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Thesis Statements about Social Media: 21 Examples and Tips

  • by Judy Jeni
  • January 27, 2024

Writing Thesis Statements Based On Social Media

A thesis statement is a sentence in the introduction paragraph of an essay that captures the purpose of the essay. Using thesis statements about social media as an example, I will guide you on how to write them well.

It can appear anywhere in the first paragraph of the essay but it is mostly preferred when it ends the introduction paragraph. learning how to write a thesis statement for your essay will keep you focused.

A thesis statement can be more than one sentence only when the essay is on complex topics and there is a need to break the statement into two. This means, a good thesis statement structures an essay and tells the reader what an essay is all about.

A good social media thesis statement should be about a specific aspect of social media and not just a broad view of the topic.

The statement should be on the last sentence of the first paragraph and should tell the reader about your stand on the social media issue you are presenting or arguing in the essay.

Reading an essay without a thesis statement is like solving a puzzle. Readers will have to read the conclusion to at least grasp what the essay is all about. It is therefore advisable to craft a thesis immediately after researching an essay.

Throughout your entire writing, every point in every paragraph should connect to the thesis.  In case it doesn’t then probably you have diverged from the main issue of the essay.

How to Write a Thesis Statement?

Writing a thesis statement is important when writing an essay on any topic, not just about social media. It is the key to holding your ideas and arguments together into just one sentence.

The following are tips on how to write a good thesis statement:

Start With a Question and Develop an Answer

writing your thesis

If the question is not provided, come up with your own. Start by deciding the topic and what you would like to find out about it.

Secondly, after doing some initial research on the topic find the answers to the topic that will help and guide the process of researching and writing.

Consequently, if you write a thesis statement that does not provide information about your research topic, you need to construct it again.

Be Specific

The main idea of your essay should be specific. Therefore, the thesis statement of your essay should not be vague. When your thesis statement is too general, the essay will try to incorporate a lot of ideas that can contribute to the loss of focus on the main ideas.

Similarly, specific and narrow thesis statements help concentrate your focus on evidence that supports your essay. In like manner, a specific thesis statement tells the reader directly what to expect in the essay.

Make the Argument Clear

Usually, essays with less than one thousand words require the statement to be clearer. Remember, the length of a thesis statement should be a single sentence, which calls for clarity.

In these short essays, you do not have the freedom to write long paragraphs that provide more information on the topic of the essay.

Likewise, multiple arguments are not accommodated. This is why the thesis statement needs to be clear to inform the reader of what your essay is all about.

If you proofread your essay and notice that the thesis statement is contrary to the points you have focused on, then revise it and make sure that it incorporates the main idea of the essay. Alternatively, when the thesis statement is okay, you will have to rewrite the body of your essay.

Question your Assumptions

thinking about your arguments

Before formulating a thesis statement, ask yourself the basis of the arguments presented in the thesis statement.

Assumptions are what your reader assumes to be true before accepting an argument. Before you start, it is important to be aware of the target audience of your essay.

Thinking about the ways your argument may not hold up to the people who do not subscribe to your viewpoint is crucial.

Alongside, revise the arguments that may not hold up with the people who do not subscribe to your viewpoint.

Take a Strong Stand

A thesis statement should put forward a unique perspective on what your essay is about. Avoid using observations as thesis statements.

In addition, true common facts should be avoided. Make sure that the stance you take can be supported with credible facts and valid reasons.

Equally, don’t provide a summary, make a valid argument. If the first response of the reader is “how” and “why” the thesis statement is too open-ended and not strong enough.

Make Your Thesis Statement Seen

The thesis statement should be what the reader reads at the end of the first paragraph before proceeding to the body of the essay. understanding how to write a thesis statement, leaves your objective summarized.

Positioning may sometimes vary depending on the length of the introduction that the essay requires. However, do not overthink the thesis statement. In addition, do not write it with a lot of clever twists.

Do not exaggerate the stage setting of your argument. Clever and exaggerated thesis statements are weak. Consequently, they are not clear and concise.

Good thesis statements should concentrate on one main idea. Mixing up ideas in a thesis statement makes it vague. Read on how to write an essay thesis as part of the steps to write good essays.

A reader may easily get confused about what the essay is all about if it focuses on a lot of ideas. When your ideas are related, the relation should come out more clearly.

21 Examples of Thesis Statements about Social Media

social media platforms

  • Recently, social media is growing rapidly. Ironically, its use in remote areas has remained relatively low.
  • Social media has revolutionized communication but it is evenly killing it by limiting face-to-face communication.
  • Identically, social media has helped make work easier. However,at the same time it is promoting laziness and irresponsibility in society today.
  • The widespread use of social media and its influence has increased desperation, anxiety, and pressure among young youths.
  • Social media has made learning easier but its addiction can lead to bad grades among university students.
  • As a matter of fact, social media is contributing to the downfall of mainstream media. Many advertisements and news are accessed on social media platforms today.
  • Social media is a major promoter of immorality in society today with many platforms allowing sharing of inappropriate content.
  • Significantly, social media promotes copycat syndrome that positively and negatively impacts the behavior adapted by different users.
  • In this affluent era, social media has made life easy but consequently affects productivity and physical strength.
  • The growth of social media and its ability to reach more people increases growth in today’s business world.
  • The freedom on social media platforms is working against society with the recent increase in hate speech and racism.
  • Lack of proper verification when signing up on social media platforms has increased the number of minors using social media exposing them to cyberbullying and inappropriate content.
  • The freedom of posting anything on social media has landed many in trouble making the need to be cautious before posting anything important.
  • The widespread use of social media has contributed to the rise of insecurity in urban centers
  • Magazines and journals have spearheaded the appreciation of all body types but social media has increased the rate of body shaming in America.
  • To stop abuse on Facebook and Twitter the owners of these social media platforms must track any abusive post and upload and ban the users from accessing the apps.
  • Social media benefits marketing by creating brand recognition, increasing sales, and measuring success with analytics by tracking data.
  • Social media connects people around the globe and fosters new relationships and the sharing of ideas that did not exist before its inception.
  • The increased use of social media has led to the creation of business opportunities for people through social networking, particularly as social media influencers.
  • Learning is convenient through social media as students can connect with education systems and learning groups that make learning convenient.
  • With most people spending most of their free time glued to social media, quality time with family reduces leading to distance relationships and reduced love and closeness.

Judy Jeni

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The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research

L. rowell huesmann.

The University of Michigan

Since the early 1960s research evidence has been accumulating that suggests that exposure to violence in television, movies, video games, cell phones, and on the internet increases the risk of violent behavior on the viewer’s part just as growing up in an environment filled with real violence increases the risk of them behaving violently. In the current review this research evidence is critically assessed, and the psychological theory that explains why exposure to violence has detrimental effects for both the short run and long run is elaborated. Finally, the size of the “media violence effect” is compared with some other well known threats to society to estimate how important a threat it should be considered.

One of the notable changes in our social environment in the 20 th and 21st centuries has been the saturation of our culture and daily lives by the mass media. In this new environment radio, television, movies, videos, video games, cell phones, and computer networks have assumed central roles in our children’s daily lives. For better or worse the mass media are having an enormous impact on our children’s values, beliefs, and behaviors. Unfortunately, the consequences of one particular common element of the electronic mass media has a particularly detrimental effect on children’s well being. Research evidence has accumulated over the past half-century that exposure to violence on television, movies, and most recently in video games increases the risk of violent behavior on the viewer’s part just as growing up in an environment filled with real violence increases the risk of violent behavior. Correspondingly, the recent increase in the use of mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail, and chat rooms by our youth have opened new venues for social interaction in which aggression can occur and youth can be victimized – new venues that break the old boundaries of family, neighborhood, and community that might have protected our youth to some extent in the past. These globe spanning electronic communication media have not really introduced new psychological threats to our children, but they have made it much harder to protect youth from the threats and have exposed many more of them to threats that only a few might have experienced before. It is now not just kids in bad neighborhoods or with bad friends who are likely to be exposed to bad things when they go out on the street. A ‘virtual’ bad street is easily available to most youth now. However, our response should not be to panic and keep our children “indoors” because the “streets” out there are dangerous. The streets also provide wonderful experiences and help youth become the kinds of adults we desire. Rather our response should be to understand the dangers on the streets, to help our children understand and avoid the dangers, to avoid exaggerating the dangers which will destroy our credibility, and also to try to control exposure to the extent we can.

Background for the Review

Different people may have quite different things in mind when they think of media violence. Similarly, among the public there may be little consensus on what constitutes aggressive and violent behavior . Most researchers, however, have clear conceptions of what they mean by media violence and aggressive behavior.

Most researchers define media violence as visual portrayals of acts of physical aggression by one human or human-like character against another. This definition has evolved as theories about the effects of media violence have evolved and represents an attempt to describe the kind of violent media presentation that is most likely to teach the viewer to be more violent. Movies depicting violence of this type were frequent 75 years ago and are even more frequent today, e.g., M, The Maltese Falcon, Shane, Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, Kill Bill . Violent TV programs became common shortly after TV became common in American homes about 55 years ago and are common today, e.g., Gunsmoke, Miami Vice, CSI, and 24. More recently, video games, internet displays, and cell phone displays have become part of most children’s growing-up, and violent displays have become common on them, e.g., Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, Warrior .

To most researchers, aggressive behavior refers to an act that is intended to injure or irritate another person. Laymen may call assertive salesmen “aggressive,” but researchers do not because there is no intent to harm. Aggression can be physical or non-physical. It includes many kinds of behavior that do not seem to fit the commonly understood meaning of “violence.” Insults and spreading harmful rumors fit the definition. Of course, the aggressive behaviors of greatest concern clearly involve physical aggression ranging in severity from pushing or shoving, to fighting, to serious assaults and homicide. In this review he term violent behavior is used to describe these more serious forms of physical aggression that have a significant risk of seriously injuring the victim.

Violent or aggressive actions seldom result from a single cause; rather, multiple factors converging over time contribute to such behavior. Accordingly, the influence of the violent mass media is best viewed as one of the many potential factors that influence the risk for violence and aggression. No reputable researcher is suggesting that media violence is “the” cause of violent behavior. Furthermore, a developmental perspective is essential for an adequate understanding of how media violence affects youthful conduct and in order to formulate a coherent response to this problem. Most youth who are aggressive and engage in some forms of antisocial behavior do not go on to become violent teens and adults [ 1 ]. Still, research has shown that a significant proportion of aggressive children are likely to grow up to be aggressive adults, and that seriously violent adolescents and adults often were highly aggressive and even violent as children [ 2 ]. The best single predictor of violent behavior in older adolescents, young adults, and even middle aged adults is aggressive behavior when they were younger. Thus, anything that promotes aggressive behavior in young children statistically is a risk factor for violent behavior in adults as well.

Theoretical Explanations for Media Violence Effects

In order to understand the empirical research implicating violence in electronic media as a threat to society, an understanding of why and how violent media cause aggression is vital. In fact, psychological theories that explain why media violence is such a threat are now well established. Furthermore, these theories also explain why the observation of violence in the real world – among the family, among peers, and within the community – also stimulates aggressive behavior in the observer.

Somewhat different processes seem to cause short term effects of violent content and long term effects of violent content, and that both of these processes are distinct from the time displacement effects that engagement in media may have on children. Time displacement effects refer to the role of the mass media (including video games) in displacing other activities in which the child might engage which might change the risk for certain kinds of behavior, e.g. replacing reading, athletics, etc. This essay is focusing on the effects of violent media content, and displacement effects will not be reviewed though they may well have important consequences.

Short-term Effects

Most theorists would now agree that the short term effects of exposure to media violence are mostly due to 1) priming processes, 2) arousal processes, and 3) the immediate mimicking of specific behaviors [ 3 , 4 ].

Priming is the process through which spreading activation in the brain’s neural network from the locus representing an external observed stimulus excites another brain node representing a cognition, emotion, or behavior. The external stimulus can be inherently linked to a cognition, e.g., the sight of a gun is inherently linked to the concept of aggression [ 5 ], or the external stimulus can be something inherently neutral like a particular ethnic group (e.g., African-American) that has become linked in the past to certain beliefs or behaviors (e.g., welfare). The primed concepts make behaviors linked to them more likely. When media violence primes aggressive concepts, aggression is more likely.

To the extent that mass media presentations arouse the observer, aggressive behavior may also become more likely in the short run for two possible reasons -- excitation transfer [ 6 ] and general arousal [ 7 ]. First, a subsequent stimulus that arouses an emotion (e.g. a provocation arousing anger) may be perceived as more severe than it is because some of the emotional response stimulated by the media presentation is miss-attributed as due to the provocation transfer. For example, immediately following an exciting media presentation, such excitation transfer could cause more aggressive responses to provocation. Alternatively, the increased general arousal stimulated by the media presentation may simply reach such a peak that inhibition of inappropriate responses is diminished, and dominant learned responses are displayed in social problem solving, e.g. direct instrumental aggression.

The third short term process, imitation of specific behaviors, can be viewed as a special case of the more general long-term process of observational learning [ 8 ]. In recent years evidence has accumulated that human and primate young have an innate tendency to mimic whomever they observe [ 9 ]. Observation of specific social behaviors around them increases the likelihood of children behaving exactly that way. Specifically, as children observe violent behavior, they are prone to mimic it. The neurological process through which this happens is not completely understood, but it seems likely that “mirror neurons,” which fire when either a behavior is observed or when the same behavior is acted out, play an important role [ 10 , 4 ].

Long-term Effects

Long term content effects, on the other hand, seem to be due to 1) more lasting observational learning of cognitions and behaviors (i.e., imitation of behaviors), and 2) activation and desensitization of emotional processes.

Observational learning

According to widely accepted social cognitive models, a person’s social behavior is controlled to a great extent by the interplay of the current situation with the person’s emotional state, their schemas about the world, their normative beliefs about what is appropriate, and the scripts for social behavior that they have learned [ 11 ]. During early, middle, and late childhood children encode in memory social scripts to guide behavior though observation of family, peers, community, and mass media. Consequently observed behaviors are imitated long after they are observed [ 10 ]. During this period, children’s social cognitive schemas about the world around them also are elaborated. For example, extensive observation of violence has been shown to bias children’s world schemas toward attributing hostility to others’ actions. Such attributions in turn increase the likelihood of children behaving aggressively [ 12 ]. As children mature further, normative beliefs about what social behaviors are appropriate become crystallized and begin to act as filters to limit inappropriate social behaviors [ 13 ]. These normative beliefs are influenced in part by children’s observation of the behaviors of those around them including those observed in the mass media.

Desensitization

Long-term socialization effects of the mass media are also quite likely increased by the way the mass media and video games affect emotions. Repeated exposures to emotionally activating media or video games can lead to habituation of certain natural emotional reactions. This process is called “desensitization.” Negative emotions experienced automatically by viewers in response to a particular violent or gory scene decline in intensity after many exposures [ 4 ]. For example, increased heart rates, perspiration, and self-reports of discomfort often accompany exposure to blood and gore. However, with repeated exposures, this negative emotional response habituates, and the child becomes “desensitized.” The child can then think about and plan proactive aggressive acts without experiencing negative affect [ 4 ].

Enactive learning

One more theoretical point is important. Observational learning and desensitization do not occur independently of other learning processes. Children are constantly being conditioned and reinforced to behave in certain ways, and this learning may occur during media interactions. For example, because players of violent video games are not just observers but also “active” participants in violent actions, and are generally reinforced for using violence to gain desired goals, the effects on stimulating long-term increases in violent behavior should be even greater for video games than for TV, movies, or internet displays of violence. At the same time, because some video games are played together by social groups (e.g., multi-person games) and because individual games may often be played together by peers, more complex social conditioning processes may be involved that have not yet been empirically examined. These effects, including effects of selection and involvement, need to be explored.

The Key Empirical Studies

Given this theoretical back ground, let us now examine the empirical research that indicates that childhood exposure to media violence has both short term and long term effects in stimulating aggression and violence in the viewer. Most of this research is on TV, movies, and video games, but from the theory above one can see that the same effects should occur for violence portrayed on various internet sites (e.g., multi-person game sites, video posting sites, chat rooms) and on handheld cell phones or computers.

Violence in Television, Films, and Video Games

The fact that most research on the impact of media violence on aggressive behavior has focused on violence in fictional television and film and video games is not surprising given the prominence of violent content in these media and the prominence of these media in children’s lives.

Children in the United States spend an average of between three and four hours per day viewing television [ 14 ], and the best studies have shown that over 60% of programs contain some violence, and about 40% of those contain heavy violence [ 15 ]. Children are also spending an increasingly large amount of time playing video games, most of which contain violence. Video game units are now present in 83% of homes with children [ 16 ]. In 2004, children spent 49 minutes per day playing video, and on any given day, 52% of children ages 8–18 years play a video game games [ 16 ]. Video game use peaks during middle childhood with an average of 65 minutes per day for 8–10 year-olds, and declines to 33 minutes per day for 15–18 year-olds [ 16 ]. And most of these games are violent; 94% of games rated (by the video game industry) as appropriate for teens are described as containing violence, and ratings by independent researchers suggest that the real percentage may be even higher [ 17 ]. No published study has quantified the violence in games rated ‘M’ for mature—presumably, these are even more likely to be violent.

Meta-analyses that average the effects observed in many studies provide the best overall estimates of the effects of media violence. Two particularly notable meta-analyses are those of Paik and Comstock [ 18 ] and Anderson and Bushman [ 19 ]. The Paik and Comstock meta-analysis focused on violent TV and films while the Anderson and Bushman meta-analysis focused on violent video games.

Paik and Comstock [ 18 ] examined effect sizes from 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990. For the randomized experiments they reviewed, Paik and Comstock found an average effect size ( r =.38, N=432 independent tests of hypotheses) which is moderate to large compared to other public health effects. When the analysis was limited to experiments on physical violence against a person, the average r was still .32 (N=71 independent tests). This meta-analysis also examined cross-sectional and longitudinal field surveys published between 1957 and 1990. For these studies the authors found an average r of .19 (N=410 independent tests). When only studies were used for which the dependent measure was actual physical aggression against another person (N=200), the effect size remained unchanged. Finally, the average correlation of media violence exposure with engaging in criminal violence was .13.

Anderson and Bushman [ 19 ] conducted the key meta-analyses on the effects of violent video games. Their meta-analyses revealed effect sizes for violent video games ranging from .15 to .30. Specifically, playing violent video games was related to increases in aggressive behavior ( r = .27), aggressive affect ( r =.19), aggressive cognitions (i.e., aggressive thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), ( r =.27), and physiological arousal ( r = .22) and was related to decreases in prosocial (helping) behavior ( r = −.27). Furthermore, when studies were coded for the quality of their methodology, the best studies yielded larger effect sizes than the “not-best” studies.

One criticism sometimes leveled at meta-analyses is based on the “file drawer effect.” This refers to the fact that studies with “non-significant” results are less likely to be published and to appear in meta-analyses. However, one can correct for this problem by estimating how many “null-effect” studies it would take to change the results of the meta-analysis. This has been done with the above meta-analyses, and the numbers are very large. For example, Paik and Comstock [ 18 ] show that over 500,000 cases of null effects would have to exist in file drawers to change their overall conclusion of a significant positive relation between exposure to media violence and aggression.

While meta-analyses are good of obtaining a summary view of what the research shows, a better understanding of the research can be obtained by examining a few key specific studies in more detail.

Experiments

Generally, experiments have demonstrated that exposing people, especially children and youth, to violent behavior on film and TV increases the likelihood that they will behave aggressively immediately afterwards. In the typical paradigm, randomly selected individuals are shown either a violent or non-violent short film or TV program or play a violent or non-violent video game and are then observed as they have the opportunity to aggress. For children, this generally means playing with other children in situations that might stimulate conflict; for adults, it generally means participating in a competitive activity in which winning seems to involve inflicting pain on another person.

Children in such experiments who see the violent film clip or play the violent game typically behave more aggressively immediately afterwards than those viewing or playing nonviolence (20, 21, 22). For example, Josephson (22) randomly assigned 396 seven- to nine-year-old boys to watch either a violent or a nonviolent film before they played a game of floor hockey in school. Observers who did not know what movie any boy had seen recorded the number of times each boy physically attacked another boy during the game. Physical attack was defined to include hitting, elbowing, or shoving another player to the floor, as well as tripping, kneeing, and other assaultive behaviors that would be penalized in hockey. For some children, the referees carried a walkie-talkie, a specific cue that had appeared in the violent film that was expected to remind the boys of the movie they had seen earlier. For boys rated by their teacher as frequently aggressive, the combination of seeing a violent film and seeing the movie-associated cue stimulated significantly more assaultive behavior than any other combination of film and cue. Parallel results have been found in randomized experiments for preschoolers who physically attack each other more often after watching violent videos [ 21 ] and for older delinquent adolescents who get into more fights on days they see more violent films [ 23 ].

In a randomized experiment with violent video games, Irwin & Gross [ 24 ] assessed physical aggression (e.g., hitting, shoving, pinching, kicking) between boys who had just played either a violent or a nonviolent video game. Those who had played the violent video game were more physically aggressive toward peers. Other randomized experiments have measured college students’ propensity to be physically aggressive after they had played (or not played) a violent video game. For example, Bartholow &Anderson [ 25 ] found that male and female college students who had played a violent game subsequently delivered more than two and a half times as many high-intensity punishments to a peer as those who played a nonviolent video game. Other experiments have shown that it is the violence in video games, not the excitement that playing them provokes, that produces the increase in aggression [ 26 ].

In summary, experiments unambiguously show that viewing violent videos, films, cartoons, or TV dramas or playing violent video games “cause” the risk to go up that the observing child will behave seriously aggressively toward others immediately afterwards. This is true of preschoolers, elementary school children, high school children, college students, and adults. Those who watch the violent clips tend to behave more aggressively than those who view non-violent clips, and they adopt beliefs that are more “accepting” of violence [ 27 ].

One more quasi-experiment frequently cited by game manufacturers should be mentioned here. Williams and Skoric [ 28 ] have published the results of a dissertation study of cooperative online game playing by adults in which they report no significant long-term effects of playing a violent game on the adult’s behavior. However, the low statistical power of the study, the numerous methodological flaws (self-selection of a biased sample, lack of an adequate control group, the lack of adequate behavioral measures) make the validity of the study highly questionable. Furthermore, the participants were adults for whom there would be little theoretical reason to expect long-term effects.

Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies

Empirical cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of youth behaving and watching or playing violent media in their natural environments do not test causation as well as experiments do, but they provide strong evidence that the causal processes demonstrated in experiments generalize to violence observed in the real world and have significant effects on real world violent behavior. As reported in the discussion of meta-analyses above, the great majority of competently done one-shot survey studies have shown that children who watch more media violence day in and day out behave more aggressively day in and day out [ 18 ]. The relationship is less strong than that observed in laboratory experiments, but it is nonetheless large enough to be socially significant; the correlations obtained are usually are between .15 and .30. Moreover, the relation is highly replicable even across researchers who disagree about the reasons for the relationship [e.g., 29 ] and across countries [ 30 , 31 ].

Complementing these one-time survey studies are the longitudinal real-world studies that have shown correlations over time from childhood viewing of media violence to later adolescent and adult aggressive behavior [ 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]; for reviews see [ 4 , 27 , 33 ]. This studies have shown that early habitual exposure to media violence in middle-childhood predicts increased aggressiveness 1 year, 3 years, 10 years, 15 years, and 22 years later in adulthood, even controlling for early aggressiveness. On the other hand, behaving aggressively in childhood is a much weaker predictor of higher subsequent viewing of violence when initial violence viewing is controlled, making it implausible that the correlation between aggression and violent media use was primarily due to aggressive children turning to watching more violence [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. As discussed below the pattern of results suggests that the strongest contribution to the correlation is the stimulation of aggression from exposure to media violence but that those behaving aggressively may also have a tendency to turn to watching more violence, leading to a downward spiral effect [ 13 ].

An example is illustrative. In a study of children interviewed each year for three years as they moved through middle childhood, Huesmann et al. [ 31 ] found increasing rates of aggression for both boys and girls who watched more television violence even with controls for initial aggressiveness and many other background factors. Children who identified with the portrayed aggressor and those who perceived the violence as realistic were especially likely to show these observational learning effects. A 15-year follow-up of these children [ 33 ] demonstrated that those who habitually watched more TV violence in their middle-childhood years grew up to be more aggressive young adults. For example, among children who were in the upper quartile on violence viewing in middle childhood, 11% of the males had been convicted of a crime (compared with 3% for other males), 42% had “pushed, grabbed, or shoved their spouse” in the past year (compared with 22% of other males), and 69% had “shoved a person” when made angry in the past year (compared with 50% of other males). For females, 39% of the high-violence-viewers had “thrown something at their spouse” in the past year (compared with 17% of the other females), and 17% had “punched, beaten, or choked” another adult when angry in the past year (compared with 4% of the other females). These effects were not attributable to any of a large set of child and parent characteristics including demographic factors, intelligence, parenting practices. Overall, for both males and females the effect of middle-childhood violence viewing on young adult aggression was significant even when controlling for their initial aggression. In contrast, the effect of middle-childhood aggression on adult violence viewing when controlling for initial violence viewing was not-significant, though it was positive.

Moderators of Media Violence Effects

Obviously, not all observers of violence are affected equally by what they observe at all times. Research has shown that the effects of media violence on children are moderated by situational characteristics of the presentation including how well it attracts and sustains attention, personal characteristics of the viewer including their aggressive predispositions, and characteristics of the physical and human context in which the children are exposed to violence.

In terms of plot characteristics, portraying violence as justified and showing rewards (or at least not showing punishments) for violence increase the effects that media violence has in stimulating aggression, particularly in the long run [ 27 , 36 , 37 ]. As for viewer characteristics that depend on perceptions of the plot, those viewers who perceive the violence as telling about life more like it really is and who identify more with the perpetrator of the violence are also stimulated more toward violent behavior in the long run [ 27 , 30 , 33 , 38 ]. Taken together these facts mean that violent acts by charismatic heroes, that appear justified and are rewarded, are the violent acts most likely to increase viewer’s aggression.

A number of researchers have suggested that, independently of the plot, viewers or game players who are already aggressive should be the only one’s affected. This is certainly not true. While the already aggressive child who watches or plays a lot of violent media may become the most aggressive young adult, the research shows that even initially unaggressive children are made more aggressive by viewing media violence [ 27 , 32 , 33 ]. Long term effects due appear to be stronger for younger children [ 3 , 14 ], but short term affects appear, if anything, stronger for older children [ 3 ] perhaps because one needs to have already learned aggressive scripts to have them primed by violent displays. While the effects appeared weaker for female 40 years ago [ 32 ], they appear equally strong today [ 33 ]. Finally, having a high IQ does not seem to protect a child against being influenced [ 27 ].

Mediators of Media Violence Effects

Most researchers believe that the long term effects of media violence depend on social cognitions that control social behavior being changed for the long run. More research needs to completed to identify all the mediators, but it seems clear that they include normative beliefs about what kinds of social behaviors are OK [ 4 , 13 , 27 ], world schemas that lead to hostile or non-hostile attributions about others intentions [ 4 , 12 , 27 ], and social scripts that automatically control social behavior once they are well learned [ 4 , 11 , 27 ].

This review marshals evidence that compelling points to the conclusion that media violence increases the risk significantly that a viewer or game player will behave more violently in the short run and in the long run. Randomized experiments demonstrate conclusively that exposure to media violence immediately increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior for children and adults in the short run. The most important underlying process for this effect is probably priming though mimicry and increased arousal also play important roles. The evidence from longitudinal field studies is also compelling that children’s exposure to violent electronic media including violent games leads to long-term increases in their risk for behaving aggressively and violently. These long-term effects are a consequence of the powerful observational learning and desensitization processes that neuroscientists and psychologists now understand occur automatically in the human child. Children automatically acquire scripts for the behaviors they observe around them in real life or in the media along with emotional reactions and social cognitions that support those behaviors. Social comparison processes also lead children to seek out others who behave similarly aggressively in the media or in real life leading to a downward spiral process that increases risk for violent behavior.

One valid remaining question is whether the size of this effect is large enough that one should consider it to be a public health threat. The answer seems to be “yes.” Two calculations support this conclusion. First, according to the best meta-analyses [ 18 , 19 ] the long term size of the effect of exposure to media violence in childhood on later aggressive or violent behavior is about equivalent to a correlation of .20 to .30. While some might argue that this explains only 4% to 9% of the individual variation in aggressive behavior, as several scholars have pointed out [ 39 , 40 ], percent variance explained is not a good statistic to use when predicting low probability events with high social costs. For example, a correlation of 0.3 with aggression translates into a change in the odds of aggression from 50/50 to 65/35 -- not a trivial change when one is dealing with life threatening behavior[ 40 ].

Secondly, the effect size of media violence is the same or larger than the effect size of many other recognized threats to public health. In Figure 1 from Bushman and Huesmann [ 41 ], the effect sizes for many common threats to public health are compared with the effect that media violence has on aggression. The only effect slightly larger than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking on lung cancer.

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The Relative Strength of Known Public Health Threats.

In summary, exposure to electronic media violence increases the risk of children and adults behaving aggressively in the short-run and of children behaving aggressively in the long-run. It increases the risk significantly, and it increases it as much as many other factors that are considered public health threats. As with many other public health threats, not every child who is exposed to this threat will acquire the affliction of violent behavior, and many will acquire the affliction who are not exposed to the threat. However, that does not diminish the need to address the threat.

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Article contents

Violence, media effects, and criminology.

  • Nickie D. Phillips Nickie D. Phillips Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, St. Francis College
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.189
  • Published online: 27 July 2017

Debate surrounding the impact of media representations on violence and crime has raged for decades and shows no sign of abating. Over the years, the targets of concern have shifted from film to comic books to television to video games, but the central questions remain the same. What is the relationship between popular media and audience emotions, attitudes, and behaviors? While media effects research covers a vast range of topics—from the study of its persuasive effects in advertising to its positive impact on emotions and behaviors—of particular interest to criminologists is the relationship between violence in popular media and real-life aggression and violence. Does media violence cause aggression and/or violence?

The study of media effects is informed by a variety of theoretical perspectives and spans many disciplines including communications and media studies, psychology, medicine, sociology, and criminology. Decades of research have amassed on the topic, yet there is no clear agreement about the impact of media or about which methodologies are most appropriate. Instead, there continues to be disagreement about whether media portrayals of violence are a serious problem and, if so, how society should respond.

Conflicting interpretations of research findings inform and shape public debate around media effects. Although there seems to be a consensus among scholars that exposure to media violence impacts aggression, there is less agreement around its potential impact on violence and criminal behavior. While a few criminologists focus on the phenomenon of copycat crimes, most rarely engage with whether media directly causes violence. Instead, they explore broader considerations of the relationship between media, popular culture, and society.

  • media exposure
  • criminal behavior
  • popular culture
  • media violence
  • media and crime
  • copycat crimes

Media Exposure, Violence, and Aggression

On Friday July 22, 2016 , a gunman killed nine people at a mall in Munich, Germany. The 18-year-old shooter was subsequently characterized by the media as being under psychiatric care and harboring at least two obsessions. One, an obsession with mass shootings, including that of Anders Breivik who ultimately killed 77 people in Norway in 2011 , and the other an obsession with video games. A Los Angeles, California, news report stated that the gunman was “an avid player of first-person shooter video games, including ‘Counter-Strike,’” while another headline similarly declared, “Munich gunman, a fan of violent video games, rampage killers, had planned attack for a year”(CNN Wire, 2016 ; Reuters, 2016 ). This high-profile incident was hardly the first to link popular culture to violent crime. Notably, in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shooting massacre, for example, media sources implicated and later discredited music, video games, and a gothic aesthetic as causal factors of the crime (Cullen, 2009 ; Yamato, 2016 ). Other, more recent, incidents have echoed similar claims suggesting that popular culture has a nefarious influence on consumers.

Media violence and its impact on audiences are among the most researched and examined topics in communications studies (Hetsroni, 2007 ). Yet, debate over whether media violence causes aggression and violence persists, particularly in response to high-profile criminal incidents. Blaming video games, and other forms of media and popular culture, as contributing to violence is not a new phenomenon. However, interpreting media effects can be difficult because commenters often seem to indicate a grand consensus that understates more contradictory and nuanced interpretations of the data.

In fact, there is a consensus among many media researchers that media violence has an impact on aggression although its impact on violence is less clear. For example, in response to the shooting in Munich, Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology, avoided pinning the incident solely on video games, but in the process supported the assertion that video gameplay is linked to aggression. He stated,

While there isn’t complete consensus in any scientific field, a study we conducted showed more than 90% of pediatricians and about two-thirds of media researchers surveyed agreed that violent video games increase aggression in children. (Bushman, 2016 )

Others, too, have reached similar conclusions with regard to other media. In 2008 , psychologist John Murray summarized decades of research stating, “Fifty years of research on the effect of TV violence on children leads to the inescapable conclusion that viewing media violence is related to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors” (Murray, 2008 , p. 1212). Scholars Glenn Sparks and Cheri Sparks similarly declared that,

Despite the fact that controversy still exists about the impact of media violence, the research results reveal a dominant and consistent pattern in favor of the notion that exposure to violent media images does increase the risk of aggressive behavior. (Sparks & Sparks, 2002 , p. 273)

In 2014 , psychologist Wayne Warburton more broadly concluded that the vast majority of studies have found “that exposure to violent media increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the short and longterm, increases hostile perceptions and attitudes, and desensitizes individuals to violent content” (Warburton, 2014 , p. 64).

Criminologists, too, are sensitive to the impact of media exposure. For example, Jacqueline Helfgott summarized the research:

There have been over 1000 studies on the effects of TV and film violence over the past 40 years. Research on the influence of TV violence on aggression has consistently shown that TV violence increases aggression and social anxiety, cultivates a “mean view” of the world, and negatively impacts real-world behavior. (Helfgott, 2015 , p. 50)

In his book, Media Coverage of Crime and Criminal Justice , criminologist Matthew Robinson stated, “Studies of the impact of media on violence are crystal clear in their findings and implications for society” (Robinson, 2011 , p. 135). He cited studies on childhood exposure to violent media leading to aggressive behavior as evidence. In his pioneering book Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice , criminologist Ray Surette concurred that media violence is linked to aggression, but offered a nuanced interpretation. He stated,

a small to modest but genuine causal role for media violence regarding viewer aggression has been established for most beyond a reasonable doubt . . . There is certainly a connection between violent media and social aggression, but its strength and configuration is simply not known at this time. (Surette, 2011 , p. 68)

The uncertainties about the strength of the relationship and the lack of evidence linking media violence to real-world violence is often lost in the news media accounts of high-profile violent crimes.

Media Exposure and Copycat Crimes

While many scholars do seem to agree that there is evidence that media violence—whether that of film, TV, or video games—increases aggression, they disagree about its impact on violent or criminal behavior (Ferguson, 2014 ; Gunter, 2008 ; Helfgott, 2015 ; Reiner, 2002 ; Savage, 2008 ). Nonetheless, it is violent incidents that most often prompt speculation that media causes violence. More specifically, violence that appears to mimic portrayals of violent media tends to ignite controversy. For example, the idea that films contribute to violent crime is not a new assertion. Films such as A Clockwork Orange , Menace II Society , Set it Off , and Child’s Play 3 , have been linked to crimes and at least eight murders have been linked to Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers (Bracci, 2010 ; Brooks, 2002 ; PBS, n.d. ). Nonetheless, pinpointing a direct, causal relationship between media and violent crime remains elusive.

Criminologist Jacqueline Helfgott defined copycat crime as a “crime that is inspired by another crime” (Helfgott, 2015 , p. 51). The idea is that offenders model their behavior on media representations of violence whether real or fictional. One case, in particular, illustrated how popular culture, media, and criminal violence converge. On July 20, 2012 , James Holmes entered the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises , the third film in the massively successful Batman trilogy, in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. He shot and killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. At the time, the New York Times described the incident,

Witnesses told the police that Mr. Holmes said something to the effect of “I am the Joker,” according to a federal law enforcement official, and that his hair had been dyed or he was wearing a wig. Then, as people began to rise from their seats in confusion or anxiety, he began to shoot. The gunman paused at least once, several witnesses said, perhaps to reload, and continued firing. (Frosch & Johnson, 2012 ).

The dyed hair, Holme’s alleged comment, and that the incident occurred at a popular screening led many to speculate that the shooter was influenced by the earlier film in the trilogy and reignited debate around the impact about media violence. The Daily Mail pointed out that Holmes may have been motivated by a 25-year-old Batman comic in which a gunman opens fire in a movie theater—thus further suggesting the iconic villain served as motivation for the attack (Graham & Gallagher, 2012 ). Perceptions of the “Joker connection” fed into the notion that popular media has a direct causal influence on violent behavior even as press reports later indicated that Holmes had not, in fact, made reference to the Joker (Meyer, 2015 ).

A week after the Aurora shooting, the New York Daily News published an article detailing a “possible copycat” crime. A suspect was arrested in his Maryland home after making threatening phone calls to his workplace. The article reported that the suspect stated, “I am a [sic] joker” and “I’m going to load my guns and blow everybody up.” In their search, police found “a lethal arsenal of 25 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition” in the suspect’s home (McShane, 2012 ).

Though criminologists are generally skeptical that those who commit violent crimes are motivated solely by media violence, there does seem to be some evidence that media may be influential in shaping how some offenders commit crime. In his study of serious and violent juvenile offenders, criminologist Ray Surette found “about one out of three juveniles reports having considered a copycat crime and about one out of four reports actually having attempted one.” He concluded that “those juveniles who are self-reported copycats are significantly more likely to credit the media as both a general and personal influence.” Surette contended that though violent offenses garner the most media attention, copycat criminals are more likely to be career criminals and to commit property crimes rather than violent crimes (Surette, 2002 , pp. 56, 63; Surette 2011 ).

Discerning what crimes may be classified as copycat crimes is a challenge. Jacqueline Helfgott suggested they occur on a “continuum of influence.” On one end, she said, media plays a relatively minor role in being a “component of the modus operandi” of the offender, while on the other end, she said, “personality disordered media junkies” have difficulty distinguishing reality from violent fantasy. According to Helfgott, various factors such as individual characteristics, characteristics of media sources, relationship to media, demographic factors, and cultural factors are influential. Overall, scholars suggest that rather than pushing unsuspecting viewers to commit crimes, media more often influences how , rather than why, someone commits a crime (Helfgott, 2015 ; Marsh & Melville, 2014 ).

Given the public interest, there is relatively little research devoted to exactly what copycat crimes are and how they occur. Part of the problem of studying these types of crimes is the difficulty defining and measuring the concept. In an effort to clarify and empirically measure the phenomenon, Surette offered a scale that included seven indicators of copycat crimes. He used the following factors to identify copycat crimes: time order (media exposure must occur before the crime); time proximity (a five-year cut-off point of exposure); theme consistency (“a pattern of thought, feeling or behavior in the offender which closely parallels the media model”); scene specificity (mimicking a specific scene); repetitive viewing; self-editing (repeated viewing of single scene while “the balance of the film is ignored”); and offender statements and second-party statements indicating the influence of media. Findings demonstrated that cases are often prematurely, if not erroneously, labeled as “copycat.” Surette suggested that use of the scale offers a more precise way for researchers to objectively measure trends and frequency of copycat crimes (Surette, 2016 , p. 8).

Media Exposure and Violent Crimes

Overall, a causal link between media exposure and violent criminal behavior has yet to be validated, and most researchers steer clear of making such causal assumptions. Instead, many emphasize that media does not directly cause aggression and violence so much as operate as a risk factor among other variables (Bushman & Anderson, 2015 ; Warburton, 2014 ). In their review of media effects, Brad Bushman and psychologist Craig Anderson concluded,

In sum, extant research shows that media violence is a causal risk factor not only for mild forms of aggression but also for more serious forms of aggression, including violent criminal behavior. That does not mean that violent media exposure by itself will turn a normal child or adolescent who has few or no other risk factors into a violent criminal or a school shooter. Such extreme violence is rare, and tends to occur only when multiple risk factors converge in time, space, and within an individual. (Bushman & Anderson, 2015 , p. 1817)

Surette, however, argued that there is no clear linkage between media exposure and criminal behavior—violent or otherwise. In other words, a link between media violence and aggression does not necessarily mean that exposure to violent media causes violent (or nonviolent) criminal behavior. Though there are thousands of articles addressing media effects, many of these consist of reviews or commentary about prior research findings rather than original studies (Brown, 2007 ; Murray, 2008 ; Savage, 2008 ; Surette, 2011 ). Fewer, still, are studies that specifically measure media violence and criminal behavior (Gunter, 2008 ; Strasburger & Donnerstein, 2014 ). In their meta-analysis investigating the link between media violence and criminal aggression, scholars Joanne Savage and Christina Yancey did not find support for the assertion. Instead, they concluded,

The study of most consequence for violent crime policy actually found that exposure to media violence was significantly negatively related to violent crime rates at the aggregate level . . . It is plain to us that the relationship between exposure to violent media and serious violence has yet to be established. (Savage & Yancey, 2008 , p. 786)

Researchers continue to measure the impact of media violence among various forms of media and generally stop short of drawing a direct causal link in favor of more indirect effects. For example, one study examined the increase of gun violence in films over the years and concluded that violent scenes provide scripts for youth that justify gun violence that, in turn, may amplify aggression (Bushman, Jamieson, Weitz, & Romer, 2013 ). But others report contradictory findings. Patrick Markey and colleagues studied the relationship between rates of homicide and aggravated assault and gun violence in films from 1960–2012 and found that over the years, violent content in films increased while crime rates declined . After controlling for age shifts, poverty, education, incarceration rates, and economic inequality, the relationships remained statistically non-significant (Markey, French, & Markey, 2015 , p. 165). Psychologist Christopher Ferguson also failed to find a relationship between media violence in films and video games and violence (Ferguson, 2014 ).

Another study, by Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna, examined violent films from 1995–2004 and found decreases in violent crimes coincided with violent blockbuster movie attendance. Here, it was not the content that was alleged to impact crime rates, but instead what the authors called “voluntary incapacitation,” or the shifting of daily activities from that of potential criminal behavior to movie attendance. The authors concluded, “For each million people watching a strongly or mildly violent movie, respectively, violent crime decreases by 1.9% and 2.1%. Nonviolent movies have no statistically significant impact” (Dahl & DellaVigna, p. 39).

High-profile cases over the last several years have shifted public concern toward the perceived danger of video games, but research demonstrating a link between video games and criminal violence remains scant. The American Psychiatric Association declared that “research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression . . .” but stopped short of claiming that video games impact criminal violence. According to Breuer and colleagues, “While all of the available meta-analyses . . . found a relationship between aggression and the use of (violent) video games, the size and interpretation of this connection differ largely between these studies . . .” (APA, 2015 ; Breuer et al., 2015 ; DeCamp, 2015 ). Further, psychologists Patrick Markey, Charlotte Markey, and Juliana French conducted four time-series analyses investigating the relationship between video game habits and assault and homicide rates. The studies measured rates of violent crime, the annual and monthly video game sales, Internet searches for video game walkthroughs, and rates of violent crime occurring after the release dates of popular games. The results showed that there was no relationship between video game habits and rates of aggravated assault and homicide. Instead, there was some indication of decreases in crime (Markey, Markey, & French, 2015 ).

Another longitudinal study failed to find video games as a predictor of aggression, instead finding support for the “selection hypothesis”—that physically aggressive individuals (aged 14–17) were more likely to choose media content that contained violence than those slightly older, aged 18–21. Additionally, the researchers concluded,

that violent media do not have a substantial impact on aggressive personality or behavior, at least in the phases of late adolescence and early adulthood that we focused on. (Breuer, Vogelgesang, Quandt, & Festl, 2015 , p. 324)

Overall, the lack of a consistent finding demonstrating that media exposure causes violent crime may not be particularly surprising given that studies linking media exposure, aggression, and violence suffer from a host of general criticisms. By way of explanation, social theorist David Gauntlett maintained that researchers frequently employ problematic definitions of aggression and violence, questionable methodologies, rely too much on fictional violence, neglect the social meaning of violence, and assume the third-person effect—that is, assume that other, vulnerable people are impacted by media, but “we” are not (Ferguson & Dyck, 2012 ; Gauntlett, 2001 ).

Others, such as scholars Martin Barker and Julian Petley, flatly reject the notion that violent media exposure is a causal factor for aggression and/or violence. In their book Ill Effects , the authors stated instead that it is simply “stupid” to query about “what are the effects of [media] violence” without taking context into account (p. 2). They counter what they describe as moral campaigners who advance the idea that media violence causes violence. Instead, Barker and Petley argue that audiences interpret media violence in a variety of ways based on their histories, experiences, and knowledge, and as such, it makes little sense to claim media “cause” violence (Barker & Petley, 2001 ).

Given the seemingly inconclusive and contradictory findings regarding media effects research, to say that the debate can, at times, be contentious is an understatement. One article published in European Psychologist queried “Does Doing Media Violence Research Make One Aggressive?” and lamented that the debate had devolved into an ideological one (Elson & Ferguson, 2013 ). Another academic journal published a special issue devoted to video games and youth and included a transcript of exchanges between two scholars to demonstrate that a “peaceful debate” was, in fact, possible (Ferguson & Konijn, 2015 ).

Nonetheless, in this debate, the stakes are high and the policy consequences profound. After examining over 900 published articles, publication patterns, prominent authors and coauthors, and disciplinary interest in the topic, scholar James Anderson argued that prominent media effects scholars, whom he deems the “causationists,” had developed a cottage industry dependent on funding by agencies focused primarily on the negative effects of media on children. Anderson argued that such a focus presents media as a threat to family values and ultimately operates as a zero-sum game. As a result, attention and resources are diverted toward media and away from other priorities that are essential to understanding aggression such as social disadvantage, substance abuse, and parental conflict (Anderson, 2008 , p. 1276).

Theoretical Perspectives on Media Effects

Understanding how media may impact attitudes and behavior has been the focus of media and communications studies for decades. Numerous theoretical perspectives offer insight into how and to what extent the media impacts the audience. As scholar Jenny Kitzinger documented in 2004 , there are generally two ways to approach the study of media effects. One is to foreground the power of media. That is, to suggest that the media holds powerful sway over viewers. Another perspective is to foreground the power and heterogeneity of the audience and to recognize that it is comprised of active agents (Kitzinger, 2004 ).

The notion of an all-powerful media can be traced to the influence of scholars affiliated with the Institute for Social Research, or Frankfurt School, in the 1930–1940s and proponents of the mass society theory. The institute was originally founded in Germany but later moved to the United States. Criminologist Yvonne Jewkes outlined how mass society theory assumed that members of the public were susceptible to media messages. This, theorists argued, was a result of rapidly changing social conditions and industrialization that produced isolated, impressionable individuals “cut adrift from kinship and organic ties and lacking moral cohesion” (Jewkes, 2015 , p. 13). In this historical context, in the era of World War II, the impact of Nazi propaganda was particularly resonant. Here, the media was believed to exhibit a unidirectional flow, operating as a powerful force influencing the masses. The most useful metaphor for this perspective described the media as a “hypodermic syringe” that could “‘inject’ values, ideas and information directly into the passive receiver producing direct and unmediated ‘effects’” (Jewkes, 2015 , pp. 16, 34). Though the hypodermic syringe model seems simplistic today, the idea that the media is all-powerful continues to inform contemporary public discourse around media and violence.

Concern of the power of media captured the attention of researchers interested in its purported negative impact on children. In one of the earliest series of studies in the United States during the late 1920s–1930s, researchers attempted to quantitatively measure media effects with the Payne Fund Studies. For example, they investigated how film, a relatively new medium, impacted children’s attitudes and behaviors, including antisocial and violent behavior. At the time, the Payne Fund Studies’ findings fueled the notion that children were indeed negatively influenced by films. This prompted the film industry to adopt a self-imposed code regulating content (Sparks & Sparks, 2002 ; Surette, 2011 ). Not everyone agreed with the approach. In fact, the methodologies employed in the studies received much criticism, and ultimately, the movement was branded as a moral crusade to regulate film content. Scholars Garth Jowett, Ian Jarvie, and Kathryn Fuller wrote about the significance of the studies,

We have seen this same policy battle fought and refought over radio, television, rock and roll, music videos and video games. Their researchers looked to see if intuitive concerns could be given concrete, measurable expression in research. While they had partial success, as have all subsequent efforts, they also ran into intractable problems . . . Since that day, no way has yet been found to resolve the dilemma of cause and effect: do crime movies create more crime, or do the criminally inclined enjoy and perhaps imitate crime movies? (Jowett, Jarvie, & Fuller, 1996 , p. 12)

As the debate continued, more sophisticated theoretical perspectives emerged. Efforts to empirically measure the impact of media on aggression and violence continued, albeit with equivocal results. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychological behaviorism, or understanding psychological motivations through observable behavior, became a prominent lens through which to view the causal impact of media violence. This type of research was exemplified by Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll studies demonstrating that children exposed to aggressive behavior, either observed in real life or on film, behaved more aggressively than those in control groups who were not exposed to the behavior. The assumption derived was that children learn through exposure and imitate behavior (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963 ). Though influential, the Bandura experiments were nevertheless heavily criticized. Some argued the laboratory conditions under which children were exposed to media were not generalizable to real-life conditions. Others challenged the assumption that children absorb media content in an unsophisticated manner without being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. In fact, later studies did find children to be more discerning consumers of media than popularly believed (Gauntlett, 2001 ).

Hugely influential in our understandings of human behavior, the concept of social learning has been at the core of more contemporary understandings of media effects. For example, scholar Christopher Ferguson noted that the General Aggression Model (GAM), rooted in social learning and cognitive theory, has for decades been a dominant model for understanding how media impacts aggression and violence. GAM is described as the idea that “aggression is learned by the activation and repetition of cognitive scripts coupled with the desensitization of emotional responses due to repeated exposure.” However, Ferguson noted that its usefulness has been debated and advocated for a paradigm shift (Ferguson, 2013 , pp. 65, 27; Krahé, 2014 ).

Though the methodologies of the Payne Fund Studies and Bandura studies were heavily criticized, concern over media effects continued to be tied to larger moral debates including the fear of moral decline and concern over the welfare of children. Most notably, in the 1950s, psychiatrist Frederic Wertham warned of the dangers of comic books, a hugely popular medium at the time, and their impact on juveniles. Based on anecdotes and his clinical experience with children, Wertham argued that images of graphic violence and sexual debauchery in comic books were linked to juvenile delinquency. Though he was far from the only critic of comic book content, his criticisms reached the masses and gained further notoriety with the publication of his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent . Wertham described the comic book content thusly,

The stories have a lot of crime and gunplay and, in addition, alluring advertisements of guns, some of them full-page and in bright colors, with four guns of various sizes and descriptions on a page . . . Here is the repetition of violence and sexiness which no Freud, Krafft-Ebing or Havelock Ellis ever dreamed could be offered to children, and in such profusion . . . I have come to the conclusion that this chronic stimulation, temptation and seduction by comic books, both their content and their alluring advertisements of knives and guns, are contributing factors to many children’s maladjustment. (Wertham, 1954 , p. 39)

Wertham’s work was instrumental in shaping public opinion and policies about the dangers of comic books. Concern about the impact of comics reached its apex in 1954 with the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Wertham testified before the committee, arguing that comics were a leading cause of juvenile delinquency. Ultimately, the protest of graphic content in comic books by various interest groups contributed to implementation of the publishers’ self-censorship code, the Comics Code Authority, which essentially designated select books that were deemed “safe” for children (Nyberg, 1998 ). The code remained in place for decades, though it was eventually relaxed and decades later phased out by the two most dominant publishers, DC and Marvel.

Wertham’s work, however influential in impacting the comic industry, was ultimately panned by academics. Although scholar Bart Beaty characterized Wertham’s position as more nuanced, if not progressive, than the mythology that followed him, Wertham was broadly dismissed as a moral reactionary (Beaty, 2005 ; Phillips & Strobl, 2013 ). The most damning criticism of Wertham’s work came decades later, from Carol Tilley’s examination of Wertham’s files. She concluded that in Seduction of the Innocent ,

Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain. (Tilley, 2012 , p. 386)

Tilley linked Wertham’s approach to that of the Frankfurt theorists who deemed popular culture a social threat and contended that Wertham was most interested in “cultural correction” rather than scientific inquiry (Tilley, 2012 , p. 404).

Over the decades, concern about the moral impact of media remained while theoretical and methodological approaches to media effects studies continued to evolve (Rich, Bickham, & Wartella, 2015 ). In what many consider a sophisticated development, theorists began to view the audience as more active and multifaceted than the mass society perspective allowed (Kitzinger, 2004 ). One perspective, based on a “uses and gratifications” model, assumes that rather than a passive audience being injected with values and information, a more active audience selects and “uses” media as a response to their needs and desires. Studies of uses and gratifications take into account how choice of media is influenced by one’s psychological and social circumstances. In this context, media provides a variety of functions for consumers who may engage with it for the purposes of gathering information, reducing boredom, seeking enjoyment, or facilitating communication (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973 ; Rubin, 2002 ). This approach differs from earlier views in that it privileges the perspective and agency of the audience.

Another approach, the cultivation theory, gained momentum among researchers in the 1970s and has been of particular interest to criminologists. It focuses on how television television viewing impacts viewers’ attitudes toward social reality. The theory was first introduced by communications scholar George Gerbner, who argued the importance of understanding messages that long-term viewers absorb. Rather than examine the effect of specific content within any given programming, cultivation theory,

looks at exposure to massive flows of messages over long periods of time. The cultivation process takes place in the interaction of the viewer with the message; neither the message nor the viewer are all-powerful. (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Singnorielli, & Shanahan, 2002 , p. 48)

In other words, he argued, television viewers are, over time, exposed to messages about the way the world works. As Gerbner and colleagues stated, “continued exposure to its messages is likely to reiterate, confirm, and nourish—that is, cultivate—its own values and perspectives” (p. 49).

One of the most well-known consequences of heavy media exposure is what Gerbner termed the “mean world” syndrome. He coined it based on studies that found that long-term exposure to media violence among heavy television viewers, “tends to cultivate the image of a relatively mean and dangerous world” (p. 52). Inherent in Gerbner’s view was that media representations are separate and distinct entities from “real life.” That is, it is the distorted representations of crime and violence that cultivate the notion that the world is a dangerous place. In this context, Gerbner found that heavy television viewers are more likely to be fearful of crime and to overestimate their chances of being a victim of violence (Gerbner, 1994 ).

Though there is evidence in support of cultivation theory, the strength of the relationship between media exposure and fear of crime is inconclusive. This is in part due to the recognition that audience members are not homogenous. Instead, researchers have found that there are many factors that impact the cultivating process. This includes, but is not limited to, “class, race, gender, place of residence, and actual experience of crime” (Reiner, 2002 ; Sparks, 1992 ). Or, as Ted Chiricos and colleagues remarked in their study of crime news and fear of crime, “The issue is not whether media accounts of crime increase fear, but which audiences, with which experiences and interests, construct which meanings from the messages received” (Chiricos, Eschholz, & Gertz, p. 354).

Other researchers found that exposure to media violence creates a desensitizing effect, that is, that as viewers consume more violent media, they become less empathetic as well as psychologically and emotionally numb when confronted with actual violence (Bartholow, Bushman, & Sestir, 2006 ; Carnagey, Anderson, & Bushman, 2007 ; Cline, Croft, & Courrier, 1973 ; Fanti, Vanman, Henrich, & Avraamides, 2009 ; Krahé et al., 2011 ). Other scholars such as Henry Giroux, however, point out that our contemporary culture is awash in violence and “everyone is infected.” From this perspective, the focus is not on certain individuals whose exposure to violent media leads to a desensitization of real-life violence, but rather on the notion that violence so permeates society that it has become normalized in ways that are divorced from ethical and moral implications. Giroux wrote,

While it would be wrong to suggest that the violence that saturates popular culture directly causes violence in the larger society, it is arguable that such violence serves not only to produce an insensitivity to real life violence but also functions to normalize violence as both a source of pleasure and as a practice for addressing social issues. When young people and others begin to believe that a world of extreme violence, vengeance, lawlessness, and revenge is the only world they inhabit, the culture and practice of real-life violence is more difficult to scrutinize, resist, and transform . . . (Giroux, 2015 )

For Giroux, the danger is that the normalization of violence has become a threat to democracy itself. In our culture of mass consumption shaped by neoliberal logics, depoliticized narratives of violence have become desired forms of entertainment and are presented in ways that express tolerance for some forms of violence while delegitimizing other forms of violence. In their book, Disposable Futures , Brad Evans and Henry Giroux argued that as the spectacle of violence perpetuates fear of inevitable catastrophe, it reinforces expansion of police powers, increased militarization and other forms of social control, and ultimately renders marginalized members of the populace disposable (Evans & Giroux, 2015 , p. 81).

Criminology and the “Media/Crime Nexus”

Most criminologists and sociologists who focus on media and crime are generally either dismissive of the notion that media violence directly causes violence or conclude that findings are more complex than traditional media effects models allow, preferring to focus attention on the impact of media violence on society rather than individual behavior (Carrabine, 2008 ; Ferrell, Hayward, & Young, 2015 ; Jewkes, 2015 ; Kitzinger, 2004 ; Marsh & Melville, 2014 ; Rafter, 2006 ; Sternheimer, 2003 ; Sternheimer 2013 ; Surette, 2011 ). Sociologist Karen Sternheimer forcefully declared “media culture is not the root cause of American social problems, not the Big Bad Wolf, as our ongoing public discussion would suggest” (Sternheimer, 2003 , p. 3). Sternheimer rejected the idea that media causes violence and argued that a false connection has been forged between media, popular culture, and violence. Like others critical of a singular focus on media, Sternheimer posited that overemphasis on the perceived dangers of media violence serves as a red herring that directs attention away from the actual causes of violence rooted in factors such as poverty, family violence, abuse, and economic inequalities (Sternheimer, 2003 , 2013 ). Similarly, in her Media and Crime text, Yvonne Jewkes stated that U.K. scholars tend to reject findings of a causal link because the studies are too reductionist; criminal behavior cannot be reduced to a single causal factor such as media consumption. Echoing Gauntlett’s critiques of media effects research, Jewkes stated that simplistic causal assumptions ignore “the wider context of a lifetime of meaning-making” (Jewkes, 2015 , p. 17).

Although they most often reject a “violent media cause violence” relationship, criminologists do not dismiss the notion of media as influential. To the contrary, over the decades much criminological interest has focused on the construction of social problems, the ideological implications of media, and media’s potential impact on crime policies and social control. Eamonn Carrabine noted that the focus of concern is not whether media directly causes violence but on “how the media promote damaging stereotypes of social groups, especially the young, to uphold the status quo” (Carrabine, 2008 , p. 34). Theoretically, these foci have been traced to the influence of cultural and Marxist studies. For example, criminologists frequently focus on how social anxieties and class inequalities impact our understandings of the relationship between media violence and attitudes, values, and behaviors. Influential works in the 1970s, such as Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order by Stuart Hall et al. and Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics , shifted criminological critique toward understanding media as a hegemonic force that reinforces state power and social control (Brown, 2011 ; Carrabine, 2008 ; Cohen, 2005 ; Garland, 2008 ; Hall et al., 2013 /1973, 2013/1973 ). Since that time, moral panic has become a common framework applied to public discourse around a variety of social issues including road rage, child abuse, popular music, sex panics, and drug abuse among others.

Into the 21st century , advances in technology, including increased use of social media, shifted the ways that criminologists approach the study of media effects. Scholar Sheila Brown traced how research in criminology evolved from a focus on “media and crime” to what she calls the “media/crime nexus” that recognizes that “media experience is real experience” (Brown, 2011 , p. 413). In other words, many criminologists began to reject as fallacy what social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson deemed “digital dualism,” or the notion that we have an “online” existence that is separate and distinct from our “off-line” existence. Instead, we exist simultaneously both online and offline, an

augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say “IRL” [in real life] to mean offline: Facebook is real life. (Jurgenson, 2012 )

The changing media landscape has been of particular interest to cultural criminologists. Michelle Brown recognized the omnipresence of media as significant in terms of methodological preferences and urged a move away from a focus on causality and predictability toward a more fluid approach that embraces the complex, contemporary media-saturated social reality characterized by uncertainty and instability (Brown, 2007 ).

Cultural criminologists have indeed rejected direct, causal relationships in favor of the recognition that social meanings of aggression and violence are constantly in transition, flowing through the media landscape, where “bits of information reverberate and bend back on themselves, creating a fluid porosity of meaning that defines late-modern life, and the nature of crime and media within it.” In other words, there is no linear relationship between crime and its representation. Instead, crime is viewed as inseparable from the culture in which our everyday lives are constantly re-created in loops and spirals that “amplify, distort, and define the experience of crime and criminality itself” (Ferrell, Hayward, & Young, 2015 , pp. 154–155). As an example of this shift in understanding media effects, criminologist Majid Yar proposed that we consider how the transition from being primarily consumers to primarily producers of content may serve as a motivating mechanism for criminal behavior. Here, Yar is suggesting that the proliferation of user-generated content via media technologies such as social media (i.e., the desire “to be seen” and to manage self-presentation) has a criminogenic component worthy of criminological inquiry (Yar, 2012 ). Shifting attention toward the media/crime nexus and away from traditional media effects analyses opens possibilities for a deeper understanding of the ways that media remains an integral part of our everyday lives and inseparable from our understandings of and engagement with crime and violence.

Over the years, from films to comic books to television to video games to social media, concerns over media effects have shifted along with changing technologies. While there seems to be some consensus that exposure to violent media impacts aggression, there is little evidence showing its impact on violent or criminal behavior. Nonetheless, high-profile violent crimes continue to reignite public interest in media effects, particularly with regard to copycat crimes.

At times, academic debate around media effects remains contentious and one’s academic discipline informs the study and interpretation of media effects. Criminologists and sociologists are generally reluctant to attribute violence and criminal behavior directly to exposure to violence media. They are, however, not dismissive of the impact of media on attitudes, social policies, and social control as evidenced by the myriad of studies on moral panics and other research that addresses the relationship between media, social anxieties, gender, race, and class inequalities. Scholars who study media effects are also sensitive to the historical context of the debates and ways that moral concerns shape public policies. The self-regulating codes of the film industry and the comic book industry have led scholars to be wary of hyperbole and policy overreach in response to claims of media effects. Future research will continue to explore ways that changing technologies, including increasing use of social media, will impact our understandings and perceptions of crime as well as criminal behavior.

Further Reading

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  • Berlatsky, N. (Ed.). (2012). Media violence: Opposing viewpoints . Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven.
  • Elson, M. , & Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Twenty-five years of research on violence in digital games and aggression. European Psychologist , 19 (1), 33–46.
  • Ferguson, C. (Ed.). (2015). Special issue: Video games and youth. Psychology of Popular Media Culture , 4 (4).
  • Ferguson, C. J. , Olson, C. K. , Kutner, L. A. , & Warner, D. E. (2014). Violent video games, catharsis seeking, bullying, and delinquency: A multivariate analysis of effects. Crime & Delinquency , 60 (5), 764–784.
  • Gentile, D. (2013). Catharsis and media violence: A conceptual analysis. Societies , 3 (4), 491–510.
  • Huesmann, L. R. (2007). The impact of electronic media violence: Scientific theory and research. Journal of Adolescent Health , 41 (6), S6–S13.
  • Huesmann, L. R. , & Taylor, L. D. (2006). The role of media violence in violent behavior. Annual Review of Public Health , 27 (1), 393–415.
  • Krahé, B. (Ed.). (2013). Special issue: Understanding media violence effects. Societies , 3 (3).
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  • Rich, M. , & Bickham, D. (Eds.). (2015). Special issue: Methodological advances in the field of media influences on children. Introduction. American Behavioral Scientist , 59 (14), 1731–1735.
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  • Ferguson, C. J. , & Konijn, E. A. (2015). She said/he said: A peaceful debate on video game violence. Psychology of Popular Media Culture , 4 (4), 397–411.
  • Ferrell, J. , Hayward, K. , & Young, J. (2015). Cultural criminology: An invitation . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • Frosch, D. , & Johnson, K. (2012, July 20). 12 are killed at showing of Batman movie in Colorado . Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/us/shooting-at-colorado-theater-showing-batman-movie.html
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  • Giroux, H. (2015, December 25). America’s addiction to violence . Retrieved from http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/25/americas-addiction-to-violence-2/
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88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best media violence topic ideas & essay examples, ⭐ most interesting media violence topics to write about, 📑 good research topics about media violence, ❓ research questions about violence in the media.

  • Exposure to Media Violence on Behavior They are of the opinion that exposure of media violence to the children at an early age has no effect whatsoever to the change of the children’s behavior to that associated with violence.
  • Media Violence and Altruism Consistent presence of children in violent media avenues is a major factor that results to increased aggression even as they grow up. In this case, there is a close link of social aggressive behavior with […] We will write a custom essay specifically for you by our professional experts 808 writers online Learn More
  • The Effects of Media Violence on People Despite the fact that there is some evidence that, lengthy exposure to violent media increases aggressive behavior in people, this exposure alone cannot cause people to become violent and aggressive for there is no established […]
  • The Main Cause of Increasing Violent Behavior Among Youths Is Violence in the Media Although the question is controversial, it is possible to state that the media promoting violent films, video games, and music is the cause for increasing violent behaviours because the media provokes the young people’s reflection […]
  • Effects of Violence Media on Aggression In case a child is exposed to continuous violent media, chances are high that such a child would develop a deviant behavior, which might lead to the development of aggressive behavior.
  • Research of Violence in the Media The left frontal lobe of the participants was analyzed and found to be more active in the control group than in the exposed group. Exposure of children to violence in the mass media leads to […]
  • Does Exposure to Media Violence Promote Aggressive Behavior? One of the major changes that have been prominent in the social environment is the satiety of the mass media. It is incorrect to focus on the irregularities witnessed in the studies whilst the researches […]
  • Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior From one perspective, it is said that the person will learn to like the violence and use it in real life.
  • Canadian Media Violence, Pornography, Free Speech To fill the gap, the researchers developed a critical analysis of the problem in Canada based on the concept of “moral panic” and a study on the coverage of youth violence in the Canadian media.
  • Violence in Media and Real-Life Aggresive Behavior Regardless of the variety of factors that may be perceived as the premises of violent behavior and adverse outcomes, the existing evidence claims that the problem of increasing violence rates is inextricably linked to the […]
  • Media Violence Laws and Their Effectiveness Thesis statement: With the increasing levels of criminally assaulting behavior in the USA and other countries caused by media violence, it is assumed that the relevant laws have a significant potential for reducing the scale […]
  • Violence in Media and Accepted Norm in Society At the same time, these concerned groups represent the stratum that has the most power in influencing the spreading of media violence and mitigating its effects. The government can ensure that that rules and regulations […]
  • Media Violence and Aggression Risk Factors The topic of exposure to violence in mass media and a consequent probability of developing more aggressive behaviors is widely investigated and discussed in the literature.
  • The Media Violence Debate and the Risks It Holds for Social Science On the other hand, research on the matter is inconclusive showing that the correlation between violence and aggression varies from null to weak.
  • Media Violence, Its Reasons and Consequences Regarding the matters of media violence, first of all, it is necessary to mention, that this term is usually regarded in two senses: Information that is provided without any will or determination by the recipient […]
  • Fear in News and Violence in Media In the proposed paper I intend to present the prevailing fear in American society and which has been produced by news media and the rise of a “problem frame” which is used to delineate this […]
  • Violence in Media: Contribution to Public Violence Present scholarship affords a more intricate integration flanking the media and community, with the media on engendering in rank from a structure of associations as well as manipulation and with personal definitions and analysis of […]
  • Media Violence Effect on Youth and Its Regulation It is also important to note that the more important the media puts on violence, the more people are tempted to engage in it for the sake of attention.
  • Relation Between Media Violence and Cause of George Floyd The media coverage of the end of George Floyd exposed the prevalence of police brutality against a colored population that led to nationwide protests.
  • Media Violence and Importance of Media Literacy Media literacy is the public’s ability to access, decode, evaluate and transmit a message from media. Improved media literacy and education will enable the responsible consumption of information.
  • Media Violence and Its Effect on Children’s Aggression
  • Brutal Legacies: Media Violence and America’s Youth
  • Media Violence Should Be Restricted by Government and Does Cause Real-World
  • Children and the Effects of Media Violence
  • Reasons Why Children Suffer From Media Violence
  • Communication as the Easiest Way to Eliminate Media Violence on Children
  • Correlation Between Media Violence and Aggression
  • Defining Criteria for Evaluating Media Violence
  • Media Violence and Its Effects on Society
  • Correlation Between Media Violence, Video Games, and Aggressive Behavior
  • Juvenile Crime and the Influence of Media Violence
  • Linking Media Violence and Negative Behavior
  • Media Violence Affecting Our Mental Stability
  • The Link Between Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior in Children and Teens
  • The Relationships Between Media Violence and Crime Violence
  • Media Violence and Effects on the American Family
  • Correlation Between Media Violence and School Shootings
  • Media Violence and How It Affects Our Conscience
  • Linking Media Violence and the Violent Male Adolescents
  • Media Violence and Its Contributions to Aggressive Behavior in Our Society
  • The Controversy About Media Violence and Violent Video Games
  • Media Violence and Its Effects on School, Grades, and Social Activities
  • Analysis of the Problem Associated With Media Violence
  • Media Violence and Its Impact on Increasing Violence in Young People
  • Relationship Between Video Games and Television Media Violence
  • Media Violence and the Effect It Has on Actual Behavior
  • Television and Media Violence: Is Aggressive Behavior Linked to TV Violence?
  • Media Violence: Censorship Not Needed
  • Television and Media Violence – TV Violence and Common Sense
  • Media Violence Does Not Cause Violent Behavior
  • Television and the Effects of Media Violence on Society
  • Media Violence Increases the Risk of Aggressive Behavior Among Children
  • The American Battle Against the Culture of Media Violence
  • Media Violence May Increase Behavioral Violence
  • The Assumptions Regarding the Myth of Media Violence
  • Media Violence? Media Whatever You Want
  • The Growing Concerns Over Media Violence and Its Effect on Society
  • Media Violence: Not the Real Culprit for the Problems of Society
  • U.S. Population Consumes Much Media Violence
  • Media Violence Turning Good Kids Bad: Fact or Fiction?
  • What Is the Impact of Media Violence on Mental Health?
  • What Is the Contribution of Media Violence to Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Our Society?
  • How Common Is Concern About the Effects of Violence in Media, Video Games, the Internet, and Television?
  • What Are the Ways to Deal with Stress and Violence in the Media?
  • Should the Government Limit Violence in the Media?
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IvyPanda. (2023, March 27). 88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/media-violence-essay-topics/

"88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." IvyPanda , 27 Mar. 2023, ivypanda.com/essays/topic/media-violence-essay-topics/.

IvyPanda . (2023) '88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples'. 27 March.

IvyPanda . 2023. "88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 27, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/media-violence-essay-topics/.

1. IvyPanda . "88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 27, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/media-violence-essay-topics/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "88 Media Violence Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 27, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/media-violence-essay-topics/.

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The link between media and violence

Last weekend, the New York Times published a well-written editorial on the topic that summarizes the evidence available about the connection between media and real-life violence.

The editorial draws the conclusion – citing three separate systematic reviews – that exposure to violent imagery is a risk factor for carrying out violent acts in real life.  In other words, not everyone exposed to violent media will become violent in real life. But viewing violent media increases ones chances of acting out violently.

The first review  published in the journal Communication Research analyzed 217 studies that looked at the effect of television violence on aggressive behavior. Specifically, they found that exposure to media violence increased the chances that the viewer would commit actual physical violence against another person in the short-term, and that habitual viewing of violent media increased the risk of acting violently toward another person over longer periods of time.

A second review published in Psychological Science analyzed 42 studies on exposure to violent video games and aggressive behavior among children. Researchers found a strong connection between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior across children and young adults. “These results clearly support the hypothesis that exposure to violent video games poses a public-health threat to children and youths, including college-age individuals,” the researchers wrote.

A third meta-analysis published in the Lancet combines all of the evidence available on media and violence through 2005. It pulls together five separate systematic reviews, including the two listed above. After reviewing all of the data, the researchers concluded there is “consistent evidence that violent imagery in television, film and video, and computer games has substantial short-term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behavior in children, especially boys.” They also said” “The evidence becomes inconsistent when considering older children and teenagers, and long-term outcomes for all ages.”

That’s a lot of evidence on one topic. So what’s the take-home message?  While the evidence may not spell out the specifics of how violent media contributes to real-life behavior, one thing is clear: there is a definite connection between what we see on TV and how we act in real life.

In our house, we certainly prevent our children from watching anything violent in television shows or movies. It’s an easy rule to enforce now, but it’s one I hope to continue as my kids get older.

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How Violent Media Can Impact Your Mental Health

Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.

good thesis statement for violence in the media

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

good thesis statement for violence in the media

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  • Violent Media & Aggresssion
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  • How to Help Your Child

When to Seek Therapy

One of the most studied—and most controversial—topics in media psychology is the impact of violent media on consumers, especially children. Violence in is movies, on television, in video games, and on the internet. It's also included in content aimed at kids, tweens, and teens, and therefore, it's no surprise that psychologists, parents, and media consumers, in general, are concerned about the impact it has on people.

As a result, ever since the advent of television decades ago, psychologists have investigated the possibility of a link between the consumption of violent media and increases in real-life aggression.

This article will explore the research on this topic including arguments for and against an association. In addition, this article will examine newer research that has found a relationship between exposure to violent content, especially via news media, and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety .

Does Consuming Violent Content Lead to Increased Aggression?

Studies have consistently shown that media violence has an impact on real-life aggression . These studies use a diverse set of methods and participants, leading many experts on the impact of media violence to agree that aggression increases as a result of media violence consumption.

However, that doesn't mean exposure to media violence drives consumers to murder or other particularly violent acts. These studies explore different kinds of aggression, making the association the research has established between violent media and aggression more nuanced than it initially appears.

Evidence for a Link Between Violent Content and Aggression

Many experiments in labs have provided evidence that demonstrates that short-term exposure to violent media increases aggression in children, teenagers, and young adults. However, aggression doesn't always mean physical aggression. It can also mean verbal aggression , such as yelling insults, as well as thinking aggressive thoughts or having aggressive emotions.

There Varying Degrees of Aggression

Moreover, even physical aggression exists on a continuum from a light shove to something far more dangerous. As a result, people may become more aggressive immediately following exposure to media violence but that aggression manifests itself in a variety of different ways, a majority of which wouldn't be considered particularly dangerous.

Consuming Violent Media During Childhood May Result in Adult Aggression

More disturbing are the few longitudinal studies that have followed people over decades and have shown that frequent exposure to media violence in childhood results in adult aggression even if people no longer consume violent media as adults.

For example, one study found that frequent exposure to violent television at age 8 predicted aggressive behavior at ages 19 and 30 for male, but not female, participants. This effect held even after controlling for variables like social class, IQ , and initial aggressiveness.

Similarly, another study that surveyed 329 participants between the ages of 6 and 9 found that 15 years later the exposure of both males and females to television violence in childhood predicted increased aggression in adulthood. In particular, the 25% of study participants who viewed the most media violence in childhood were the most likely to be much more aggressive in adulthood.

These individuals exhibited a range of behaviors including:

  • Shoving their spouses
  • Beating people up
  • Committing crimes

This was especially true if they identified with aggressive characters and felt that television violence was realistic when they were children.

These findings suggest that frequent early exposure to television violence can have a powerful impact on individuals over time and well into their adult lives.

Why Is This Topic So Controversial?

So if there's so much research evidence for a link between media violence and real-world aggression, why is the debate over this topic ongoing? Part of the issue is one of definition.

Studies often define violence and aggression in very different ways and they use different measures to test the association, making it hard to replicate the results. Moreover, many researchers edit together media for lab experiments , creating a situation where participants must watch and react to media that bears minimal resemblance to anything they'd actually consume via TV, movies, or the internet.

As a result, even when these experiments find media violence causes aggression, the extent to which it can be generalized to the population as a whole is limited.

Of course, it would be naïve to think that consuming media violence has no impact on people, but it appears it may not be the most powerful influence. The effect of media violence is likely to vary based on other factors including personality traits, developmental stage, social and environmental influences, and the context in which the violence is presented.

It's also important to recognize that not all aggression is negative or socially unacceptable. One study found that a relationship between exposure to television violence and an increase in positive aggression, or aggression that isn't intended to cause harm, in the form of participation in extreme or contact sports.

Does Consuming Violent Media Lead to Mental Health Issues?

While psychologists have been studying the association between the consumption of violent media and increased aggression for well over 50 years, more recently, some have turned their attention to the impact of media violence on mental health concerns.

Consumption of Violent Media May Lead to Anxiety

Studies have demonstrated that there's a correlation between exposure to media violence and increased anxiety and the belief that the world is a scary place. For instance, an experimental investigation found that late adolescents who were exposed to a violent movie clip were more anxious than those who watched a nonviolent clip.

These findings suggest that the regular consumption of violent media could lead to anxiety in the long-term .

Constant Exposure to Violent Media Via Technology May Lead to Poorer Mental Health

Today, the violence shown on the news media may especially impact people's mental health. New technology means that violent events, including terrorist attacks, school shootings , and natural disasters, can be filmed and reported on immediately, and media consumers all over the world will be exposed to these events almost instantly via social media or news alerts on their smartphones and other devices.

Moreover, this exposure is likely to be intense and repeated due to the need to fill a 24-hour news cycle. Studies have shown that this kind of exposure, especially to acts of terrorism, has the potential to lead to depression , anxiety, stress reactions, substance use, and even post-traumatic stress (PTSD).

Plus, those who take in more images of a disaster tend to be more likely to experience negative mental health consequences. For example, in a study conducted shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, people who viewed more television news reports about what happened in the seven days after the event had more symptoms of PTSD than those who had viewed less television news coverage.

How to Cope With the Impact of Media Violence

Violence will continue to be depicted in the media and, for most adults, there's nothing wrong with watching a violent horror or action movie or playing a violent video game, as long as it doesn't impair your mental health or daily functioning.

However, if you feel you're being negatively impacted by the violence depicted in the media, especially after a disaster that's getting constant coverage on the news, the first solution is to stop engaging with devices that could lead to further exposure.

This means turning off the TV, and for anyone who frequently looks at the news on their computers or mobile devices, adjusting any settings that could lead you to see more images of a violent event.

How You Can Help Your Child

For parents concerned about children's exposure to violent media, the solution isn't to attempt to prevent children from consuming violence altogether, although limiting their exposure is valuable.

Instead, parents should co-view violent media with their children and then talk about what they see. This helps children become discerning media consumers who can think critically about the content they read, watch, and play.

Similarly, when a disturbing event like a school shooting happens it's valuable to discuss it with children so they can express their emotions and parents can put the incident in the context of its overall likelihood.

If a parent notices their child seems depressed or anxious after frequent exposure to media violence or an adult notices their mental health is suffering due to regular consumption of violent media, it may be valuable to seek the help of a mental health professional .

Anderson CA, Berkowitz L, Donnerstein E et al. The Influence of Media Violence on Youth .  Psychological Science in the Public Interest . 2003;4(3):81-110. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2003.pspi_1433.x

Huesmann LR, Eron LD.  Television And The Aggressive Child: A Cross-National Comparison . Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; 1986.

Huesmann LR, Moise-Titus J, Podolski C-L, Eron LD. Longitudinal relations between children's exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992 .  Dev Psychol . 2003;39(2):201-221. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.39.2.201

Giles D.  Psychology Of The Media . London: Palgrave Macmillan; 2010.

Giles D.  Media Psychology . Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers; 2003.

Slotsve T, del Carmen A, Sarver M, Villareal-Watkins RJ. Television Violence and Aggression: A Retrospective Study.  Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice . 2008;5(1):22-49.

Madan A, Mrug S, Wright RA. The Effects of Media Violence on Anxiety in Late Adolescence .  J Youth Adolesc . 2013;43(1):116-126. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-0017-3

Pfefferbaum B, Newman E, Nelson SD, Nitiéma P, Pfefferbaum RL, Rahman A. Disaster Media Coverage and Psychological Outcomes: Descriptive Findings in the Extant Research .  Curr Psychiatry Rep . 2014;16(9). doi:10.1007/s11920-014-0464-x

Ahern J, Galea S, Resnick H, Vlahov D. Television Images and Probable Posttraumatic Stress Disorder After September 11: The Role of Background Characteristics, Event Exposures, and Perievent Panic .  Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease . 2004;192(3):217-226. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000116465.99830.ca

The Conversation. Here's How Witnessing Violence Harms Children's Mental House .

By Cynthia Vinney, PhD Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Developing Strong Thesis Statements

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These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution implies that something is bad or negative in some way. Furthermore, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is unambiguously good.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.

Another example of a debatable thesis statement:

In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.

The thesis needs to be narrow

Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.

Example of a thesis that is too broad:

There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.

Example of a narrow or focused thesis:

In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.

We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:

Narrowed debatable thesis 1:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.

Narrowed debatable thesis 2:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.

Qualifiers such as " typically ," " generally ," " usually ," or " on average " also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.

Types of claims

Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, or, in other words, what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.

Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:

Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:

Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:

Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:

Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.

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Media Violence Effects on Children, Adolescents and Young Adults

BY: CRAIG A. ANDERSON, MA, PhD

I killed my first Klingon in 1979. It took place in the computer center at Stanford University, where I was playing a new video game based on the Star Trek television series. I was an "early adopter" of the new technology of video games, and continued to be so for many years, first as a fan of this entertainment medium, and later as a researcher interested in the question of what environmental factors influence aggressive and violent behavior.

Of course, like most young men and women of that era, I had grown up witnessing thousands of killings and other acts of aggression in a wide array of television shows and films. Today's youth are even more inundated with media violence than past generations, mostly from entertainment sources but also from news and educational media. And even though the public remains largely unaware of the conclusiveness of more than six decades of research on the effects of exposure to screen media violence, the scientists most directly involved in this research know quite a bit about these effects.

The briefest summary of hundreds of scientific studies can be boiled down to two main points. First, exposure to media violence is a causal risk factor for physical aggression, both immediately after the exposure and months, even years, later. Second, in the absence of other known risk factors for violence, high exposure to media violence will not turn a normal well-adjusted child or adolescent into a mass killer.

SOME DEFINITIONS One reason for much of the confusion and debate among even highly educated citizens, health care professionals and even a few scientists is that when media violence researchers use certain terms and concepts, they have somewhat different meanings than when the general public uses the same words.

By "aggression," researchers mean "behavior that is intended to harm another person who does not wish to be harmed." Thus, hitting, kicking, pinching, stabbing and shooting are types of physical aggression.

Playing soccer or basketball or even football with energy and confidence are not usually considered acts of aggression, even though that is what most coaches mean when they exhort their charges to "play aggressively." Somehow, the phrase "play assertively" doesn't have the same ring to it.

By "violent behavior," most modern aggression and violence scholars mean "aggressive behavior (as defined above) that has a reasonable chance of causing harm serious enough to require medical attention." Note that the behavior does not have to actually cause the harm to be classified as violent; shooting at a person but missing still qualifies as a violent behavior.

By "media violence" we mean scenes and story lines in which at least one character behaves aggressively towards at least one other character, using the above definition of "aggression," not the definition of "violence." Thus, television shows, movies, and video games in which characters fight (Power Rangers, for example), or say mean things about each other (often called relational aggression), or kill bad guys, all are instances of media violence, even if there is no blood, no gore, no screaming in pain. By this definition, most modern video games rated by the video game industry as appropriate for children — up to 90 percent, by some estimates — are violent video games.

AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE Short-term and long-term effects of violent media use on aggressive behavior have been demonstrated by numerous studies across age, culture, gender, even personality types. Overall, the research literature suggests that media violence effects are not large, but they accumulate over time to produce significant changes in behavior that can significantly influence both individuals and society.

For example, one of the longest duration studies of the same individuals found that children exposed to lots of violent television shows at age 8 later became more violent adults at age 30, even after statistically controlling for how aggressive they were at age 8.

Similar long-term effects (up to three years, so far) on aggressive and violent behavior have been found for frequent exposure to violent video games. One six-month longitudinal study found that frequent violent video game play at the beginning of a school year was associated with a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of being in a physical fight during that year, even after controlling for whether or not the child had been in a fight the previous year.

Short-term experimental studies, in which children are randomly assigned to either a violent or nonviolent media exposure condition for a brief period, conclusively demonstrate that the media violence effects are causal. In one such study, for example, children who played a child-oriented violent video game (i.e., no blood, gore, screaming …) later attempted to deliver 47 percent more high-intensity punishments to another child than did children who had been randomly assigned to play a nonviolent video game. Even cartoonish media violence increases aggression.

In recent years, there have been several intervention studies designed to test whether reducing exposure to screen violence over several months or longer can reduce inappropriate aggressive behavior. These randomized control experiments have found that, yes, children and adolescents randomly assigned to the media intervention conditions show a decrease in aggression relative to those in the control conditions.

HOW MEDIA VIOLENCE INCREASES AGGRESSION How does exposure to media violence lead to increased aggressive behavior? Media violence scholars have identified several basic psychological processes involved. They differ somewhat for short-term versus long-term effects, but they all involve various types of learning.

Short-term effects are those that occur immediately after exposure. The main ways that media violence exposure increases aggression in the short term are:

  • Direct imitation of the observed behavior
  • Observational learning of attitudes, beliefs and expected benefits of aggression
  • Increased excitation
  • Priming of aggression-related ways of thinking and feeling

In essence, for at least a brief period after viewing or playing violent media, the exposed person thinks in more aggressive ways, feels more aggressive, perceives that others are hostile towards him or her and sees aggressive solutions as being more acceptable and beneficial.

The short-term effects typically dissipate quickly. However, with repeated exposure to violent media, the child or adolescent "learns" these short-term lessons in a more permanent way, just as practicing multiplication tables or playing chess improves performance on those skills. That is, the person comes to hold more positive beliefs about aggressive solutions to conflict, develops what is sometimes called a "hostile attribution bias" (a tendency to view ambiguous negative events in a hostile way) and becomes more confident that an aggressive action on their part will work.

There also is growing evidence that repeated exposure to blood, gore and other aspects of extremely violent media can lead to emotional desensitization to the pain and suffering of others. In turn, such desensitization can lead to increased aggression by removing one of the built-in brakes that normally inhibits aggression and violence. Furthermore, this desensitization effect reduces the likelihood of pro-social, empathetic, helping behavior when viewing a victim of violence.

Interestingly, these same basic learning and priming effects account for the fact that exposure to nonviolent, pro-social media can lead to increased pro-social behavior.

SCREEN TIME EFFECTS For a number of years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended very strict limits on children's exposure to any types of screen media, including TVs and computers, primarily because of concern about attention deficits. For example, they recommend that children under the age of 2 years have no exposure to electronic screens, even nonviolent media. Recent research with children, adolescents and young adults suggests that both nonviolent and violent media contribute to real-world attention problems, such as attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Furthermore, these attention problems are strongly linked to aggressive behavior, especially impulsive types of aggression.

Another emerging problem with video game usage goes by various addiction-related labels, such as video game addiction, internet addiction and internet/gaming disorder. Research across multiple countries and various measures of problematic game use suggests that about 8 percent of "gamers" have serious problems with their gaming habit. That is, their gaming activities interfere with significant aspects of their lives, such as interpersonal relationships, school or work activities. This newer research literature suggests that for some individuals, video game problems look much like gambling addiction.

MAGNITUDE OF HARM News media often report exaggerated claims about "the" cause of the most recent violent tragedy, whether it is a school shooting or another mass killing. Sometimes the cause that is hyped by these stories is violent video games; other times it is mental illness, or gun control, or lack of gun control.

Behavioral scientists (and reasonably thoughtful people in general) know that human behavior is complex, and it is affected by many variables. Violence researchers in particular know that such extreme events as homicide cannot be boiled down to a single cause. Instead, behavioral scientists (including violence scholars) rely on what is known as risk and resilience models, or risk and protective factors.

All consequential behavior is influenced by dozens (maybe hundreds) of risk and protective factors. In the violence domain, there are dozens of known risk and protective factors. Growing up in a violent household or seeing lots of violence in one's neighborhood are two such risk factors. Growing up in a nonviolent household and having warm, caring parents who are highly involved with child rearing are protective factors. From this perspective, exposure to media violence is one known risk factor for later inappropriate aggression and violence. It is not the most important risk factor; joining a violent gang is a good candidate for that title. But it also isn't the least important risk factor.

Indeed, some studies suggest that media violence exposure carries about the same risk potential as having abusive parents or antisocial parents. One major difference from other known risk factors for later aggression and violence is that parents and caregivers can relatively easily and inexpensively reduce a child's exposure to media violence.

WHY BELIEVE THIS ARTICLE? It is easy to find very vocal critics of the mainstream summary that I have presented in this article. A simple web search will generate links to any number of them. Many of the critics are supported by the media industries in one way or another, many are heavy users of violent media and so feel threatened by violence research (much like cigarette smokers once felt threatened by cancer research), some are threatened by anything they see as impinging on free-speech rights, and many are simply ignorant about the science. But, a few appear to have relevant scientific credentials. So, a reasonable question for a parent or health care professional to ask is why believe that exposure to media violence creates harmful effects, rather than maintain the much more comfortable position that there are no harmful effects.

The simple answer is this: Every major professional scientific body that has conducted reviews of the scientific literature has come to the same conclusion. This group includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Surgeon General and the International Society for Research on Aggression, among others. I have posted these and other, similar reports online. 1

In 1972, former U.S. Surgeon General Jesse Steinfeld, MD, testified before the U.S. Senate on his assessment of the research on TV violence and behavior: "It is clear to me that the causal relationship between televised violence and antisocial behavior is sufficient to warrant appropriate and immediate remedial action," he said. "There comes a time when the data are sufficient to justify action. That time has come." 2

In response to one or two vocal critics of the mainstream research community and perhaps to pressure from other groups, the American Psychological Association created a new media violence assessment panel in 2013 to assess the association's 2005 statement and update it. They took a very unusual step to avoid any appearance of bias by excluding all major mainstream media violence scholars from the panel. Instead, the panel was composed of reputable psychological science scholars with expertise in developmental, social and related psychology domains, along with leading meta-analysis statistical experts. Their report, released in 2015, confirmed what the mainstream media violence research community has been saying for years: There are real and harmful effects of violent media.

Violent media are neither the harmless fun that the media industries and their apologists would like you to believe, nor are they the cause of the downfall of society that some alarmists proclaim. Nonetheless, electronic media in the 21st century dominate many children's and adolescents' waking hours, taking more time than any other activity, even time in school and interactions with parents. Thus, electronic media have become important socializing agents, agents that have a measurable impact.

Many of the effects of nonviolent electronic media are positive, but the vast majority of violent media effects are negative. Parents and other caregivers can mitigate the harmful effects of violent media in several ways, such as by increasing positive or "protective" factors in the child's environment, and by reducing exposure to violent media. This is not an easy task, but it can be done with little or no expense. The benefits of doing so are healthier, happier, more successful children, adolescents and young adults.

CRAIG A. ANDERSON is Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, and director of the Center for the Study of Violence, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

  • http://public.psych.iastate.edu/caa/StatementsonMediaViolence.html .
  • Jesse Feldman, statement in hearings before Subcommittee on Communications of Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, Serial #92-52 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972) 25-27.

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