Cumberbatch claims that there are relatively low levels of violence seen on British screens, especially in comparison to societies like Japan. Nobel (1975) goes on further by claiming that forms of television violence have the cathartic effect of releasing feelings of aggression. However Goode (1997) dismisses the ‘catharsis’ theory as old-fashioned and false and is equally dismissive about the fact that pornography is by nature a form of violence against women.
Because of the inconclusive nature about media and violence, a number of models have been developed to explain the relationships between the media and its audience. A common model seen was the ‘hyperdermic syringe model’. According to this model, the media had the power to change attitudes and behaviour for the ‘pro-social’ as well as the ‘anti-social’ influence. Empirical research soon revealed the shortcomings of the hyperdermic syringe model and it was recognised that the effectiveness’ of the media in getting its message across depended on the personal influence affecting the perceptions pf audience members. An alternative of this was the development of the ‘two-step flow’ which was produced by Katz and Lazarfelo (1955), they believed the way the media is interpreted by audiences is usually involved by a process of negotiation with other members of the audience. They believed instead of passively absorbing media output, a discussion is held between family members, friends and even strangers about the programmes seen on T.V. In this model, opinion leaders emerge to help interpret the message we are being sent. They believed the stimulus relationship between media and audiences was replaced by the complexity of human meaning and personal relationships. Finally the third alternative model, which rejected both the hyperdermic syringe model and the two-step, flow model, was the ‘long-term’ effect model. This model suggests that media may influence us in many ways that are hard to measure and have long term effects on our attitudes, creating new ideas or reinforcing our original ones rather than changing opinions we already have.
Gerbner (1972) and Gerbner and Gross (1976) carried out one of the largest studies in America where they monitored samples of all network primetime and weekend daytime programmes since 1967. They defined violence as “the overt expression of physical force against self or other, compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt or killed, or actually hurting or killing”. Violent accidents and natural disasters were also included. This analysis of violence provided the framework for British research. Holloran and Croll (1972) and the BBC’s audience research department where they both agreed violence seen on television was not as prevalent on British T.V as seen on America T.V.
Cumberbatch carried out a study where he analysed all programmes broadcasted on all four channels, in four separate weeks between May and September 1986. The primary unit for counting was the violent act; he quoted “a coherent uninterrupted sequence of actions involving the same agents in the same role”. Cumberbatch found that 30% of programmes contained some violence. The overall frequency was 1.14 violent acts per programme, 1.68 acts per hour, where each act lasted approximately 25 seconds and so therefore occupying just over 1% of T.V time. However he claimed that if boxing and wrestling were excluded, the average duration would be 13 seconds and if verbal threats were to be included than the average frequency would rise to 1.96 acts per hour. He found that most violence was shown in spy, fantasy, war detective, crime and thriller programmes, and less violence on quiz shows and chat shows plus non-contact sports. However he claimed that injuries from violent acts were rare. 26% of occasions, violence resulted in death but 61% no injuries were shown as the victims simply showed pain or were shocked.
While about 75% of people believe that there is more violence now on television then there was about 10 years ago, Cumberbatch believes most people are mistaken. Violence and concerns about violence have clearly increased in society in the last decade but has not been reflected by a proportional increase on television.
Much of the concern is focused upon children. Cumberbatch found that while violence was more likely to be shown after 9pm, violence in children’s T.V was rare, with the main exception being cartoon. However until recently much of the public controversy over the harmful effects of T.V on children has focused on the more popular cartoon such as Tom and Jerry. Realism is an important factor, which appears to be an important element in viewer’s perception of violence. For example real life incidents in news and documentaries are generally rated as more violent then violence portrayed in fictional settings.
The effects of television violence, has been investigated in a number of ways. Under controlled laboratory conditions, a number of studies have shown that when children were exposed to violent programmes they showed violent behaviour. A prime example of this was an experiment carried out by Bandura et al (1963) where he allowed one group of children to watch an adult model perform certain aggressive acts with an inflatable ‘bobo doll’ which were unlikely to occur normally. Such as throwing it in the air, hitting it with a hammer and punching it, while saying things like ‘pow’ and ‘boom’. When the children were left in a playroom with the inflatable doll, they frequently imitated the same acts of aggression, compared to a control group who had not seen the model and showed none of the behaviours. This study suggests that aggression is learnt from the environment through reinforcement and the process of modelling. Modelling involves learning through the observation of other people, which may lead to imitation. Bandura distinguishes between the learning of aggressive behaviour and the performance of it. It is said that aggression may be learnt from models such as parents, peers or even media characters through observation, but the likely hood of it being imitated depends on the perceived consequences of the models aggression. For example if a child sees a models aggression being rewarded, this acts as indirect reinforcement for the child who will continue to imitate it. But if the child sees aggression in others punished, it is then less likely to be imitated.
There are four specific effects of T.V violence that attempt to explain how T.V violence affects attitudes and behaviour. The fist one being arousal. This refers to increasing the level of physiological arousal when watching a violent programme. Zillmann (1983) claims that although this mat not lead to the performance of aggressive behaviour immediately afterwards, the arousal may be transferred to some other situation after a period of time. Disinhibition is the second effect where people’s inhibitions are reduced, as violence becomes a part of everyday life, not only through television but also through the availability of aggressive cues in the environment. Imitation is the third effect, which is seen as more of a direct link between watching T.V and the viewers own behaviour. This can be seen directly relating to Bandura’s studies which imitate aggression. And finally the last effect seen is desensitisation; this refers to the reduction in emotional response to T.V violence as a result of repeated viewing of T.V violence. For example as with drug tolerance, increasing violent programmes are required to produce an effect in order to satisfy the ‘need’. A study carried out by Drabman and Thomas (1974) supports the desensitisation hypothesis. Their study consisted of eight year olds watching a violent or non-violent programme before witnessing a real (staged) fight between two other children in a playroom. Results showed the former group were less likely to tell an adult what was happening then the latter group. One argument in defence of watching television is that witnessing others being aggressive will help the viewer to ‘get it out their system’. An additional proposed effect of watching violence on television is ‘new cognitions’ this is where there is repeated exposure to violence which can prime people to perceive future information or events in term of aggressive intent where aggression was not in fact intended.
Newburn and Hagell (1995) concluded that although over a thousand studies have been made, the case for a link between media violence and violent behaviour has still not yet been proven, and more so does not prove there is no relationship between media violence and violent behaviour. However we must take into account that other factors may be equally, if not more influential. For example Durkin (1985) claims that children’s own personalities and aspirations affect their responses to what they viewed. And finally Messenger-Davis (1989) quoted “what children get from television depends on what children bring to it. Depending on how old they are, how bright they are, how tired they are, what sort of family they belong to, and what skills they already have, television will affect them differently.