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The Effect of TV Violence on Children

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The Effect of TV Violence on Children

Television violence and its effects on viewers has been a
controversial issue for many years. Some viewers believe that there is
an increasingly large amount of violence on television and this
widespread public concern has:

“Led to calls for stricter controls on the depiction of violence in
programmes." (Gunter and McAleer 1990)

The vast majority of research is inconclusive but demonstrates strong
links between viewing violence and committing violent acts. To try and
add value to previous research I conducted my own research through
collating information from questionnaires issued to parents and
children in my work placement; however the results did not directly
support my hypothesis.

I chose this research topic because I have a three year old child who
enjoys watching television. I thought it may give me an insight into
the effect these so called, children’s programmes are actually having
on him, if any.

The study was a one off piece of research as part of my HND.


The sole purpose of this project is to examine whether children behave
differently after they have been watching violence on television. In
addition the question that is of paramount importance to this whole
piece of investigative work is:

· Are children more likely to imitate acts of violence or aggressive
behaviour because of what they have seen on television?

A continuing debate between Broadcasters and Scientists is permanently
ongoing and in spite of the accumulation of evidence between the links
of viewing television violence and children’s behaviour the debate
goes on.

Furthermore, media professionals would rather believe that television
has no effects other than those intended, thousands of studies have
pointed to casual relationships between television violence and
real-life crime. In spite of numerous research studies, the perception
continues that the effects of television violence are unclear, even

Moreover, blaming the media could be an easy option for some and can
serve to divert attention from other causes or change going on in a
child’s life, and so claims about the, “Effects of Television” could
be massively exaggerated.

This ongoing debate has inspired a great deal of research, one of the
most well known and publicised experiments was that of Albert
Bandura’s Bobo doll studies, which are now widely regarded as early
research classics in the field of psychology. I am going to discuss
this experiment in greater detail within this project and hopefully
link it with more recent research, my own research and observations to
support my hypothesis.


HYPOTHESIS: It is predicted that children will imitate violence or
display violent behaviour after viewing violence on television.


My initial first step of this investigation was to carry out literacy
research in my chosen topic, in order to gain a more in-depth
knowledge of the subject area. This involved searching Internet web
sites, books, newspaper articles, magazines and of course watching a
television programme on the issue to enable me to gather information
on previous research that has already been written on the effects of
television violence.

Secondly, as a means of carrying out my own research I compiled a
questionnaire for children and parents to complete.

Thirdly, I obtained permission from my work placement Manager to hand
out the questionnaires to parents and children.

Finally, I collated the results of the questionnaires and produced
tables and graphs to display the evidence.



(Refer appendix 1a)




20 parents ticked Yes = 100%


10 parents ticked Yes = 50%


20 parents ticked Yes = 100%

Average TV watched =3- 5 hours a day.


20 children were between 2-4 years of age.


12 between 6-7pm = 60%

8 between 7-8pm = 40%


T.V programmes watched ticked by 20 parents. Refer to pie chart.


10 Parents ticked Yes = 50%


2 children had displayed violence = 20%


20 Parents ticked No = 100%


20 parents ticked 0-2 years.



(Refer appendix 1b)


























The results obtained from the two questionnaires do not directly link
to the hypothesis of this experiment. What they do show however is
that of the 20 parents asked 100% of children watch television and 50%
of children have access to television in their bedrooms.

In addition the results did show that 2 children did display levels of
violence after watching television but the programme in both instances
was not completed on the questionnaire, for what reason I do not know.

Furthermore the parents’ questionnaire revealed that the average time
children are watching television is between 3-5 hours per day, and
their children started watching television from 0-2 years of age.

The children’s questionnaire did not support the hypothesis because
the majority of children said they felt happy when watching the
selected programmes and none of the children felt angry.

The majority of the results are linked to this experiment but not
directly, they do support research of the hours children spend
watching television and from what age .In addition the only direct
link made was the 2 displays of violence after watching television a
programme, however more information would have to be gathered on this
question for it to be conclusive.

The results obtained could still be used as further evidence to
support previous research as the information obtained is relevant to
the nature of the experiment.


Before we move into the discussion of the effects of television
violence and whether or not children imitate what they have seen on
television, it is important to offer a definition of violence. The
following statement gives a clear and concise explanation:

“Violence is a general term to describe actions, usually deliberate,
that cause or intend to cause injury to people, animals, or non-living
objects. Violence is often associated with aggression.”(www//

There has been a considerable amount of research into
inter-relationships between the viewing of violent films, videos and
TV programmes and aggressive behaviour by the viewers of such
material, in particular the behaviour of children.

The range of media to which children have access to has grown rapidly
in this generation. Take the books, newspapers, magazines, films,
radio, tapes, records, and broadcast television familiar to children
of the previous generation, then add dozens of cable TV. channels,
thousands of videos and video games, and millions of Internet sites.
The result is a crowded media frenzy in which children are engrossed
in, on a daily basis.

Therefore we have to ask ourselves, what effects is TV violence having
on our children and does it really inspire them to violence? I am now
going to look at previous research to see if I can find the answers to
my questions.

In 1996 and1997 UNESCO conducted the Global Media Violence Survey.
More than 5,000 12-year-old children in 93 countries participated,
representing all regions of the world.

Under the supervision of Dr Jo Groebel of Utrecht University, the
study aimed to understand the role of media in the lives of children
and the relationship between media violence and aggressive behaviour
among children in different settings.

The study found that 93% of children watch an average of three hours
television a day. This is at least 50% more than the time spent on any
other out-of-school activity, including homework, being with friends,
or reading. This evidence leaves little doubt that television is the
most important medium in the lives of children almost everywhere in
the world today.

In addition the study revealed, television, expose’s children to high
levels of violent images on a daily basis. Furthermore it revealed, in
many countries, there is an average of five to ten aggressive acts per
hour on children’s television programmes.

The study found evidence that media images reinforce the experiences
of children in their real-life environments. Almost half (44%) of
both boys and girls reported a strong overlap between what they
perceive as reality and what they have seen on screen. Many children
experience both real and media environments in which violence appears
to be natural and unfortunately the most effective solution to life's

This research did not directly answer the question, does seeing
violence on television affect children's behaviour? Instead the study
chose to link the evidence to, "Compass Theory” Which states:

“Depending on a child's existing experiences, values, and the cultural
environment, media content offers an orientation, a frame of reference
which determines the direction of the child's own behaviour. The
child does not necessarily adopt the behaviour portrayed, but the
media images provide a model, a standard for what may be considered
normal and acceptable.” (

More recent research suggests young children who watch a lot of
television are more likely to become bullies. The authors suggest the
increasingly violent nature of children’s cartoons may be to blame. (,,2-1489580,00.html)

The researchers used existing data from a national US survey to study
the amount of television watched by 1266 four-year-olds. Then they
compared that amount with follow-up reports - by the children's
mothers, on whether the children bullied or were, "Cruel or Mean to
others" when they were between six and 11 years old.

The study showed that four-year-olds who watched the average amount of
television e.g. 3-5 hours per day - were 25% more likely to become
bullies than those who watched none. And children who watched eight
hours of television a day were 200% more likely to become bullies.

Frederick Zimmerman, an economist at the University of Washington in
Seattle asserts:

“Parents should understand that, just because TV shows or movie is
made for kids, it doesn't mean it's good for kids - especially
four-year-olds.” (

Further studies show that children of pre-school age overwhelmingly
prefer and pay close attention to cartoons. Saturday morning cartoons,
for example, have 20 to 25 violent acts per hour compared with five
violent acts per hour in prime time viewing.

Because of their desires to watch cartoons children are being exposed
to large numbers of violent acts in their daily viewing. Based on
their viewing patterns, it has been estimated that, by the time
pre-school children start school, they will have seen an average of
8,000 murders and 100,000 assorted other acts of violence and
destruction on television. (Huston, Donnerstein et al., 1992.)

In its crudest form the relationship between children and television
is portrayed as a matter of single cause and direct effect, which puts
this kind of research firmly in the behaviourist tradition.

The most famous psychological studies of children and aggressive
behaviour are Albert Bandura's Bobo doll studies, which are now widely
regarded as early research classics in the field. These were
experimental studies in which children of nursery school age observed
a playroom in which an adult was hitting, punching, kicking and
throwing a large inflatable doll. Particular actions were used for
e.g. using a hammer and saying, “Pow... boom... boom” which children
would be unlikely to perform spontaneously.

The children were then observed as they played alone in the playroom
with the doll for 10 to 20 minutes. A control group of children was
allowed to play with the doll without observing the aggressive adult
behaviour. As one might expect, the children who witnessed the adult
aggression performed similar acts; the others did not. In a series of
studies, Bandura and his colleagues have shown that children display
novel acts of aggressive behaviour which they have acquired simply
through observing someone else engaged in these acts.

In a later version of the experiment (1965), the children were divided
into 3 groups. One group went straight into the playroom. The second
group saw the model being rewarded for aggressive actions before they
went in. The third saw the model being punished. Those who saw the
model being punished showed significantly less aggression than those
who saw the model rewarded or who saw no consequences.

This suggests that seeing a model punished leads to less learning of
the model's behaviour. However, after all the children had played in
the playroom with the doll, they were offered rewards to behave in the
playroom like the adult model had done.

In the first stage of the experiment the consequences for the adult
affected the children's behaviour. The second stage showed that they
had in fact learned the behaviour because they were able to perform
it. Therefore those children who had seen the model punished had still
learned the behaviour but would only behave like that if offered an

Bandura suggested that:

“We should distinguish clearly between the acquisition of aggressive
responses and the performance of aggressive acts: observation of
modelling is sufficient for aggressive behaviour to be learned, but
reinforcement is necessary for aggressive acts to be actually

Further laboratory experiments by Liebert and Baron (1972) using real
television programmes, in which they measured the willingness of
children to hurt another child after watching a programme were

Within the experiment children were shown either a race track or an
aggressive programme and then allowed either to facilitate or disrupt
another child's game. They could hurt the other child by pressing a
button to make the handle hot which the child was holding. The
children who had seen the aggressive programme were significantly more
aggressive than those who had seen the non-aggressive programme. This
was particularly the case with boys.

In addition, when the children were later observed at play, those who
had viewed the aggressive programme showed a stronger preference for
playing with weapons and aggressive toys than did the other children.

Similar results have been found in most experimental studies. They
suggest that the more violence is viewed, the greater the likelihood
of aggressive behaviour. However, apart from ethical objections one
might raise, such experimental studies have major limitations in terms
of their artificiality. They have been criticized for a lack of,
“Ecological Validity” since they were concerned with strange behaviour
in strange settings.

In contrast a few researchers and theorists have claimed that
televised violence does not have negative effects. Seymour Feshbach in
the early 1970's, proposed that viewing violence on TV provides an
opportunity for the discharge, or catharsis, of aggressive feelings
and therefore reduces the possibility that the viewer will participate
in aggressive or violent behaviour.

The theory underlying the catharsis hypothesis proposes that a child
who views violence on television indirectly experiences the violence
and therefore harmlessly discharges his/her unexpressed feelings of
anger, hostility, and frustration. In other words, viewing violent
fantasy may serve nearly as well as actual violence in ridding people
of their hostile impulses.

For example, Feshbach and Singer (1971) found that adolescent and
pre-adolescent boys at a residential school were more aggressive if
they watched non-aggressive TV programmes than if they had watched
aggressive programmes.

Watching the programmes seemed to be therapeutic, harmlessly
discharging aggressive feelings. This study has however been found to
be flawed, and an attempt at replication did not produce the same

Furthermore the catharsis theory does not agree with evidence that
more aggressive children prefer to watch aggressive programmes, and
are more likely to do so than children who are less aggressive
(Chaffee, 1972).

Another version of Catharsis Theory is that watching violent
programmes decreases levels of arousal, leaving viewers less prone to
aggressive behaviour.

Finally Dorr & Kovaric, 1980) assert:

“Many theories about children's behaviour and the influence of TV are
in the behaviouristic tradition: where the emphasis is on the passive
learning of habitual behaviour through conditioning. They tend to
ignore the active meaning-making that children engage in, and the
variety of meanings which they construct with TV.”


In conclusion it is fair to say that it is clearly obvious from the
research already done concerning television and its effects, that
violence is quite prevalent on British television.

Violence on television can do one of three things. The first is make
us more violent (Huesmann 1982), the second is make us less violent
(Feshbach 1972) and the third is to have no effect at all (Freedman
1984, Kaplan and Singer 1976).

Most evidence has supported the first argument namely that television
violence does increase our own violent behaviour.

In addition most of the research evidence tends to suggest that over a
long period, “Heavy viewing” of violent programmes increases at least
slightly the likelihood of a disposition towards aggressive behaviour
amongst children and adolescents.

I have shown that various explanations have been offered to describe
processes which violent TV might have on children's behaviour. All I
have done here is to refer to some of these proposed processes
briefly. No single process is likely to offer an adequate explanation.

In contrast however we have to take into account the following
contradictory findings:

· If watching violence and acting aggressively are correlated, this
does not prove that watching causes the aggression. It may be, for
instance, that aggressive people seek out violent programmes.

· Even if watching a violent programme does increase aggressiveness,
this may be only a short-term phenomenon.

· As in all social science research, other factors are likely to be
involved, in complex inter-relationships. These might include economic
hardship, family and peer relationships, gender, sub cultural values,
various uses of TV by individual children and so on.

Therefore I have to admit that my own primary research and previous
research does not support my hypothesis because I feel there is no
clear-cut evidence.

Moreover, I am a great believer in that children learn from their
environment and learn through imitating others and there must be some
element of truth in the vast amounts of research that exists. Maybe
one day somebody will make a direct link and be brave enough to
publish their findings and have them supported 100%.

Finally I think it is of paramount importance to remember that the
most critical argument against watching television, in addition to the
violent content is that it affects the three characteristics that
distinguish us as human beings.

In the first 3 years of life, a child learns to walk, to talk and to
think. Television keeps us sitting, leaves little room for
conversations and seriously impairs our ability to think!



(www// 17.04.05)




Beaver, m., Brewster, J., Jones, P., Keene, A., Neaum, S. and Tallack,
J. (2001) Babies and young Children, 2nd edition, Nelson Thornes,

Gross, R. (2001) The Science of Mind and Behaviour, 4th edition,
Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Jarvis, M. & Chandler ,E. (2001) Angels of Child Psychology, Nelson
Thornes, Cheltenham.

Karmen, T. (2000) Psychology for childhood studies, Hodder &
Stoughton, London.

Bandura, A, D Ross & S A Ross (1961): 'Transmission of Aggression
Through Imitation of Aggressive Models', Journal of Abnormal and
Social Psychology 63: 575-82

Bandura, A (1965): 'Influence of Models' Reinforcement Contingencies
on the Acquisition of Imitative Responses', Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology 1: 589-95

/ academic/faculty/j.dillon/cathar.htm - 26k


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