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Social Learning Theory And T.V. Violence Essay, Research Paper

DON-RAY TV Violence on Children


In the United States children watch an average of three to fours hours of television daily (Cantor & Wilson, 1984, p. 28). Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent. Studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may become insensitive to violence. Consequently, they tend to gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems by imitating the violence they observe on television; and they identify with certain characters, good or bad. Therefore, extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness (Rosenthal, 1986).

Time Spent Watching Television

Typically, children begin watching television at a very early age, sometimes as early as six months, and are fervent viewers by the time that they are two or three years old (Murray, 1997). The amount of time that American children spend watching TV is remarkable, an average of four hours a day, 28 hours a week, 2,400 hours a year, nearly 18,000 hours by the time they graduate from high school (Chen, 1994, p.23). In comparison, they spend a mere 13,000 hours in school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade (Chen, 1994). It appears children spend more time watching TV than any other activity. Studies have shown that children, in the hours between school and dinnertime, spend nearly 80 percent of the time watching television (Chen, 1994). Children living in poverty watch even more television than average — some up to seven hours a day.

TV Violence on Children

By the time a poor child graduates from high school, he or she may have watched as many as 22,000 hours of TV (Chen, 1994). Bandura, (1973) indicates that sometimes, watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who watch television shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see, ( p.25). Children with emotional, behavioral, or learning problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence (Bandura, 1977). The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child’s behavior or may surface later, and young people can even be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence (Cantor & Wilson, 1984). Therefore, while TV violence is not the only cause of aggressive or violent behavior, it is clearly a significant factor.

The Good in Television

Not all television is bad. There are several excellent programs dedicated to young children. Some programs incorporate entertainment and education to help children learn and identify characters, shapes and colors. Programs such as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street also help promote good behavior and cooperation. Dr. Ernest Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and former US Commissioner of Education, stated: “Television sparks curiosity and opens up distant worlds to children. Through its magic, youngsters can travel to the moon or the bottom of the sea. They can visit castles, take river trips, or explore imaginary lands. . .With selective viewing, television can richly contribute to school readiness.” (Chen, p. 122)

Unfortunately, most children’s programming does not teach children what most parents and teachers want them to learn.

TV Violence in Children


Preschoolers in the United States, by watching television, ?are predisposed to seek out and pay attention to violence, particularly cartoon violence? (Cantor & Wilson, 1984). It is not the violence itself that makes the cartoons attractive to preschoolers, but the vivid images accompanying them. With cartoons, preschoolers are being exposed to a large number of violent acts daily. Furthermore, preschoolers are unlikely to be able to put the violence in context, since they are likely to miss, or not understand, any information concerning motivation and consequences. One study stated, ?Preschoolers behave more aggressively than usual in their play after watching any high-action exciting television shows, but especially after watching violent television? (Cantor & Wilson, 1984, p.445).

Elementary School Children

Elementary school children develop a variety of skills: their attention span and cognitive ability follow continuous plots, they make inferences about implicit content, and they recognize motivations and consequences of peoples? actions. By age eight, children are more likely to be sensitive to important influences on television, they will not become more aggressive if the violence they see is portrayed as evil, as causing human suffering, or as resulting in punishment or disapproval. However, they are likely to show increased aggression from watching violent television if they believe the violence reflects real life, or if they identify with a violent hero, as boys often do, or if they engage in aggressive fantasies (Cantor & Wilson, 1984).

TV Violence on Children

Elementary school children ages six to eleven still watch cartoons but also begin watching more adult or family-oriented programming than they did when they were younger. They also begin liking horror movies, perhaps deliberately scaring themselves in an attempt to overcome their own fears. However, they might be doing it to numb themselves to fear and violence, and they likely will become more tolerant of violence in the real world (Cantor & Wilson, 1984).

Adolescent School Children

Adolescent Children ( ages 12 to 17), the middle school to high school years, ?children become capable of abstract thought and reasoning, although they rarely use these abilities when watching television? (Dietz, & Strasburger, 1991, p.9). At this level they watch less television than they did when they were younger, and watch less with their families. ?Their interests at this age tend to revolve around independence, sex and romance, music videos, and horror movies? (Dietz, & Strasburger, 1991). Adolescents in middle school and high school are much more likely than younger children to doubt the reality of television and much less likely to identify with television characters. The small percentage of those who continue to believe in the reality of television and to identify with its violent heroes are the ones likely to be more aggressive, especially if they continue to fantasize about aggressive-heroic themes (Bandura, 1973).

TV Violence on Children

Bandura?s Views

In the book, Social Learning Theory, author Albert Bandura presents his major thesis. He believes in the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others especially in films and television. Bandura believes that learning through modeling is very important and says that “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling that is, from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasion s this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura, 1977, p.22).

Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, an environmental influences. The component processes underlying observational learning are: Attention, Retention, Motor Reproduction, and Reinforcements. In Attention, individuals cannot learn much by observation unless they retain and then act out significant features of the modeled behavior. For example, children must attend to what the aggressor is doing and saying in order to reproduce the model?s behavior. The next component is Retention. In order to reproduce the modeled behavior, the individuals must code the information into long-term memory. Therefore, the information will be retrieved. For example, a simple verbal description of what the model performed would be a known as retention. Motor reproduction is another process in observational learning. The observer must be able to reproduce the model?s behavior.

TV Violence on Children

The observer must learn and posses the physical capabilities of the modeled behavior. An example of motor reproduction would to be able to learn how to ski or ride a bike. Once a behavior is learned through attention and retention, the observer must posses the physically capabilities to produce the aggressive act. The final process in observational learning are Reinforcements. In this process, the observer expects to receive positive reinforcements for the modeled behavior. For example, most children witnessed violence on television being rewarded by the media. When individuals, especially children witness this type of media, they attend, code, retrieve, posses the motor capabilities and perform the modeled behavior because of the positive reinforcements determined by the media (Bandura, 1977).

According to Bandura, the highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it out. Also, individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value, and even more likely, if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value (Bandura, 1977).

Bandura strongly believed television was a source of behavior modeling. Bandura has shown that ?both children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses, and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modeling? (Bandura, 1977, p.39). Today, films and television shows illustrate violence graphically. Violence is often expressed as an acceptable behavior, especially for heroes who have never been punished.

TV Violence on Children

Albert Bandura believed aggression reinforced by family members was the most prominent source of behavior modeling. Bandura, in his studies, states that children use the same aggressive tactics that their parents illustrate when dealing with others (Bandura, 1977).

The social learning theory states that individuals, especially children, imitate or copy modeled behavior by personally observing others, the environment, and the mass media completely ignores an individuals biological state. Also, the social learning theory rejects differences formed in individuals that are due to genetic, brain, and learning differences. For example, if a child witnessed a crime or a murder, he or she might respond in a variety of ways. Biological psychologists believe that the responses would be normal and they come from the autonomic nervous system. In addition, the social learning theory rejects the classical and operant conditioning processes.

Television Violence as a Problem

In the world today, media violence is a big problem. It might often times go unnoticed, but it’s there. When children watch television, they are probably witnessing some form of violence. Because television violence is produced in such an action packed form they see through the negativity of it. Also, television teaches children that they can solve their problems by using violence. In many television shows aimed towards children, such as the ?Power Rangers?, they portray the good characters having to resort to violence in able to defeat the bad characters. Children view the Power Rangers as heroes, saving the world from aliens and other bad guys.

TV Violence on Children

Children who watch this show may presume that the Power Rangers use violence to prevent bad things, why can they not use it to prevent problems in everyday life. Looney Tunes is another good example. Falling off cliffs and shooting people is typical in one half-hour program.

A personal example of the influence television violence has on children occurred to me over the summer when I visited my girlfriend’s younger cousin. As I walked into the house I was attacked and kicked in the leg by this 5-year-old boy. I asked him what his reason was for kicking me and he told said that he was a Ninja defending the world from the Hagars, and I was a Hagar.

Television Violence Perceived by Children

Television violence affects children’s? thoughts, actions, and the way they live.

Rarely are the long-term consequences of violence portrayed on television. The results of real-life violence usually involve someone going to jail, the hospital, or even the grave. Television violence is usually clean with little blood, pain, or suffering. On TV, it seems criminals go unpunished most of the time. This gives children the message that violence is a successful method of resolving conflicts. Also, it appears that half the time violent interactions on television depict no harm to the victims. Consequently, television teaches children that it is alright to hurt others as long as it is for the right reasons. Children perceive everything that happens on television as real. Therefore, when violence is portrayed as heroic, children tend to imitate the action to gain heroic recognition.

TV Violence on Children

Solutions to Television Violence

Several solutions might be taken to prevent such negative modeling to occur. One could be that television stations release a special broadcast before and after a show stating the non-reality of the show. Another solution television could use is to remind children there are alternatives to deal with problems, such as compromising. A final solution could be a special program implemented in schools that teaches children about media violence. None of these solutions will eliminate media violence, but it might educate children, as well as parents, in the false perception of television


In conclusion, there have been many debates over whether or not violence on television causes aggressive behavior in children. For instances some studies show that children view cartoons such as Elmer Fudd shooting the rabbit as funny and humorous and it is the parents? responsibility to inform their children that the cartoons are not real. It appears television is a form of education and positive role models. If violence in television and film cause people to be more violent, then shouldn?t the good formed in television result in an audience that is pleasant? Despite the criticisms, Albert Bandura?s Social Learning Theory should be seen as important in the study and influences of aggression and criminal behavior formed in this. In order to control aggression, Bandura believed family members and the mass media should provide positive role models for their children and the general public (Bandura, 1977). I believe that aggression modeled by children from watching television could be curbed when more of the influential adults in children’s lives are involved.

TV Violence on Children

Caring parents and the community would increase its effectiveness because it is at home that children watch the majority of television. Personally, I feel that the adults are to be given the majority of the blame for what is happening to our children today as a result of this media craze. As an adult, it is our duty to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. This goes for children that our directly related to us, and those children whom are not. The reason violence is so prevalent in television is because it is a good tool to attract viewers. No government regulations are powerful enough to completely eliminate acts of violence from television. What these parents and other concerned adults should do is channel that energy into areas, such as commercials and school programming, that will help educate children in understanding that what they see is not always reality or the right way of doing things. However, in order for this to effectively work, the parents of today also need to be equally educated.


Bandura, A. 1973. Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A.1977. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cantor, J., and Wilson, B. J. 1984. Modifying fear responses to mass media in preschool and elementary school children. Journal of Broadcasting,

Chen, M. (1994). The Smart Parent’s Guide to Kids’ TV. San Francisco: KQED Books.

Dietz, W. H., and Strasburger, V. C. 1991. Children, adolescents, and television.

Murray, J.P.(1997). Impact of Televised Violence. March 7, 1997.

Rosenthal, R. 1986. Media Violence, Antisocial Behaviour, and The Social Consequences of Small Effects.


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