Social Cognition and Violence


Social Cognitive Theory in relation to media violence, and how it affects children By David G. Caban, MBA Spring 2008

Introduction Albert Bandura developed the social cognitive theory, and his theory was based on the social learning process that influences social behavior through observation learning and vicarious reinforcement (Coates, Malouff and Rooke, 2008; Jarrett, 2005; Bandura, 2001). It is common that children construct ideas, concept based on their social environment (Wang & Lin, 2007). Therefore, children excessively exposed to media violence could socially learn aggressive behavior through observational learning, and vicarious reinforcement. Furthermore, it is easily influence through social role modeling. The reinforcement model enhances children “self” perception, because groups would tend to influence vicarious behavior (Coates, Malouff and Rooke, 2008; Jarrett, 2005). The social cognitive theory is based on three human agencies, which are direct personnel, proxy and collective agency (Jarrett, 2005; Bandura, 2001). Its relation to media violence is the individual inability to attain certain social goals, therefore, allowing others within their social environment too influence their perception (Wang & Lin, 2007). Direct personnel agency, is the individual relationship within their environment (Coates, Malouff and Rooke, 2008; Jarrett, 2005; Bandura, 2001). For example,

Social Cognition and Violence


aggressive behavior is a cultural norm; therefore, other social factors can influence aggressive behavior (Anderson et al., 2003, Guerra et al., 2005). Aggressive and violent behaviors are influence through social role modeling; for example, violent video characters are role models that can influence behavior (Anderson et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003). As a result, children and adolescents observing aggressive and violent behavior stem the probability of imitating such behavior (Anderson et al., 2005). Furthermore, the continual influence of aggressive behavior becomes a reinforcement models, such as, social peers and media violence (Anderson et al., 2003). The second agency of the social cognitive theory is the proxy agency, which is to promote social development, but also, impedes personnel competence (Bandura, 2001). Bandura (2001) stated, “People cannot bear the heavy burden of responsibility because of social stressors and risk” (p. 21). Therefore, children and adolescents would rely on the competence and favors from others (Bandura, 2001). For example, parents may allow their children to view and interact with violent video games as a substitution for their parental role. Furthermore, parents and guardians may interact with violent video games, and entertain media violence within the home, because it is a part of their culture (Coates et al., 2008, Guerra et al., 2005). Aggressive and violent behavior is a part of the characteristics of the human species, as well as, with other living species; therefore, it is a part our culture. For example, some parents perceive children interacting with violent video games and viewing other media violent programs as a very good baby-sitter. In modern electrified society parents and guardians may failed to realize that media characters are role models

Social Cognition and Violence


within the home (Anderson et al., 2003; Gonzalez et al., 2005). As a result, children and adolescents are learning aggressive and violent behavior within the home through social role modeling portrayed through violent media character. As a result, children and adolescents can potentially interact with their peers what they learned through the media (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005; Gonzalez et al., 2005). Subculture violence theory determines that children can learn aggressive and violent behavior within their environment (Huesmann et al., 2003). Therefore, children within a violent social setting such as, exposed to excessive media violence would stem the probability of becoming either deviant, and or criminally. Because of the fact, children become a reflection of their environment (Anderson et al., 2003; Green & Krcmar, 2005). According to Green & Krcmar (2005) social gratification views media violence as a fulfillment of social needs, because it is a reflection of an individual’s biopsychosocial characteristics (p. 74). The third human agency of the social cognitive theory is the collective agency. The collective agency is the common-interest that exists within groups, such as, peergroups, and other social counterparts that share a commonality (Bandura, 2001). In relation to violent video games it encourages children and adolescents to interact in similarity as portrayed through the video game (Gonzalez et al., 2005; Huesmann et al., 2003). Violent video games tend to enhance aggressive inhibition that would affect children’s cognitive development. Disney Movies, cartoons and TV shows designed for children can potentially impede positive social development, which enhances academically, as well as, developing critical thinking skills (Anderson et al., 2003;

Social Cognition and Violence


Gonzalez et al, 2005; Huesmann et al., 2003). By influencing the arousal of the stimuli during the early phases of life’s development could potentially impose harm on children. Earlier findings discovered a relationship that exists between media violence and human aggression, especially within a vulnerable population, children (Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Anderson et al., 2003).

Cognitive Theory in relation to violent behavior Cognitive is a thought process of an individual’s social environment that can latter determine his or her social identity (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). The cognition cultivates the individual personnel identity, especially within a social setting, such as, poverty, domestic violence and other social setting. Cultural violence reinforces aggression within society, especially within a vulnerable society, such as, children (Anderson et al., 2003). Subcultural violence has tendencies to influence society to behave violently, which could potentially influence society to commit other types of aggressive and violent acts (Anderson et al., 2003). Therefore, media violence becomes a contributor, reinforcement model, because it is link to aggressive and violent behavior (Anderson et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003). Violent behavior is a social learning process; it is first preceded by acts of aggression, which is vulnerable to children (Anderson et al., 2003). Although, aggressive and violent behavior can be hereditary it can also be inhibited socially through excessive exposure of aggressive and violent acts portrayed to children. As a result, it impedes the positive social development of children, because children brain is still within the development process (Anderson et al., 2003). For example, children could learn

Social Cognition and Violence


aggressive and violent behavior by interacting with violent video games. And, it is reinforce by their social counterparts (Huesmann et al., 2003). According to Huesmann et al., (2003), purported that children could learn aggressive and violent behavior through a social learning process called direct reinforcement, punishment and observational learning. Direct reinforcement is a social learning process that influences aggressive behavior that is impose on children within their social environment. As a result, aggressive and violent behavior portrayed thought the media influences children cognition, which influences attitude and social behavior (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). Punishment is when aggression fails, therefore, aggressive behavior is likely to be used, for example, children that are punished for aggressive behavior such as school misconduct can be reintegrated as social inhibition, which has similarity to predisposition (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). The schematic and scriptive theory describes how children and adolescents can socially learn aggressive and violent behavior through either the characters portrayed throughout the media, and-or other social actors (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). A child exposed to violent video games is just as Similar, to children and adolescents witnessing a crime. For example, auto theft, robbery and drug transaction, just to mention a few (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). Children exposed to excessive aggressive and violent behavior would learn that aggressive and violent behavior does work; therefore, crime would do likewise. According to Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, (2005) purported social facilitation is a well-learned behavior that is influence by others. In other words, negative social peers and media violence are facilitators to teach children and adolescents that aggressive and

Social Cognition and Violence


violent behavior is socially accepted (Anderson et al., 2003; Brown & HamiltonGiachristis, 2005; Huesmann et al., 2003). The relation between peer influencing and media violence such as, violent video games is to influence social reinforcement that influences aggressive behavior (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). Children being exposed to excessive media violence Generally children are exposed to media violence in several different ways, for example, domestic and neighborhood violence (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). Earlier studies suggested of two variables that tend to interrelate, which is media and social violence (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005; Green & Krcmar, 2005; Huesmann et al., 2003; Kronenberger et al., 2005). Furthermore, determining both causal and a correlation affecting children cognition, this developed a cognitive aggression while interacting with violent video games (Anderson & Bushman, 2003). Some earlier studies supported a significant in children behavior while interacting with violent video games. First, the study was conducted in a laboratory, and secondly, within the children’s home, and the results from both separate study had similar results (Chory-Assad, 2005). Quite the contrary, a study performed within the home was difficult, because of other social factors, which pre-existed within the home; however, the level of aggression interacting with media violence has similarity (Brown & HamiltonGiachristis, 2005). According to Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, (2005) studies done in a laboratory did result a linking of children and adolescent aggression with media violence. Studies performed within the home was difficult too determined, because of other social factors, for example, earlier researchers were able too determine a causal link with

Social Cognition and Violence


other variables, but experience difficulties linking media violence with aggressive behavior (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). As a result, researchers were able to determine a correlation rather than a causal affect linking aggressive behavior with media violence (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). In other words, suggesting the other factors of aggressive and violent behavior within the home increase the level of aggression in children within the home. Therefore, media violence such as violent video games became a reinforcement model rather involving any causal link to aggressive behavior (Brown & Hamilton-Giachristis, 2005). Aggressive cognition is hostile thoughts that are socially inhibited within children memory (Anderson & Bushman, 2003). The script theory describes how children can learn violent behavior through scriptive role modeling, which describes as children observed excessive violence in the media they can learn from the script (Anderson et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003). As a result, it becomes a social role model, which can potentially guides children and adolescents thought process. Furthermore, cultivating both attitudes and social behavior, this affects both social development and interaction within their environment (Anderson et al., 2003). Violence in the media has biosocial affects, especially on children, for example, the heart, and brain and children central nervous system. As a result, it cultivates children cognition, which affects their attitude and social behavior (Jarrett, 2005). For example, earlier studies revealed how violent video games affect the brain waves, but also, affected the central nervous system (CNS). According to Jarrett (2005), purported 71 participants, adolescents (10-13 years of age) while playing violent video games had their brain scanned through an MRI scanner. While interacting with violent video games the scanner

Social Cognition and Violence


revealed the anterior cingulated cortex, and the amygdala, which is the emotion region was suppressed (Jarrett, 2005). Study also showed suppression of certain physiological chemistries within the amygdala, which affect positive emotion, empathy and the cognitive rational were also suppressed (Jarrett, 2005). Therefore, the method of human reasoning within the minds of children exposed to excessively media violence was suppressed (Jarrett, 2005). Furthermore, revealing less cognitive rationale would determine little or no empathy towards either individual and-or society. Also the lacking of dopamine, which is a chemical substance within the central nervous system (CNS). In other words, the chemistry governing human reasoning were suppressed while the children where intensely engaged with violent video games (Jarrett, 2005). Therefore, children excessively exposed to violent video games are similar to individual soldiers engaged in battle (Jarrett, 2005; Jipguep et al., 2003). In fact, the social learning process of learning violent behavior can potentially affect children social role within society (Jarrett, 2005; Jipguep & Phillip-Sanders, 2003). Violent motive is the act of defeating your opponent, or victim while interacting with violent video games (Trend, 2003, p. 286). Also, developing negative responses of anger, frustration while imposing harm to both your victim and-or your opponent (Jarrett, 2005, Jipguep et al., 2003, Trend, 2003). Studies have showed children become arouse or intensified while heavily engaging with violent video games, for instance, aggression and acts of violence arouse the physiological component of aggression within the children stimuli (Jarrett, 2005). For example, who had their heads scanned while interacting with violent video games

Social Cognition and Violence


revealed certain regions within both the brain and the central nervous system were suppressed (Jarrett, 2005). As a result, it affects the arousal/attention, which detects a threat, as well as, episodic memory encoding and retrieval motor programming (Jarrett, 2005). In other words, excessive exposure of violent video games could intensify from an earlier arousal of threat perception, which could be very harmful to children brain development (Jipguep et al., 2003). As a result, it can potentially develop into a long-term memory storage, which can potentially affect young adulthood (Jipguep et al., 2003).

Video games and children Children reaction to aggressive and-or violent behavior is different, in contrast, to adults’ aggressive and violent responses (Funk, Chan, Brower, Margaret, Jason, Curtis, Kathleen, and Simili, 2006). Therefore, children and adult interaction with violent video games would also differ, because children would react to aggressive scripts and violent behavior differently than adults (Funk et al., 2006). Children would be most affected by the arousal of aggressive acts, because their brain is still within a developing phase, whereas, adults brain are already developed (Funk et al., 2006). For example, children are commonly exposed to action hero characters, which demonstrate to resolve a social issue was through acts of aggression (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). The framework would be the children’s brain, because they will learn aggressive and violent scripts, which can potentially be utilize within a social situation (Funk et al., 2006; Huesmann et al., 2003). Potentially children could learn how both aggressive and violent behavior is socially accepted in different ways, because acts of aggression and

Social Cognition and Violence


violent behavior are constantly portrayed through several different media outlets (Funk et al., 2006 Huesmann et al., 2003). Usually, children become arouse while viewing the interaction of aggressive and violent behavior, because it is demonstrated to them as a positive method to get the bad guy concept. Therefore, the continuous exposure of certain characters portrayed though the media would become a reinforcement model for children and adolescents (Funk et al., 2006; Huesmann et al., 2003). The reinforcement model is the excessive exposure of violence to children, which is very common in violent video games (Funk et al., 2006; Huesmann et al., 2003; Wei, 2007). Children excessively exposed to violent video games could potentially become less empathetic within their social environment (Wei, 2007). Violent video games tend to target children through several different ways: First, through children programming that extends to market into violent video games, for instance, TV Mutant Turtles, which is a cartoon that later marketed into violent video game (Lehman & Bushman, 2006; Levin and Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Furthermore, other children media programs also portrayed similarities of not only once a cartoon program, but later marketed as a violent video game (Lehman & Bushman, 2006). As a result, children are becoming more exposed to violent video games, which is also becoming more to violence, and as a result, becoming desentization towards violence (Huesmann et al., 2003). In addition, violent video games is becoming more of a reinforcement model, however, depending upon children‘s environment other aggressive and violent factors could also be a reinforcement model (Lehman & Bushman, 2006). For example, children of color and poverty are easily targets for violent video games, because they are

Social Cognition and Violence


disproportionate to reside in communities of higher crime rate (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003; Coates et al., 2008). Although, media literacy purports children entertainment is a period of interaction, therefore, becoming a reinforcement model of reminding children that aggressive and violent behavior is still socially accepted (Gonzalez, et al., 2006; Huesmann et al., 2003). For example, recently children have been educated of the violence portrayed within the media and its danger; however, children were already exposed to violence within the home (Gonzalez et al., 2006). Violence in the home portrayed through media violence, therefore, it is not just domestic violence (Coats et al., 2008; Gonzalez et al., 2006). And, as a result, children would become desensitize towards aggressive and violent behavior. Also, children become less empathetic towards others within their social environment (Huesmann et al., 2003). Playing violent video games is very powerful, because earlier studies purported teaching violence is an active learning environment (Funk et al., 2006). Excessive exposure to violence demonstrates how violent behavior does work through rehearsing aggressive and violent scripts, and it is reinforce through other social role modeling; such as, poor-parenting and social peer-groups (Funk et al., 2006). As a result, children entering into adolescents through young adulthood would become desensitize towards aggressive and violent behavior, as well as, less empathetic towards society (Funk et al., 2006; Huesmann et al., 2003; Levin-Carlsson-Paige, 2003; Wei, 2007). Play versus imitating other role models Playtime for children is the process of children creating an imagination, which creates ambition, experience and satisfying certain social needs (Levin & Carlsson-Paige,

Social Cognition and Violence


2003). The ability and the experience and needs children undergo during playtime is the beginning of development phases of childhood development (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Children develop the ability to perform certain t0ask and duties while they imagine whatever they desire to fulfill, for example, an imagination play friend. However, the need for playtime must be a positive experience, which provides positive social development (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Positive social development is the same as positive playtime, because it is a healthier path for social development (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Children can learn problem-solving abilities or skills, similarity as scriptwriters, actors, prop people and directors. In other words, in control of their social environment, this promotes positive social interactions amongst other social peers, which can lead into a positive social development in their early adulthood (Levin-Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Children learning positive development can be reinforce in several ways; for instance, toys, time and space, which involves culture that encourages children to develop an evolution process of a healthier development (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Quite the contrary, nowadays, toys for the most part promote a negative connotation of aggressive and violent behavior to children, especially within an early age (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). The problematic issue of promoting aggressive and violent behavior to children and adolescents began since the deregulation of children television in the 1980’s (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). The deregulation allowed the movies and music industries to promote and-or enhance the aggressive and violence displayed throughout the media into

Social Cognition and Violence


other innuendos. Toys, television programming, video games and movies, which promote acts of aggression and violent behavior that affect children development (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003, p. 427). In other words, children programs and movies are link to violent video games and toys that stem to glorify acts of aggressive and violent behavior (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003, p. 427). When children interact with positive social exposure it is performed through positive language, not with the language of aggressive and violent behavior, which affects children cognition, which promotes the concepts of teaching children how to remedy similar social dispute (Huesmann et al, 2003; Levin et al., 2003).

Marketing violence to children Marketing violence to children is teaching adult aggression (Huesmann et al., 2003). Because of the fact, adult aggression is a language adults could understand, and children would have difficulty (Anderson et al., 2003). Children perceive violence and aggressive behavior or acts much differently, because children brain are still within the developmental phase; whereas, adults, is fully develop (Gonzalez, et al., 2005). Children excessively exposed to violence can potentially affect their cognition, which can affect their cognitive skills, which is link to both values and belief system (Huesmann et al., 2003). Therefore, developing the potentiality of developing an aggressive and violent lifestyle, this can affect early adulthood (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Violent video games are vitally to intrigue newer generation, especially, during the deregulation of children program in the 1980’s. Since the deregulation children and

Social Cognition and Violence


adolescents in the era experience a different social interaction that prior generation did not. This is a development to a sociological change within society. Identifying aggressive and violent behavior, and yet, glorify aggressive and violent acts (Levin & CarlssonPaige, 2003). For example, in the early 1980’s video programs reach the markets; such as, Atari and Nintendo, which displayed video games called “Pac-Man”, “Mario” and “Space Invaders”. Atari and Nintendo programs were the first too launched aggressive and violent video games, which intrigue the minds of both children and adolescents. As a result, children became more aggressive, because not only violent video games entertain aggression and violent behavior, but also it is reinforce (Bandura, 2001). In addition, aggressive and violent programs exposed to children that such behavior is socially acceptable within their social environment. And, as a result, it affects their young adulthood (Guerra et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003; Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003).

Paving the way towards violence Since the deregulation of children programming in the 1980’s paved the way for media link to toy corporation to market violence to children (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Paving the way to a newer culture of aggressive and violent behavior portrays to children and adolescents that aggressive and violent behavior is socially acceptable within their environment (Anderson et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 20003; Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). In addition, to a sociological change of technology, which is a newer culture promoting aggressive and violent behavior within most children, especially children excessively exposed to a violent culture. As a result, it has affected society in

Social Cognition and Violence


several ways: First, accelerating aggressive and violent behavior through media programs that are market to children, and secondly, cultivating the minds of children that impede their cognition process, which orchestrates attitudes and social behavior (Guerra et al., 2003). The birth of modern technology allows children and adolescents to develop a newer culture of becoming more desensitized towards aggressive and violent behavior. For example, violent video games are an ever-increasing entertainment, especially for both children and adolescents (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003). Advance technology of media products and unlimited Internet entertainment promoting aggressive and violent behavior has influence society, in contrast, to prior years (Wang & Lin, 2007). Furthermore, as adolescents enter into young adulthood the excessive exposure of violence prior to reaching young adulthood has been extremely high (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). For example, currently, about 90% of children know how to utilize a video handgun, which has similar characteristic to a real handgun (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). Children on the average had witness over 20,000 acts of violence, such as, murders and other types of criminal behavior, which can potentially affect their young adulthood (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2003). The affect that excessive violent video games have on most young adults is becoming more desensitized towards aggressive and violent behavior, for example, more embracive to watching wrestling (Anderson et al., 2003; Huesmann et al., 2003). Adolescents tend to pave the way of linking violent video games, because violent video games is the next phase after toy’s which also were designed to glorify aggressive

Social Cognition and Violence


and violent behavior. In addition, other children and teenage programs, which were designed to entertain and promote aggressive and violent behavior (Levin & CarlssonPaige, 2003). Toys and children programming tend to have the foundational root of exposing violent and aggressive behavior to children and adolescents. Conclusion Media violence affects children in several different ways, children already exposed to other factors of violence, and children in non-violent social settings. It is also a reinforcement model to children who are already exposed to social violence. Children excessively expose to media violence, especially, violent video games can potentially develop desensitization. Excessive exposure to violent video games intensifies aggressive cognition that influences aggressive behavior and antisocialism. Excessive exposure to violent video games can cause children to develop antisocialism because some children suffer from either severe emotional problems and-or disruptive behavior disorder. Mass media is an influential mechanism that tends to influence society to socially behave, especially children, which could potentially affect their young adulthood. The character role model displayed in the media has become the dominating role model that influences society’s attitude, which cultivates social behavior. Violence is a part of the human and animal culture, because aggression is a basic animal distinct. However, aggression exists in certain levels within human nature, but depending on the individual’s and-or society predisposition to violence can determine the outcome.

Social Cognition and Violence


The problematic issue is that media violence has tendency to stimulate aggression, especially, among children. Children already exposed to excessive violence would tend to embrace media violence, because it provides the sense of gratification. It is evident that media violence as Bandura described is a social role model that implicates society would imitate, especially, children. Further exploration is suggested for future study, which is to examine two variables, media and social violence within the home. This perhaps would determine if there is any correlation. Furthermore, it would be difficult too determine the relation between children aggression and media violence, such as, violent video games and children programming. There have also been other variables most researchers in the past overlooked. And as a result, mislead several researchers determining any causal affect between media violence and children aggression. In addition, as to how it would affect children cognition, which cultivates the development of children attitude and social behavior. Influencing children’s attitude and social behavior should be governed by either parental and-or guardian social role modeling. Parents should recognize the intended means of the mass media which intention to supersede the traditional parental role modeling within the home. Although, parents are already accustomed to the mass media in regards to violent movies and violent video games, because of the fact violence in this magnitude is culturally accepted in most electrified societies. Children excessively exposed to media violence has potential biopsychosocial ramification, especially, children with emotional problems, and children with disruptive behavior disorders. Furthermore, children excessively exposed to media violence could

Social Cognition and Violence


potentially develop intense fear, anger, and bitter frustration at an early age. Also developing violent aggressive behavior at an earlier time period, which could potentially lead into deviant and-or criminal behavior.

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