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The “Media Effects” Debate: Misunderstanding the part media plays in the perpetration of crime.

The “Media Effects” Debate: Misunderstanding the part media plays in the perpetration of crime.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jonathan McCully. Originally submitted for Criminology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Ivana Bacik in the category of Law
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jonathan McCully. Originally submitted for Criminology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Ivana Bacik in the category of Law

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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Media Effects
Debate: Misunderstandingthe part media plays in the perpetration of crime.
Studies have shown violence in the movies has been getting increasingly graphic
andit has been estimated that children are exposed to 10,000 violent crimes a year in the media.
Therefore whether violent media has an adverse effect on a person‟
s behaviour, and whetherit has an effect on crime, is a pressing issue
. Much of the “media effects” research has
focused on the impact media has on aggression or violent behaviour, only a few studies havelooked specifically at crime.
This is most likely due to the difficulty in conducting empiricalstudies in this area.
The way in which “media effects” research has approached the issue has
attracted much criticism from those in the debate.
This essay shall look at the discourse thathas developed and shall conclude that the relationship between the media and the executionof a crime has in fact been neglected.
  Part I 
The Case For
 Media Effects
The theories
 behind “media effects” rarely feature in other criminology theories.
 They generally follow the same behaviourist approach, usually involving a process where amedia stimulus is shown and a person is then expected to respond in a certain way. It followsthe rather narrow view that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the
Wes Shipley and Gray Cavender, „Murder and Mayhem at the Movies,‟ 9(1)
 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
2001, 1-14.
 N. Signorielli, G. Gerbner and M. Morgan, „Violence on Television: The Cultural Indicators Project,‟ 39
 Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media,
For example, Brandon Centerwall, „Television and Violent Crime‟,
The Public Interest 
(Spring 1993), and
Lesley Joy, Meredith Kimball, and Merle Zabrack, „Television and children‟s aggressive behaviour,‟ in Tannis
Williams ed.,
The impact of television: A Natural Experiment in Three Communities
(Academic Press), 303-360.
Ray Surette,
 Media, Crime and Criminal Justice: Images and Realities
, (Pacific Grove, California:Brooks/Cole, 1992) at 121.
See Martin Barker and Julian Petley eds.
 Ill Effects: The Media/ Violence Debate
ed., London: Routledge,2001).
See Joanne Savage, „The Role of Exposure to Media Violence in The Etiology of Violent Behaviour: ACriminologist Weighs In,‟ 51(8)
 American Behavioral Scientist 
2008, 1123-1136.
showing of media violence and real life violent or aggressive behaviour.
Albert Bandura hasdeve
loped a “social learning theory”
based on observation which may then disinhibit a
 person‟s views on violence or it may just result in direct im
itation of the act.
Other modelshave developed such as social cognition, social information-processing and cognitive neo-association.
For the purpose of this essay it is only necessary to note that the theories takethe overtly positivist approach, that media has a direct influence on behaviour.
With behaviourism being the pre-
eminent theory behind the “media effects” debate,
most of the research is based on the immediate and direct relationship between stimulus andresponse. John Watson stated this made behaviourism
“eminently suitable for investigation
by laboratory experimentation, or by studies that followed the basic logic of experimentation.
 Bandura developed the early experiments involving nursery school children. Thechildren were split into four groups; one group saw a real life demonstration of a personhitting an inflatable doll, another was shown the same situation only on film, and a third sawa cartoon cat hitting the doll. The final group was a control group who saw nothing. Thechildren who saw the film and the cartoon aggressed the most.
This was taken as evidenceof a direct relationship between screen violence and juvenile aggression. Bandura laterdeveloped this experiment and found that the reward or lack of punishment for the perpetratorof the violent act increased the level aggression that the child would inflict against the doll.
Research has developed and experiments have taken different forms, many showing apositive relationship between violent media consumption and violent or aggressivebehaviours:
Dennis Howitt,
Crime, Media and the Law
(Chichester: Wiley, 1998) at 21.
See Albert Bandura,
 Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis
(London: Prentice-Hall, 1973).
For a good summary of the theories see Steven Kirsch,
Children, adolescents, and media research: a criticallook at the research (
London: SAGE, 2006), or Jennings Bryant, Susan Thompson,
Fundamentals of Media Effects
(London: McGraw Hill, 2002).
Dennis Howitt,
Op. Cit.
John Watson as quoted by Graham Murdock, „Reservoirs of Dogma: An archaeology of popular anxieties‟, in
Martin Barker and Julian Petley eds.
 Ill Effects: The Media/ Violence Debate
ed., London: Routledge, 2001)at 164.
Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ro
ss and Shelia Ross, „Imitation of film
mediated aggressive models‟, 66(3)
 Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology
1963, 3
Albert Bandura, „Influence of models‟ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses,‟
 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, 589-595.
 Laboratory Studies.
Berkowitz conducted his research with American collegestudents; prior to the experiment they would be intimidated or angered by an accomplice.They are then given the opportunity to watch either a violent clip, non-violent clip, or no clipat all. After which the participant can deliver an electric shock to the antagonist. They foundthat the angered individuals who watched a violent film expressed more willingness todeliver a shock than the non-angered participants or those angered but watched a non-violentclip.
 Field Experiments.
Field studies are more realistic than the laboratory conditions andso are more likely
to reflect what will occur in the “real world”.
Boyatzis et al. studied 52children aged between five and eleven. In an after school programme they were assigned toeither watch an episode
of “The Mighty Morphin
Power Rangers”
[sic], or not to watch one.Youths who watched the episode displayed seven times as many acts of aggression, often
imitating the characters “karate kicks” they had just observed.
Correlation Surveys.
Belson conducted a survey looking at 1500 London boysbetween the ages of thirteen and sixteen. He found that boys with high exposure to violenttelevision commit nearly 50% more acts of serious violence than those who see little. Thosewith very high exposure and low exposure showed the least aggression.
  Longitudinal Studies.
With this form of research one can observe the long term effectsof exposure to media violence. Leonard Eron et al. conducted an experiment which took place over a period of twenty-two years. 875 eight year olds were studied in the first stage,the parents identified their favourite programs and class-mates nominated the individual
saggressive behaviour. The first stage found that the more violent material watched resulted inless aggressive behaviour nominated by their peers.
The second stage of the study wasconducted ten years later with 427 of the original participants and the researchers found thattelevision had a delayed effect. Once again violent programme preferences were correlatedagainst peer nominated accounts of aggressiveness. A strong correlation (0.31) was foundbetween a preference for violent viewing in third grade and aggressive behaviour in the 13
Leonard Berkowitz, „Some aspects of observed aggression,‟ 2
 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
Barrie Gunter and Jill McAleer,
Children and Television
(London : Routledge, 1997), at 110.
J. Boyatzis, G. M. Matillo and K. M. Nesbitt, „Effects of “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” onchildren‟s aggression with peers,‟ 25
Child Study Journal
, 45-55.
William Belson,
Television Violence and the Adolescent Boy
(England: Saxon House, 1978).
Leonard Eron, L. Rowell Huesmann, Monroe Lefkovitz and Leopold Walder, „Does Television ViolenceCause Aggression?,‟ 27
 American Psychologist,

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