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Violence On Children Essay, Research Paper

Many children`s television programs involve a substantial amount of violence in

one form or another. What impact if any, might these programs what impact, if

any might these programs have on the development of aggression? Since the advent

of television there has been growing concern about the apparent effects of

violence on the attitudes, values and behaviours of children. Much of the

research has focused on the effects of violence on television and aggression

expressed by children. Some researchers and theorists believe that violence on

television is inextricably linked to human aggression while do not believe a

conclusive body of evidence exists to justify this view. The debate surrounding

whether violence on television influences children`s aggressive behaviour has

typically occurred within a social learning framework. There have been two major

criticisms of the current debate. The first of these attacks questions the

validity of applying effects found in laboratory studies to the real-world. More

specifically, these criticisms address the artificial and unrealistic nature of

the laboratory evidence used to illustrate an effect between viewing violence on

television and expressed aggression in children. The second argument attacks the

use of the social learning framework as it ignores any evidence which might

suggest a biological or genetic component to human aggression. (eg Miles &

Carrey, 1997). Social learning theory however manages to successfully address

these criticisms thus maintaining its status as the major single theory used to

explain the influence of viewing violent programs on children`s levels of

aggression. (Neapolitan, 1981; Walter & Aubrey, 1971; Bandura, 1965

;Berkowitz & Alioto, 1973) Social learning theory explains human behaviour

in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioural and

environmental influences of the individual. A prominent proponent of social

learning theory is Albert Bandura, The social learning theory of Bandura

emphasises the importance of observing and modelling the behaviours, attitudes,

and emotional reactions of others. Two basic principles are involved in

observational learning: acquisition and performance. Acquisition describes the

response by which the behaviour is learned through observation. Performance is

the process by which the observer acts out the newly learned response.

Acquisition of a behaviour however, does not automatically lead to its

performance. Whether or not aggressive behaviour acquired will be acted out

depends on the perceived consequences of the actors behaviour for the actor and

the consequences of aggressing for the observer. Furthermore, whether a learned

aggressive response is performed depends, to some extent, to whether the

observer and/or actor is rewarded for doing so. The effect of reinforcement on

aggressive behaviour has been illustrated by numerous researchers, (Singer,

Singer, Desmond, Hirsch & Nicol,1988; Sanson & Di Muccio, 1993;

Neapolitan, 1981). One of the most noted being a series of bobo doll studies

conducted by Bandura. In a 1965 Bandura study, children saw aggressive behaviour

of a model being either rewarded, punished or suffering no consequences.

Children who observed a model being punished subsequently had fewer imitative

aggressive responses than did those who saw the model rewarded or treated

indifferently. Later, however, each child was offered a reward for performing

the response carried out earlier by the model. The addition of this incentive

cancelled out the effects on imitative aggression of reward and punishment of

the original model. Children in all three treatment conditions had apparently

learned the model`s behaviour equally well with reward acting as a facilitation

for performance of these learned responses. Other studies also illustrated that

children are more likely to model behaviour if they identified with the model

and if the model had an admired status and the behaviour expressed had a

functional value. (Bandura, 1969) These findings have direct bearing on the

implications for the effect of violence shown on television. In a recent study

in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media (1995), it was found that

good characters, or heroes, commit 40% of violent acts; More than one third of

programs feature bad characters who aren`t punished and physical aggression that

is condoned; and that more than 70% of aggressors show no remorse for their

violence and experience no criticisms or penalty when violence occurs. This

suggests, working within a social learning framework, that violence viewed on

television by children will result in increased levels of expressed aggression

in children. Since according to this theory it is under these conditions, where

violence is seen as desirable and unpunished, that modelling is most likely to

occur. Bandura`s studies, amongst others, imply that environmental influences

moderate and control the expression of aggression. One of the most influential

environmental influences on a child`s life is parental. A number of researchers

are of the opinion that that any negative effects imposed by viewing violence on

television can be negated through parental reinforcement . Singer, Singer,

Desmond, Hirsch & Nicol (1988), found that the effects of watching filmed

violence are lessened if an adult is present to talk over the content with the

viewing child. The impcat is lessened by the parent encouraging the children to

be more analytic and critical in their viewing habits and therefore more

resistant to modelling behaviours. (Sanson & Di Muccio, 1993). It has also

been shown that parents increase aggression through the use of physical

punishment and supporting and encouraging such behaviour (Neapolitan, 1981).

However, this evidence, while having real impact on the realities of children`s

viewing habits, does not directly address the existence of a link between

children`s viewing habits and aggressive behaviour. In sum, according to the

social learning theory, television violence has an impact on expressed levels of

aggression in children by the following proces; children learn to be aggressive

by watching actors on television and then model the actors aggressive behaviours.

Television violence can make children more accepting of aggressive behaviour,

that is, they become desensitised to the effects of violence (possibly through

habituation). (Lande, 1993). There is a corresponding increased acceptance of

violence as an appropriate means of conflict resolution (Collins, 1973). An

Alternate way of presenting this is that children learn new violent behaviours

by encoding, rehearsing, storing and retrieval of scripts for aggression (Hauseman

& Erron, 1986). Criticisms However, the studies proposing these models of

increased aggressive behaviour have been challenged on the basis of

methodological problems. (Green, 1984, Cook, Kendziersky & Thomas, 1983) One

of the major criticisms put forth by Freedman (1984) concerns the external

validity of laboratory experiments. (eg Bandura, 1965). He argues that the

viewing environment set up in experiments is artificial and cannot be

generalised to real-world television experiences. This is an important point

since, as already mentioned, according to the social learning theory a key

determinant of the likelihood to model behaviour is the extent to which a child

can identify with a particular model. This is supported by research illustrating

an effect of realistically filmed violence on children`s levels of aggression

and no effect when unrealistically filmed violence was viewed by children.

(Noble, 1973). An explanation for performance of modelled aggression during

laboratory experiments could be explained by experimental demands for imitation

rather than aggressiveness per se. Friedrich-Cofer and Huston maintain that

although such demand may occur, there is no evidence that it accounts for the

effects of violent television. On the contrary, their work found that violent

television is more likely to produce aggressive behaviour when the experimenter

leaves the child alone than when the adult remains during the test for

aggression. (Stein & Friedrich, 1975). It has also been argued that the

stimuli used in laboratory experiments were not typical of normal program

viewing. Most children`s television diet consists of pro-social as well as

aggressive models. It is therefore difficult to isolate the effects of violent

television programs on children. However, content analyses have shown that since

1968 there have been 5 or 6 incidents of violence per hour in prime television

and 15 to 16 incidents per hour in cartoons (Signorielli, Gross, & Morgan,

1982) This suggests that laboratory studies do not misrepresent levels of

violence shown to children in the real world. This concern is however legitimate

and should be investigated in further research. While concerns remain over the

atypical nature of stimuli, strong arguments exist to support the studies

conducted within the social learning framework . Friedrich-Cofer, et al.,

maintain that the potential biases in the laboratory method are both positive

and negative. On one hand, the effects of television violence could be magnified

since the effects of other variables are minimised (eg pro social models). On

the other hand however, effects could be underestimated as stimuli used in

laboratory experiments are brief and often less violent than the programs

typically viewed on television. Researches have consistently shown a genetic

influence on aggression. (Miles, & Carey, 1977; Carey, 1994; Bouchard, &

McGue 1990). A potential weakness in research emphasising the importance of

environmental influences, such as television on aggression, is that biological

and genetic evidence could be ignored. From a biological perspective, it may be

that children who are predisposed to aggression watch violent television. That

is, there could be a bidirectional relationship between violence viewed on

television and levels of aggression in children. (Freedman, 1984). This

perspective is consistent with the arousal theory of human aggression. This

states that aggressive individuals are internally under aroused and therefore

seek compensatory stimulation from their external environment. It is this need

for extra stimulation which leads the individual to become more aggressive. This

criticism has been addressed by Friedrich-Cofer et al., on two levels. Firstly,

random assignment of subjects to treatments ensures that any differences shown

between groups are not a function of other unmeasurable variables such as

naturally occurring violent tendencies. Secondly, the theory and research

supporting a bidirectional relationship between television violence and

aggression is consistent with social learning theories which articulate the

reciprocal effects of environmental variables and qualities of the individual. (Mischel,

1979). Independent assessment of each direction of causality supports the

conclusion that there is a small though positive correlation between viewing

violent television and later aggressive behaviour (Fredrich-Cofer et al.). In

conclusion, the weight of social learning theory and convergent evidence

supports the likelihood that television contributes to aggression in many

children. Social learning is great Should consider evidence presented with

policy making and also maybe in terms of behaviour modification.

Bandura, A(1965). Influence of models` reinforcement contingencies on the

acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social

psychology, 1, 589-595. Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification.

New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Berkowitz, L., & Alioto, J. T.(1973)

The meaning of an observed event as a determinant of its aggressive

consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 206-217. Cofer,

L. F. & Huston, A. C. (1986). Television violence and aggression: the debate

continues. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 364-371. Collins, W. A. (1973). Effects

of temporal separation between motivation, aggression and consequences: A

developmental study. Developmental Psychology, 8, 215-221. Cook, T.D.,

Kendziersky, D., & Thomas, A. (1982). The implicit assumptions of

television: An analysis of the 1982 NIMH Report on Television and Behavior.

Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 161-201. Drabman, R. S. & Thomas, M. H.

(1974). Does media Violence increase children`s toleration of real life

aggression? Developmental Psychology, 10, 418-421. Freedman, J. L. (1984).

Effect of television violence on aggressiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 96,

227-246. Friedrick-Cofer, L., & Huston, A. C., (1986). Television Violence

and Aggression: The Debate Continues. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 364-371.

Lande, G. R., (1993) The Video Violence Debate. Hospital and Community

Psychiatry, 44, 347-351. Miles, D. R. & Carey, G. (1997). Genetic and

environmental architecture of human agression. Journal of Personality and Social

Psychology, 72, 207-217. Mischel, W. (1979). On the interface of cognition and

personality: Beyond the person-situation debate. American Psychologist, 34,

740-754. Neapolitan, J. (1981). Parental influences on aggressive behaviour: a

social learning approach. Adolescence, 56, 833-840. Noble, G. (1973). Effects of

different forms of filmed agression on children`s constructive and destructive

play. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26, 54-59. Sanson, A. &

Muccio, C. D. (1993). The influence of aggressive and neutral cartoons and toys

on the behaviour of preschool children. Australian Psychologist, 28, 93-99.

Signorielli,N., Gross, L., & Morgan, M. (1982). Violence in television

programs: Ten years later. In D. Pearl, L. Bouthilet, & J. Lazar (Eds.),

Television and behavior: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for

the eighties: Vol 2. Technical reviews (pp. 158-173). Washington, DC: U.S.

Government Printing Office. Stein, A. H., & Friedrich, L.K. (1975). Impact

of television violence on children and youth. In E. M. Hetherington (Ed.),

Review of Child Development Research (Vol. 5, pp. 183-256). Chicago: University

of Chicago Press.

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