Questions about the effects of television violence have been around since the beginning of television. The first mention of a concern about television’s effects upon our children can be found in many Congressional hearings as early as the 1950s. For example, the United States Senate Committee on Juvenile Delinquency held a series of hearings during 1954-55 on the impact of television programs on juvenile crime. These hearings were only the beginning of continuing congressional investigations by this committee and others from the 1950s to the present.
In addition to the congressional hearings begun in the 1950s, there are many reports that have been written which include: National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Baker & Ball, 1969); Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior (1972); the report on children and television drama by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (1982); National Institute of Mental Health, Television and Behavior Report (NIMH, 1982; Pearl, Bouthilet, & Lazar, 1982); National Research Council (1993), violence report; and reports from the American Psychological Association’s “Task Force on Television and Society” (Huston, et al. , 1992) and “Commission on Violence and Youth” (American Psychological Association, 1992; Donnerstein, Slaby, & Eron, 1992). All of these reports agree with each other about the harmful effects of television violence in relation to the behavior of children, youth, and adults who view violent programming.
The only thing that we know about the effects of exposure to violence and the relationship towards juvenile delinquency we gather from correlational, experimental and field studies that demonstrate the effects of this viewing on the attitudes and behavior of children and adults. Children begin watching television at a very early age, sometimes as early as six months, and are intense viewers by the time that they are two or three years old. In most cases the amount of televised viewing becomes greater with age and then tapers off during adolescence. ). The violence that is viewed is more important than the amount of television that is viewed. According to audience rating surveys, the typical American household has the television set on for more than seven hours each day and children age 2 to 11 spend an average of 28 hours per week viewing. (Andreasen, 1990; Condry, 1989; Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988)
The most important documentation of the amount of violence viewed by children on television are the studies conducted by Gerbner and his colleagues on the nature of American television programs. The results of these yearly analyses of the amount of violence on American television for the 22-year period 1967-89 indicate a steady but growing high level of violence. (Gerbner & Signorielli, 1990) Programs especially designed for children, such as cartoons are the most violent of all programming. How many times have we all seen the Coyote try to kill the RoadRunner? GI Joe and many other programs also represent violence and the use of deadly weapons. Overall, the levels of violence in prime-time programming have averaged about five acts per hour and children’s Saturday morning programs have averaged about 20 to 25 violent acts per hour.
However a recent survey by the Center for Media and Public Affairs identified 1,846 violent scenes broadcast and cablecast between 6 a. m. to midnight during one day in Washington, D. C. The most violent periods were between 6 to 9 a. m. with 497 violent scenes (165. 7 per hour) and between 2 to 5 p. m. with 609 violent scenes (203 per hour). (Lichter & Amundson, 1992) Most of this violence is shown during hours that are not generally viewed by the adults therefore violence in the early morning and afternoon is viewed by children and youth. What are the effects of this televised violence on our children? What we know about the influence of TV violence comes from the research of correlational, experimental and field studies that have been conducted over the past 40 years.
The amount of evidence from correlational studies is very consistent in showing the effects of violence in relation to children: In most cases viewing and having a preference for watching violent television is related to aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors. During 1972 Robinson and Bachman (1972) found a relationship between the number of hours of television viewed and adolescent reports of involvement in aggressive or antisocial behavior. During that same year Atkin, Greenberg, Korzenny, and McDermott (1979:5-13) used a different measure to determine aggressive behavior. They gave nine to thirteen-year-old boys and girls situations such as the following. Suppose that you are riding your bicycle down the street and some other child comes up and pushes you off your bicycle. What would you do?
The response options included physical or verbal aggression along with options to reduce or avoid conflict. This group found that physical or verbal aggressive responses were selected by 45 per cent of heavy-television-violence viewers compared to only 21 percent of the light-violence viewers. During 1983 Phillips (1983:560-568) recorded the effects of the portrayal of suicides in television soap operas on the suicide rate in the United States using death records he gathered from the National Center for Health Statistics. He found, over a six-year period, that whenever a major soap opera personality committed suicide on television, within three days there was a significant increase in the number of female suicides across the nation.
The major experimental studies of the cause and effect relation between television violence and aggressive behavior were completed by Bandura and his colleagues (Bandura, Ross & Ross,1961:575-582, 1963:3-1) working with young children, and by Berkowitz and his associates (Berkowitz, 1962; Berkowitz & Rawlings, 1963:405-412; Berkowitz, Corwin & Heironimus, 1963:217-229) who studied adolescents.
A young child was given a film, then projected on a television screen, the film showed a person who kicked and beat an inflated plastic doll. The child was then placed in a playroom setting and then they recorded the amount of times that aggressive behavior was seen. The results of these early studies indicated that children who had viewed the aggressive film were more aggressive in the playroom than those children who had not observed the aggressive person. The answer seems to be yes.
Several studies have demonstrated that one exposure to a violent cartoon leads to increased aggression. During 1971, Hapkiewitz and Roden (1971:1583-1585) found that boys who had seen violent cartoons were less likely to share their toys than those who had not seen the violent cartoon. It seems clear from experimental studies that one can show increased aggressive behavior as a result of either long term or brief exposure to televised violence, but questions still arise about whether this increased aggressiveness seen in these experimental settings show in the children’s daily lifes. In normal field-experiments, the investigator shows television programs in the normal viewing setting and observes behavior where it naturally occurs.
The investigator controls the television programming either by arranging a special series of programs or by choosing towns that in the natural course of events receive different television programs. One of the early field-experiments in 1972 conducted by Stein and Friedrich (1972:202-317) for the Surgeon General’s project dealt with 97 preschool children with a programming of either antisocial, prosocial, or neutral television programs during a four-week viewing period.
The results indicated that children who were judged to be somewhat in the beginning aggressive became increasingly more aggressive as a result of viewing the Batman and Superman cartoons. The children who had viewed the prosocial programming of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood were less aggressive, more cooperative and more willing to share with other children.