Leyens et Al. (1975) carried out an experiment with participants in a boarding school in Belgium. Boys were housed in four dorms. 2 dorms had high levels of aggression, whereas the other 2 dorms did not. During the experiment, boys in 2 dorms (1 high aggression, 1 low aggression) watched violent films, whilst the other 2 dorms watched non-violent films.
Increased levels of physical aggression were reported in the boys who watched the violent films, whilst this was not the case with the boys who watched the non-violent films. However, verbal aggression in those exposed to non-violent films decreased, whilst it increased in those exposed to violent films. The effect of watching violent films was quite short lived. One caveat for the study was that it did not distinguish between genuine and play aggression.
Eron (1982) and Huesman, Lagerspit, and Eron (1984) measured the amount of television watched as well as levels of aggression in young children. The same individuals were measured again some years later. They found that the amount of television watched correlated to the amount of convictions that the individuals had received by the age of 30.
On the one hand this could suggest that television caused Aggression. However, it could also suggest that certain income groups with limited opportunities for recreation were also more likely to be involved in crime. There was also evidence which suggested that children who were aggressive tended to watch violent programs later on in life. This suggests that aggressive children will watch violent programs, rather than violent programs make individuals aggressive.
Bandura, 1973 proposed the ‘Social Learning Theory’ that human social behaviour is not innate but is learnt from appropriate models. An experiment by Albert Bandura and his associates examined how children learn and imitate behaviors, especially of the adults around them (as cited in Taylor, PePlau & Sears, 1997). Children were placed in one of two conditions. In the experimental condition they saw an adult playing with tinker toys then behave aggressively towards a Bobo doll (an inflatable doll) by hitting, kicking, and screaming at it. In the control condition they observed an adult playing with the tinker toys, but completely ignoring the Bobo doll. Results showed that the children in both conditions imitated the behaviors of the adult they observed, especially when the adult was rewarded. Colin Berndt and Hess 1984, suggested that Bandura is right, after viewing violence children will imitate, however, they are simply just copying but without understanding as to why they are doing it. As well as being unethical have so many of these experiments as well as Bandura’s using children because they know that way they are more likely to get the results they are seeking?
Through socialization, children learn to aggress because either they are directly rewarded or someone else appears to be rewarded for their actions. As babies develop into toddlers, they, especially boys appear to enjoy rough and tumble play. They know to cry and scream to get what they want. These are all signs of aggressive behaviour; however, they haven’t been watching TV so where have they learnt it from. At certain ages it is inevitable that exposure to media violence may result in increased aggression. Whether they do so for any given child will depend on these other characteristics of the child and their environment.
Freedman argues fewer than half of the approximately 200 studies Freedman reviewed provide any evidence that violent shows evoked aggression in viewers, and when the studies found a correlation it was extremely weak. The most likely explanation for the studies where exposure to violent media appears to cause increased violence in people is that those with aggressive personalities simply prefer violent shows. Attempts by researchers to establish a casual link between viewing violence and acting aggressively have been flawed both methodologically and theoretically. For example, much of the work on the effects of desensitization to media violence has involved exposure to rather mild forms of television violence for relatively short periods of time (Freedman, 1984). In experiments constant television violence is viewed in order to measure if aggression is increased after viewing. However, this lacks ecological validity because television does not consist of only violence and it is unlikely for someone to be constantly viewing violence for such long lengths of time
Perhaps one day governments might learn to negotiate better and declare war less. Perhaps then they might stop providing the most obvious example of the virtue of violence.