Essay, Research Paper: Violence On Children


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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.

BibliographyBandura, 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.
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