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Does Media Violence Cause Violent Behavior?

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Although there have been numerous studies and research on the subject, I firmly believe that playing violent video games does not cause violent behaviors. Existing research has not be able to claim with certainty that there is a causal link between playing violent video games and developing violent behaviors immediately after playing or in the near future for that matter. For that reason, it is my belief that violent behavior comes from a predisposition to violence in the player’s genetic make-up, previous exposure to violence (physical, mental, emotional, or sexual), and the lack of parents supervision and guidance when it comes to purchasing and playing these types of video games.

Public opinion claims that playing violent video games promotes violent behavior and causes children to become violent towards their parents, teachers, peers and society at large. Case in point, April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enter Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and open fire leaving 15 dead including the suicide of both shooters and 24 injured. Subsequent investigations into why they did what they did revealed that they were avid video game players and their game of choice was “Doom” , “which Harris modified to be played by two shooters, each with extra weapons, unlimited ammunition, and unarmed victimns who couldn’t fight back” (Chananie, 2007) – much like the event that unfolded that fateful day in Littleton, Colorado. This event further spread society’s belief that violent video games cause violent behavior. Another case which fueled the already heated debate on violent video games causing violent behavior was the second half of the D.C. snipers team. In Lee Boyd Malvo’s trial, a “defense was based on allegations that John Mohammed”, the other half of the D. C. sniper team, “ used violent games, movies and audiotapes to mold Malvo into a killer” (Chananie, 2007) Even though it did not succeed, it did serve as a mitigating circumstance which made the difference between a death sentence and life without parole which, was the sentence that was ultimately imposed on Malvo. Researchers started to conduct “population-based epidemiologic investigations of violence in American society, cross- cultural studies, experimental and “natural” laboratory research, and longitudinal studies that show that aggressive behavior associated with media exposure persists for decades” (Pediatrics, American Academy of, 2001). Craig A. Anderson and Karen E. Dill conducted two studies: one correlational, the other experimental using the General Affective Aggression Model (GAAM) as their theoretical approach to both studies. Study 1 measured the amount of exposure to video game violence and the amount of time the participants had played video games in prior time periods regardless of content through the completion of a self-report questionnaire which collected individual difference data as well as data on aggressive behavior, delinquency, and world view. Study 2 participants were assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game and subsequently played a competitive reaction time game in which they could punish their opponent by delivering a noxious blast of white noise. This constituted their laboratory measure of aggression. They also assessed the effects of the video games on both hostile thoughts and feelings to see whether either (or both) types of games served as mediators of the violent video game effect on aggressive behavior. They stated that Study 1 indicates that in real life, concern about violent video games effect on delinquent behavior, aggressive and non-aggressive, is legitimate but the correlational nature of the study means the causal statements are risky at best because the link between aggressive and non-aggressive delinquency and violent video games could be found in the possibility that highly aggressive individuals are especially attracted to violent video games. Study 2 then focused on short-term effects of video game violence using an experimental methodology which would address more clearly the causality issue. In their summary and conclusion of both studies, Anderson and Dill concluded that the effect of violent video games appears to be cognitive in nature and that in the short-term, playing these games appears to affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts while in the long-term, the effects are likely longer lasting as new aggression-related scripts are learned and practiced becoming more and more accessible for use in a real-life conflict situation when it arises. (Anderson & Dill, 2000) Researchers, led by Vincent Mathews, conducted a study which included 44 students split into two groups (one group played violent video games while the other group played non-violent video games) for a half hour then gave them tasks measuring inhibition and concentration while measuring their brain functions through a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis. No difference in reaction time or accuracy completing the tasks was found. However, those who played violent video games showed less prefrontal activation associated with inhibition and concentration but more activation in the amygdalae associated with emotional arousal. (Chananie, 2007) On the other hand, opposing viewpoints on the matter have done further research on prior studies disagreeing with the results and claiming that there may be other factors at play when it comes to violent behavior on the part of the players of violent video games. Also that “the studies were not conclusive in their findings of a causal relation between playing violent video games and violent behavior.” (Kennedy-Moore, 2015) Eileen Kennedy-Moore mentions in her article in Psychology Today that, Paul Adachi and Teena Wiloughby (2011) found in their studies “it was competitiveness of video games, rather than how violent they were, that predicted later aggressive behavior. Struggling with a game can lead to frustration and aggression, whether or not the game is violent.” (Kennedy-Moore, 2015) Furthermore, “other risk factors”… which may… “include family violence, having an anger-prone personality, poverty, harsh parental discipline, peer rejection, and school problems” (Kennedy-Moore, 2015), “specific personality factors of the individual” (Vessey & Lee, 2000), and “association with delinquent peers, substance use, weak social ties, parental abuse or neglect, and cognitive and volitional limitations.” (Chananie, 2007) may also be factors in developing violent behaviors. For this reason, I will present evidence as to why I believe that playing violent video games does not cause violent behaviors but that instead other factors may very well be at work and that although they may be a part of it, they are not the totality of a reason as to the cause of violent behavior. Factors which include a genetic propensity for violent behaviors, previous exposure to violence and the lack of parental supervision and guidance when it comes to violent video games and how parents allow children these games in their households will be discussed.

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Violent behavior may have its roots deeper into those whose genetic make-up is predisposed to violence and violent behaviors. Studies on violence and violent behavior have found that these “can be triggered in various ways by any number of factors separately or in combination and can, in turn, affect individual behavior regarding violent expression in various degrees”. (Javier, Heron, & Primavera, 1998) Researchers found that physiological/chemical factors in the hypothalamus, the anterior poles of the temporal lobes, the amygdala, and the orbital frontal context which control aggression may be responsible for aggressive behavior but are not adequate to explain such a complex phenomenon like violent behavior being caused by playing violent video games yet they play a role in it. And although “more systematic investigation is necessary, J. Monahan’s analysis (1992) suggests that mental disorders may be a consistent, albeit only a modest, risk factor for the occurrence of violence.” (Javier, Heron, & Primavera, 1998) Social-structural conditions also contribute to violent behaviors of those genetically predisposed to violence by promoting violent content in the media based on the violent culture we live in which is characterized by an appetite for violence and a higher tolerance for it through higher rates of viewing and interacting in violent video games. We as a society have made media violence an acceptable form of entertainment while developing an appetite for more gore, more blood, more guts which perpetuates the cycle. The individual psychology factor states that “If one accepts the psychoanalytic explanation about aggression—that it results from unneutralized aggressive impulses in a person with an immature ego configuration—it is likely that at any level of frustration in an individual with such psychological characteristics will lead to an expression of aggressive behavior.” (Javier, Heron, & Primavera, 1998) In other words, those who are predisposed to aggression will become violent at any given moment if there is sufficient stimulus for frustration present during violent video game playing. Eileen Kennedy-Moore points out in her article in Psychology Today that , “ The effect of violent video games may depend on who is playing them and under what circumstances. …people with a constellation of being easily upset (high neuroticism), showing little concern for other people’s feelings (low agreeableness), and having a tendency to break rules and act without thinking (low conscientousness) are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of violent video games.” (Kennedy-Moore, 2015) Again, this relates to those who are predisposed to violence through genetic make-up but also to those who are exposed to violence at an early age and throughout their childhood.

In an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ research on media violence their “research has shown that the strongest single correlate with violent behavior is previous exposure to violence.” They also state that “repeated exposure to violent behavioral scripts (which iResearchnet.com defines as a package of knowledge that a person has about particular kinds of situations that he/she has encountered frequently) can lead to increased feelings of hostility, expectations that others will behave aggressively, desensitization to the pain of others, and increased likelihood of interacting and responding to others with violence.” (Pediatrics, American Academy of, 2001) “Children learn from what happens around them (and to them) from the people most important to them like parents, aunts and uncles, teachers, priests, and ministers because it is in that context that they develop a sense of themselves to others, a sense of right and wrong, and learn respect for themselves and others.” (Javier, Heron, & Primavera, 1998) In an article by Dwaine C. Fehon in the Psychiatric Times, he states that “Researchers have consistently found that children exposed to violence, either as witnesses or victims, are at high risk for having their own patterns of aggressive behavior develop. A considerable body of research points to a number of family, social, and community factors that increase the probability of violence. Specifically, family issues such as inadequate home environments, parental alcohol and drug abuse,witnessing domestic violence, and harsh parental discipline increase the risk for violent behavior in children and adolescents.” (Fehon, 2007) Aggression and violent behavior are learned through a person’s previous exposure to violence whether it is emotional, physical, psychological or sexual in nature. In that light then, we expect the adults in our lives to offer the kind of supervision and guidance which will foster prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity in shaping a child’s mind so that if, and when, they are exposed to violence the influence will be less and have little to no impact on their behavior.

The adults in a child’s life, mainly their parents, have a strong influence in the kind and type of entertainment they are capable of understanding and are allowed to view because of its rating, content and impressionability. Therefore, it is up to us to spend more time monitoring our kids choice of media and that it contains a minimum to none violent content. “Supportive parent-child relationships characterized by communication, concern, and parent-connectedness have been linked to reductions in internalizing and externalizing behavior, including PTSD and aggression. (…) Thus, while supportive families, peers, and schools may not prevent an individual from being exposed to violence, they can indeed protect against the risk of subsequent emotional maladjustment, including the risk of violence.” (Fehon, 2007) “Parents, it turns out, can play an important and positive role in how electronic media affect young people’s lives: they can not only enhance the benefits but also reduce the risks associated with children’s media exposure. Parents who watch prosocial programming with their child and reinforce the messages in different portrayals can enhance their child’s prosocial learning. Such active mediation can include explaining and discussing the moral lessons in a plot, reinforcing the information through rehearsal, and engaging in role-playing activities that elaborate on the information. By helping children think critically about potentially harmful content in the media, parents can also reduce the impact of media violence. Parents can also teach children coping strategies to deal with frightening images in the media. In general, it is essential for parents to monitor the media content their children view and find attractive. Such parental involvement is arguably more important than establishing rules about how much time children can spend watching TV or playing video games. Guiding children’s media choices and helping children become critical consumers of media content can foster the prosocial benefits of spending time in front of a screen while preventing some of the risks.” (Wilson, 2008) Consequently, parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to their children and how much exposure they have from playing violent video games and, as such, should not allow their children to convince them that a popular game which his/her best friend owns and they want is cool and not violent at all. Instead, parents should do their research, check the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board Interactive) rating of the game, seek out others’ reviews and comments on the game but most importantly, if there is a chance to, play the game yourself. See what it is all about and then make an informed decision. Ultimately your child will thank you for it even if its not at that particular moment.

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Does Media Violence Cause Violent Behavior? (2021, August 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/does-media-violence-cause-violent-behavior/
“Does Media Violence Cause Violent Behavior?” Edubirdie, 26 Aug. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/does-media-violence-cause-violent-behavior/
Does Media Violence Cause Violent Behavior? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/does-media-violence-cause-violent-behavior/> [Accessed 9 Dec. 2022].
Does Media Violence Cause Violent Behavior? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 26 [cited 2022 Dec 9]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/does-media-violence-cause-violent-behavior/
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