Violence and sexuality in the media
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
The world of the American mass media is much more violent than the real world. Communication researcher George Gerbner has found that approximately 80 percent of television programs contain some violence, for an average of almost ten violent acts per hour. Some prime-time television programs and R-rated action films contain as many as 50 to 150 violent acts per hour. Cartoons average 25 violent acts per hour. It has been estimated that by the age of eighteen, the average American has witnessed 100,000 acts of violence, including 25,000 killings, on television alone. There are many cases of direct copying of media violence. For example, at least twenty-eight people have killed themselves in apparent imitation of the Russian roulette scene in the film The Deer Hunter (1978). Reactions to such anecdotal evidence, however, must be tempered by the knowledge that many millions of people have seen these programs and films.
In the early 1960’s, psychologist Leonard Berkowitz devised a laboratory procedure to study the effects of filmed violence on aggressive behavior. In a typical experiment, subjects are made angry by a confederate or accomplice of the experimenter. They then watch a ten-minute film clip containing a high level of violence (a boxing match) or an equally exciting control film (a foot race). Finally, subjects are permitted to evaluate the confederate’s work using an “aggression machine,” an apparatus...
(The entire section is 690 words.)
Pornography Effects (Psychology and Mental Health)
Laboratory research on the effects of pornography has used procedures similar to those of aggression research. In several studies, male subjects were angered by a female confederate. They watched either violent pornography (a sexually explicit rape scene) or a control film. The men who saw the rape film showed more violence against women than did control subjects. Violent pornography, however, contains two distinct variables that might plausibly be related to aggression: violence and sexual explicitness. To determine whether either or both contribute to aggression, it is necessary to compare four conditions: sex plus violence (a sexually explicit rape scene), violence only (a nonexplicit rape scene), sex only (sexually explicit but with willing participants), and a control film. Researchers who have made this comparison find that the sex-plus-violence and violence-only conditions increase aggression toward women (to about the same degree), but nonviolent pornography does not usually produce any more aggression than a control film. This suggests that the effect of violent pornography is a special case of the well-established effect of filmed violence. Nonviolent pornography does not increase aggression. This is important, because only a small percentage of pornography—for example, about 15 percent of pornography videotapes—contains violence.
Studies show that men exposed to violent (and, in some cases, nonviolent)...
(The entire section is 379 words.)
An Ongoing Debate (Psychology and Mental Health)
The effects of media violence have been vigorously debated for several decades. Televised violence is of special concern because of its vivid and realistic nature and its easy accessibility to children. The most extensive government investigation of the effects of television on children was the 1972 Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, which conducted forty scientific studies. It concluded that television can cause aggression, but the committee’s report contained so many qualifications that it was widely perceived as indicating that television is not really an important cause of aggressive behavior. This ambiguity may have resulted from the fact that the television networks were allowed to appoint five of the twelve commissioners and to blackball several proposed members. A 1982 update by the National Institute of Mental Health stated more directly that television violence is indeed a cause of aggression. In spite of these investigations and the lobbying of pressure groups such as Action for Children’s Television, the amount of violence on television has changed little since the late 1960’s. The television networks believe (with some justification) that violent programs are more popular, and they have considerable power to resist governmental regulation.
Pornography in all media, from print to film to the Internet, has also been an issue of great concern to the American...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
Psychological Models (Psychology and Mental Health)
Two early psychological approaches to the study of aggression made different predictions about the effects of media violence. Instinct and drive theories of aggression suggested that watching media violence would provide a catharsis, or release of aggressive energy, which would reduce the likelihood of subsequent aggression. Social learning theory proposed that much of one’s knowledge of how to behave comes from observing and sometimes imitating the behavior of others. Exposure to media violence would be expected to increase aggression. The majority of research has supported the social learning theory position.
There are several contemporary explanations for the effects of media violence. The imitation approach emphasizes the direct transmission of information about when, why, and how to commit aggressive behaviors. This theory accounts for copycat aggression but has difficulty explaining more general effects. The disinhibition approach points out that adults already know how to aggress, and that media violence reduces restraints that would normally cause people to inhibit their aggressive impulses by suggesting that aggression is socially acceptable. The arousal and desensitization approaches suggest that watching violence will have different short- and long-term effects. In the short run, violence is exciting and increases physiological arousal, which can spill over and energize real aggressive behavior. This...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Donnerstein, Edward I., Daniel Linz, and Steven Penrod. The Question of Pornography. New York: Free Press, 1987. Review of laboratory research on effects of pornography. Distinguishes between the proven antisocial effects of violent pornography and the more speculative claims against nonviolent pornography. Accessible to the general reader.
Huesmann, L. Rowell, and Neil M. Malamuth. “Media Violence and Antisocial Behavior.” Journal of Social Issues 42, no. 3 (1986): 125-139. This article is in a special issue of a psychological journal containing eleven articles that summarize the effects of media violence and pornography.
Joy, Leslie A., Meredith M. Kimball, and Merle L. Zabrack. “Television and Children’s Aggressive Behavior.” In The Impact of Television, edited by Tannis MacBeth Williams. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1986. Presents a study of the effects of the introduction of cable television in an isolated community in western Canada on the aggressive behavior of its children.
Kirsh, Steven J. Children, Adolescents, and Media Violence: A Critical Look at the Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2006. A review of the research literature on effects of media violence on young people. The author identifies some critical age gaps in the research.
Liebert, Robert M., and Joyce Sprafkin. The Early Window: Effects of Television on Children and...
(The entire section is 356 words.)