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Violence On Television Essay, Research Paper

To find a realistic and logical answer to this question I felt it important to begin at the beginning. I wanted to know if this is a legitimate problem, or if this was another politically correct way of blaming television for a societal problem. So, on this journey I began with the introduction of television to the public.

The official starting date for television in the United States was in 1939, at the World’s Fair. At the time of the debut, there were mixed reactions to television because it was a little green screen with a constant flicker. One observer, and social critic, who captured this divergent view was E. B. White, who wrote in Harper’s magazine in 1938: “I believe that television is going to be the test of the modern world, and in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our own vision, we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television, of that I am sure” (White, 1938, cited in Boyer, 1991, p. 79). While this quote seems perceptive, it is not concrete evidence that anything negative will happen as a result of the invention of television.

I feel it also important to note how many people owned televisions at different periods of time. This would give me an idea of how many people could be affected by television, if, indeed, they were affected at all. This would also give me an idea of the scope of how widespread the effects of television could be. The first broadcasting stations were licensed in 1941, but broadcasting as we think of it now did not take shape until the late 1940’s. Despite the slow start, it took off and diffused throughout the United States in ways that no other invention ever created to date has so diffused. In 1949, only 2% of American households owned television, by 1955 that number increased to 64%, and by the mid 1960’s, 93% of American households owned a television set. Today, there are very few people (only 2%) who do not have television (Andreasen, 1990).

My next goal was to find out when experts started watching for the effects television was having on society, and the results of this monitoring. I searched the Internet and found that the TV violence concern made its official debut in 1952 with the first of a series of congressional hearings. That particular hearing was held in the House of Representatives before the Commerce Committee (United States Congress, 1952). The following year, in 1953, the first major Senate hearing was held before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, then headed by Senator Estes Kefauver, who convened a panel to inquire into the impact of television violence on juvenile delinquency (United States Congress, 1955a; 1955b). Senator Kefauver established the model hearing by inviting several panels of experts or interested parties to discuss TV violence. In one of the early hearings, a developmental psychologist, Eleanor Maccoby, who was — and is still — a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, and Paul Lazarsfeld, who was a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, testified on the effects of television violence. Both of those social scientists noted that, while information was scarce on the impact of television (because social scientists were not studying that issue), they did know something about the way films influence children and they could make some suggestions about television. This early testimony initiated a series of congressional hearings on television violence and set a pattern for congressional hearings that have been held to this date.

Back in the mid 1960’s, Senator John Pastore from Rhode Island, who was chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, held another hearing. This hearing differed slightly from any of the prior hearings because Senator Pastore included more than the usual parents, teachers, social scientists, and network executives that had been used in the past. He added a wrinkle by inviting the Surgeon General of the United States to attend the hearing. When the Surgeon General was asked to make some comments on what had been presented at the hearing, he responded by placing the TV violence controversy in the same context as the smoking and lung cancer controversy — a public health context. That was the first time that TV violence had ever been framed as a public health issue. A 12-member panel was appointed with social scientists, professionals in psychiatry and child development, political scientists, and two representatives of the industry. The resulting report, released in 1972, concluded that violence on television does influence children who view that programming and does increase the likelihood that they will become more aggressive. Not all children are affected in the same way, but there is evidence that TV violence can be harmful to young viewers (Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, 1972; Murray, 1973). In essence, life was imitating art, rather than art imitating life.

Since this report was from the 1970 s, I wanted to see how this idea changed over the past 15 years. The next landmark report was the 1982 study from the National Institute of Mental Health (1982). This review was a ten-year follow-up to the Surgeon General’s report. The conclusion of this report was that with 10 years of more research, more is known about the violence on television and how it affects the behavior of children, and adults for that matter, and that there are many more reasons for concern about violence on television. “The research question has moved from asking whether or not there is an effect to seeking explanations for that effect” (National Institute of Mental Health, 1982, p. 6).

The next report was in 1992 from the American Psychological Association Task Force on Television and Social Behavior (Huston, et al, 1992), which concluded that 30 years of research confirms the harmful effects of TV violence. These conclusions were re-affirmed by the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth (1993; Eron & Slaby, 1994).

So far, most of the reports I found had been sponsored or conducted by the government. This seemed very biased, so I looked for other studies on this subject and found several. One study, conducted by Aletha Huston-Stein and her colleagues (Stein & Friedrich, 1972), assessed the effects of viewing either violent or pro-social (non-violent) television programming. In this study, about one hundred preschool-aged children enrolled in a special nursery school at Pennsylvania State University were divided into three groups and were assigned to watch a particular diet of programming. The children watched either a diet of Batman and Superman cartoons, a diet of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, or a diet of neutral programming (programs designed for preschoolers that contained neither violence nor pro-social messages). The researchers found that the youngsters who watched the Batman and Superman cartoons were more physically active, both in the classroom and on the playground. Also, they were more likely to get into fights and scrapes with each other, play roughly with toys, break toys, snatch toys from others, and get into altercations. (No mass murders broke out, but they were simply more aggressive and had more aggressive encounters.) The other group, the group that had watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was much more likely to play cooperatively with their toys, spontaneously offer to help the teacher, and engage in what might be called “positive peer counseling.” The group that watched the neutral programming was neither more aggressive nor more helpful. However, what is interesting about this study is that it shows both sides of the coin: what children watch does affect how they behave, both positively and negatively.

There has been a wide range of studies (Murray, 1973; 1980; 1994; Paik & Comstock, 1994) similar in scope to the Huston-Stein project that addresses the short-term effects of viewing violence. Leonard Eron (1982; Eron & Slaby, 1995) who, in 1963, began his study by assessing the development of aggression in eight year olds. In the course of the study, he asked children to report on their television viewing and other things they liked to do, as well as their ratings of the aggression of other children. He conducted that study when these youngsters were eight years old and wrote a report about the aggressive behavior of the eight year olds, noting in passing that there was a relationship between children’s level of aggressive behavior and their television viewing. He followed up on these youngsters 10 years later, when they were 18 years old, and again found a relationship between TV viewing and aggression. However, the most interesting, and strongest, relationship was between early television viewing at age 8 and aggressive behavior at age 18. He concluded that there were some long-term effects of early television viewing on later aggressive behavior. In the 1980’s, Eron again followed up on these children as young adults, at age 30. Now, he found that there was a definite relationship between early television viewing and arrest and conviction for violent interpersonal crimes; spousal abuse, child abuse, murder, and aggravated assault. However, this study is not without controversy, but there is sufficient evidence to convince some researchers that there is a long-term effect of early violence viewing on later aggressive behavior. It is generally believed that this type of aggressive behavior affects the child, affects the family, affects the community, and affects society as a whole.

After reviewing another six reports on this subject, I started a search for conflicting information. I searched trade journals, Internet sites, government studies, and as many other sources as were available on the Internet. I could not find more than a handful of newspaper articles that responded negatively to any of the studies or reports I reviewed. Though none of these sources would be considered credible, the general consensus is that these aggressive children would have turned out violent regardless of television and that their violent behavior was not very violent.

My own opinion, based on my experience with children, is that they are very impressionable at all phases of their life, from toddler to adulthood. Peer pressure, as well as their own perception of social norms, plays a large role in their lives. It affects how they dress, it affects whom they hang out with, it affects what they watch, and it affects how they behave. Perhaps the most important way to prevent children from watching television violence is to stop it where it starts. Parents should step in and turn the television off, or use any one of the many new electronic devices that limit children s access to the television. Parents should be the role models from which the child learns. If a child can learn at an early age that violence on television is bad, then he/she can turn the set off for himself/herself when he/she is older. Education should start at home. There are measures that can be taken to limit a child s exposure to many kinds of violence in all phases of their lives. Fixing the problems of children and television violence is not an easy task. This problem will never go away and it can get worse. OF all the experts found on this subject, I have yet to hear any person of violent behavior speak out against violent behavior. After all, what is the world going to be like when the people who are now children are running the world?

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