Media Influences on Pro and Antisocial Behavior

In the 1950s & 60s, concerns grew over the increasing levels of violence on TV.
Research in this area has focused on two areas:
1) The effect of the media on violent behaviour
2) The development & expression of prosocial behaviour

Media Influences on Prosocial Behavior

Studies have consistently found that children imitate
prosocial behavior: altruism, helping, delay of
gratification & positive interaction with others.
Bryan & Bryan (1970) showed 6 - 9 yr olds a film
showing a character winning gift certificates then either
(i) giving some of these to charity or (ii) keeping them.
Children who had seen the character being generous were
likely to display generosity.
Lovelace & Huston (1983) reviewed the studies &
concluded that programmes with a prosocial message
were effective in producing prosocial behaviors in viewers. However, these behaviors
tend not to be generalized into everyday behavior. Broadcasts with a dramatic
prosocial storyline are more likely to help children to generalize the behaviors to their
own lives than short clips of instruction about prosocial behavior.
Application - children who have serious difficulties making friends and getting on
with others can watch fictional scenarios in which they see how to mix with others to
learn social skills.
Rushton & Owen (1975) suggested that such effects tend to wear off in a week or two.
Research carried out in a
laboratory setting using short
clips showing only prosocial
behavior may produce
artificiality, giving them poor
ecological validity and making it
difficult to generalize the
findings to other situations.
Paulson (1974) carried out
research on 'Sesame Street' over
a 6 month period. Children who
had seen programmes designed
to teach cooperation scored
higher on scores of cooperation
than those who had not.
However, they did not find an increase in the general level of prosocial behavior in
these children.
Friedrich & Stein (1973) found that when such broadcasts are used as part of a larger
programme they can increase certain prosocial behaviors in children from low socio-
economic backgrounds. Johnston & Ettema (1986) found that broadcasts designed to
reduce sex-role stereotypes among children has been shown to be effective in
changing children's beliefs.
Hearold (1986) reviewed research on media influence & concluded that the positive
effects on prosocial behavior were stronger & more consistent than the negative
effects on antisocial behavior.

Media Influences on Antisocial Behavior
Moral Panics
Pearson (1984) - there has been a long history of moral panics about the harmful
effects of popular culture such as comics and popular theatre in the 19th century,
followed by the cinema, television, video & computer games.

National Television Violence
Study (MediaScope Inc. February 1996)
Largest ever study of media content,
focusing on:
1. The amount & context of violence on
2. The effectiveness of ratings systems
for films (e.g. '18', 'PG')
3. The success of antiviolence messages
Key finding included:
· The context in which most violence is presented on TV poses risks for viewers
· Perpetrators go unpunished in 73% of all violent scenes
· The negative consequences of violence are not often portrayed in violent
· 25% of violent interactions involves the use of handguns
· Only 4% of violent programmes emphasize an anti-violent theme
· Children's programmes are the least likely of all to show the long-term consequences
of violence (only 5% did so)

Correlational Studies
· Robinson & Bachman (1972) - found a positive
correlation between number of hours of TV watched &
self-reports of involvement in aggressive/antisocial
· Aitkin et al. (1979) - found that 45% of 9-13 year olds
who watched a lot of TV violence gave aggressive
responses to imaginary scenarios, whereas only 21% of those who watched little TV
violence gave aggressive responses.
· Phillips (1983) - found that over a six year period, whenever a major soap opera
character committed suicide on TV, within 3 days there was a significant increase in
the number of female suicides across the USA.
Studies suggest a link, not necessarily a causal relationship.

Experimental Studies
The Bobo Experiment, Albert Bandura (1963) - Father of Social Learning Theory &
Social Cognitive Theory
Four groups of preschool children put into play room with
Bobo doll:
· One group watched no model
· Three groups watched model physically and verbally
abusing Bobo doll
· First group showed no aggression towards the Bobo doll
· Three groups that saw model showed aggression towards
the Bobo doll:
Displayed same violent acts as model
Conclusion: Exposure to televised violence can
produce an increase in aggressive behaviour.
The validity of such experiments has been
questioned because of the artificiality of the
laboratory situation. Some field studies also
support the idea that aggressive children may
become more aggressive if they are exposed to
aggressive films, and less aggressive if
exposed to films showing prosocial behaviour
(e.g. Stein & Friedrich, 1972; Parke et al, 1977). However, Hearold's (1986) meta-
analysis found an effect for laboratory experiments, but no effect for field

Natural Experiments
Hennigan et al. (1982) compared American cities that had TV with those that did not -
no differences between the cities were found in the violent crime rates. Furthermore,
when TV was introduced to the cities without TV, there was no increase in violent
Williams (1986) compared 3 Canadian cities:
· No TV
· 1 TV channel
· 4 TV channels
Results indicated that the children in the city
with no TV became significantly more
aggressive, both physically & verbally, after
the introduction of TV.
In conclusion, it is difficult to make any definite conclusions from these natural
experiments as to whether there is a relationship between the introduction of TV and
increases in aggression, due to differences in the comparison groups & confounding

Longitudinal Studies
Lefkowitz et al. (1972)
· Preference for TV violence at age 8 was
significantly related to aggression (measured
by peer-ratings) at age 8.
· Preference for TV violence at age 18 was not
significantly related to aggression at age 18.
· However, there was a significant relationship
for boys between preference for TV violence at
age 8 and aggression at age 18.

Long range Effects of Television Violence
William Belson (1978)
· 1,565 teenage (13-17 yr olds) boys divided into two groups
· One group watched excessive amounts of television during childhood
· One group watched below average quantities
of television
· Group that watched excessive television
committed crimes, such as rape and assault
49% more often than other group
· Group that watched below average amount
television less likely to commit crimes
· Children who witness violent behavior on
television are very likely to:
· Imitate it
· See it as normal
· Commit various violent crimes
· Television violence undoubtedly causes aggressive behavior in children
Although media violence may be demonstrated to have an effect in some people, this
may be more a result of other factors related to the viewers themselves. These include
an individual's perception of and preference for violence, level of the viewer's moral
development, and their family background.

Possible explanations of media effects
Cognitive Priming
Aggressive ideas in violent films can activate other aggressive thoughts through
association in memory pathways (Berkowitz, 1984).
Huesmann (1982) suggests that children learn problem-solving scripts in part from
their observations of others' behavior. These scripts are cognitive expectations about a
sequence of behaviors that may be performed in particular situations. Frequent
exposure to scenes of violence may lead children to store scripts for aggressive
behavior in their memories, and these may be recalled in a later situation if any aspect
of the original situation is similar.

Television viewing as a routine activity
Crimes should be less frequent when the routine activities of potential offenders and
victims reduce their opportunities for contact. Since people watch television at home,
the opportunities for violence, at least with people outside the family, are probably
reduced. Messner (1986) found that cities with high levels of TV viewing have lower
rates of both violent and nonviolent crime.
Theoretical explanations involving socialization
Bandura (1986) claimed that people are more violent because they learn to be violent
from their parents, peers, and the media.
· Learning novel forms of behaviour - teaching new violent behaviors, copycat
behaviors (e.g. mimicing martial arts moves, re-enacting torture scenes, etc.)
· Vicarious reinforcement & justification - violence which goes unpunished, or is
successful in gaining the desired objective, or is portrayed as justifiable gives out the
message that violence/crime does pay and is justifiable, and reinforces such behaviors
so that they are more likely to be imitated by the viewers.
· Creating unrealistic fear - heavy TV viewers are more likely to overestimate their
chances of being criminally victimized (Gunter, 1994). This may lead them to
perceive threats where they do not exist and to respond aggressively.
· Desensitization - frequent viewing of TV violence may cause viewers to be become
desensitised to violence so that they perceive it as 'normal'/acceptable, and so be more
likely to engage in violent behavior.

Desensitization to Violence Study - Drabman and Thomas, 1974
Two groups consisting of forty-four boys and girls
· One group saw violent western movie
· One group saw no movie
Children asked to babysit two younger children
These two children showed highly aggressive behavior to one another Babysitters

· Group that had seen violent movie waited to go get an adult
· Group that had not seen violent movie went to get adult immediately
· Children who witness violence on TV are more likely to view aggressive behaviour
as normal/acceptable.

Problems with the Effects Model of Media Violence
1. The assumption that the media, not violent people, should be the starting point for
· It has been suggested that rather than concentrating on the media to explain the
behavior of offenders, researchers should concentrate of the offenders themselves.
· Hagel and Newburn (1994) - found young offenders watched less TV & video than
· According to Gauntlett (1998) researchers have portrayed children as 'the inept
victims of products, which… can trick children in to all kinds of ill advised behavior'.
But research suggests that children do understand the media, and are able to talk
intelligently (and cynically) about it.
2. The problems with the validity of scientific research:
· Many investigations into media effects are characterized by artificiality which
reduces their ecological validity - participants are shown specially selected or
recorded clips, which lack the narrative meaning present in everyday TV productions.
· Finding from research are not consistent, and sometimes are contradictory.
· Some studies which only show a correlation with media violence are treated as if the
relationship is causal.
3. Screen fiction is of concern whilst news pictures are not:
· The kinds of media violence which are typically condemned by the effects model are
limited to fictional programmes. The acts of violence that appear on our TV screens
on news programmes are somehow exempt from this condemnation. This is even
more puzzling when we consider the fact that in fictional drama, the majority of
antisocial acts have negative consequences for the perpetrator, but in documentary
clips of violent acts, there are few apparent negative consequences for the

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