media violence

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Media violence has been the subject of controversy, particularly with respect to its perceived control on teenagers, where it is believed to encourage violent behaviour. Violence in the media is commonly seen across a variety of platforms, including news, movies, computer games and social media. Following horrific mass shootings involving teenage gunmen, most people are inclined to attribute societal pressures, and often the media, as a possible contributor to such violent acts. Similar divisions can be found in the science world. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) released policy statements that linked violence in media to societal aggression. In response, a group of scholar wrote an open letter to the association asking them to remove these statements as the information is not backed by conclusive evidence (Consortium of Scholars 1). Consequently, it is evident that there is no consensus on the impact of media violence on societal aggression. The aim of this paper is to show that media violence does not predict societal aggression, based on research from existing scientific literature.

Research Evidence Linking Media Violence to Societal Aggression

Much of the evidence in support of a causal relationship between media violence and societal aggression is based on experiments conducted under controlled conditions, and mainly focus on lesser aggressive outcomes compared to the actual violence seen in real-life. As such, the validity of such studies is questionable as the results do not indicate a causal relationship between the two variables. Furthermore, aggression measurements and definitions vary significantly among studies, hence cannot be used to make conclusions on a direct causal relationship. In addition to shortcomings in the validity and reliability of experimental studies, the results for the effects of media violence have been mixed. In the case of violence in both movies and video games, certain studies report increased aggression (Ivory & Kaestle 224), other studies do not find any effects (Ramos, Ferguson, Frailing, & Romero-Ramirez 2; Tear & Nielsen 1), while others report reduced instances of aggression (Valadez & Ferguson 608). As such, it is not possible to make the conclusion that violence in the media increases aggression and violent behavior among viewers.

Most experimental studies also rarely capture the media experience required to conclude whether an individual may engage in violent acts or not. Usually, subjects are exposed to short clips of media, rather than the normal exposure where a person spends hours playing video games or watching violent movies. The resultant behaviors which are assessed are also debatable as they are outside of the narrative context, and are sanctioned by the researchers who provide the opportunity for violence (Ferguson 2). Consequently, it would be erroneous to extrapolate the results of such a study to the real-life situation as they are significantly different.

Trends in Media Violence and Societal Aggression

To determine a causal relationship between violence portrayed in the media and increased violent acts among the population, Ferguson (2015) compared the trends in media violence to aggression as indicated by the number of homicides. During the early 20th century, violent content in movies was fairly high before the imposition of the Hays Code in 1930 which aimed at censoring violence in movies. A decrease in movie violence was observed during this period, after which more movies began featuring violence in the latter 20th century beginning from the 1950s (Ferguson, 9). Between 1930 and 1960, lower rates of homicides were also reported. However, this was in contrast to the latter 20th century, when an increase in movie violence occurred at the same time when there was a decrease in homicides. Taken together, this data suggests that the perceived correlation between movie and societal violence occurred due to a chance concordance during the mid 20th century. The fact that these phenomena were not in agreement in either the early or latter 20th century shows that any conclusions of a causal relationship were based on erroneous data, and cannot be considered true.

Ferguson also compares the frequency of violence in video games and societal aggression in terms of video game violence consumption and youth violence between 1996 and 2011. According to data obtained from video games sales, the most popular games contained a lot of violence, which is seen increased over the 16-year period. On the other hand, societal violence as measured through youth violence is seen to be reducing steadily over the same period, indicating an inverse relationship. However, the author points out that these trends may not be an indication of causality. As seen from the comparison between movies and societal violence, data collected over time may indicate conflicting results, which may also be the case for video games as the data exists only for a limited number of years (Ferguson 13).

Conclusion

In summary, although there is still much debate on the link between media and societal violence, the available evidence conflicts with the view that increased violence in the media is a contributing factor of violence in the society. Consequently, politicians, media personalities, and scholars should refrain from making conclusive remarks based on faltering evidence on the issue. Further research that examines the impact of media violence both at an individual and societal level is required to determine whether or not there is a relationship between the two phenomena.

Works Cited

Consortium of Scholars. “Scholars’ Open Statement to the APA Task Force on Violent Media” christopherjferguson.com. 2013. Web. 2 June, 2017. (http://www.christopherjferguson.com/APA%20Task%20Force%20Comment1.pdf).

Ferguson, Christopher J. “Does media violence predict societal violence? It depends on what you look at and when.” Journal of Communication 65.1 (2015): E1-E22.

Ivory, Adrienne Holz, and Christine E. Kaestle. “The effects of profanity in violent video games on players’ hostile expectations, aggressive thoughts and feelings, and other responses.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 57.2 (2013): 224-241.

Ramos, Raul A., et al. “Comfortably numb or just yet another movie? Media violence exposure does not reduce viewer empathy for victims of real violence among primarily Hispanic viewers.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture 2.1 (2013): 2.

Tear, Morgan J., and Mark Nielsen. “Failure to demonstrate that playing violent video games diminishes prosocial behavior.” PloS one 8.7 (2013): e68382.

Valadez, Jose J., and Christopher J. Ferguson. “Just a game after all: Violent video game exposure and time spent playing effects on hostile feelings, depression, and visuospatial cognition.” Computers in Human Behavior 28.2 (2012): 608-616.

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