves with randomly loaded revolvers (as in the film's grissly game of Russian roulette) might not have done so. In such cases, simple imitation of media violence is widely cited as the reason for violent behaviour. Symbolic Modelling is a variation on this process, whereby watching violent programmes may be a factor in encouraging violent behaviour which is not directly imitated but which has been generalized from the specific behaviour demonstrated in the media. ...read more.


However, there is some research which suggests that children are capable of making similar allowances for the contexts involved. Other factors may also come into play (Gunter & McAleer, 1990). For instance, children's self-esteem may be an important factor in their defining of what is 'violent'. Though research findings differ, children's experience with the various genres - cartoons, drama, news and so on - obviously affects their perceptions of degrees of 'realism'. Programmes perceived by children as realistic are watched with more involvement, more emotion and less detachment than those seem as fantastic (such as cartoons). Cartoons are seldom seen by children as being violent at all. Many theories about children's behaviour and the influence of TV are in the behaviouristic tradition: where the emphasis is on the passive learning of habitual behaviour through conditioning. They tend to ignore the active meaning-making that children engage in, and the variety of meanings which they construct with TV (Dorr & Kovaric, 1980). If you write an essay on the topic here's where you can legitimately criticize experts without yourself having an extensive knowledge of the field which can only come with the investment of more time than you have as an undergraduate student: * Watch out for those who present children as passive viewers, and who make no allowance for individuality or varied contexts. * And you can also criticize researchers' definitions of violence which aren't those of the viewers involved. * No methodology is without its disadvantages, and specific research projects are rarely without failings: you are in a better position to point these out than the researchers are. What factors does a specific study leave out? * You may also check any generalisations cautiously against your own experience as a viewer, and maybe as someone with younger siblings. And don't neglect the similar expertise which surrounds you amongst your fellow-students. However, beware of generalising from your own experience. ...read more.

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