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Violence and the Media: How the Media Impacts Violence

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  • 0:05 Media Violence
  • 1:04 Media Violence & Kids
  • 2:01 Correlations vs.…
  • 3:06 How Media Affects People
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

For years, psychologists have studied the effect watching violent media has on people's behavior. In this lesson, we'll look at the link between media violence and real-life aggression and discover why watching violent TV might affect people's levels of aggression.

Media Violence

Mitchell likes to watch action movies. Cops and robbers, guns and knives and buildings blowing up - these are the things he loves when he settles in to watch TV or movies. But, what effect does watching this type of media have on Mitchell? Does it make him more violent or less?

Some people argue that violence in the media has a cathartic effect. That is, by watching violent movies and television shows, we can get out our natural aggression in a passive way. Afterwards, we can go on with our lives and not feel that we need to take our aggression out on other people. But, others argue that exposure to violence through the media has the opposite effect on people. They say that watching violence on TV and in the movies actually makes people more violent.

What exactly are the effects of media violence on people? Psychologists have done many studies on that topic and have a few theories about what role violence in the media plays on people's behaviors.

Media Violence & Kids

Many studies have been done on how watching violent movies and television shows affects children. In one famous study in the 1970s, children watched either a violent cops-and-robbers movie or a nonviolent sporting event. Afterwards, they played with a group of other children. The ones who watched the violent movie were more aggressive when playing with the other children.

Numerous studies have had similar results, though most of them have shown that the effect of media violence is strongest on the children who already have violent tendencies. That is, watching violent movies may influence children's behavior by amplifying their violent tendencies, but it won't necessarily produce violent tendencies.

There are also some long-term studies that have shown that the more violent media a child is exposed to, the more violence they display in their teens and adulthood. However, it's important to note that with most of these studies, there is evidence of correlations, not of causal effects.

Correlations vs. Casual Effects

A correlation is when two things generally go together, such as when kids who watch violence on TV also demonstrate violence in real life. Compare a correlation to a causal effect, which is when we can say for sure that one thing causes another. In the case of media violence, we can't say for sure that it causes violence in kids, only that it seems to go along with violence.

Take Mitchell, for example. He likes to watch violent movies. And, maybe he's more violent than someone else who likes to watch peaceful movies. But, is he violent in real life because he watches violent movies, or does he prefer to watch violent movies because he's an aggressive person?

Though we can't say that his taste in movies is the cause of Mitchell's violence, we can see how it is correlated to his violence. When we compare him to his friends, Mitchell watches more violent TV and is also more violent in real life. Whatever the cause is, these two things are correlated.

How Media Affects People

So, we know that violent media is in some way related to real-life violence, but in what way? And, if it does actually cause real-life violence, how does it do that? There are five ideas about what violent media might do that could cause real-life violence:

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