The Effects of Media Violence

There seems to be an impulse towards violence within the human psyche (as a species, we began as hunters), an impulse that is restrained by learned behaviour patterns. Some people learn restraining behaviour patterns more effectively than others. Some people forget learned behaviour patterns when their innate impulse towards violence is triggered, either by a personal confrontation, or an encounter with violence in the media.

An encounter with violent media can produce a physical, rather than a mental reaction.

What would appear from a neural mapping and hormonal measurements of a subject — in this case an 18-23 year-old male — witnessing a violent film? ...there would be a rise in testoterone and adrenaline levels, and if there were monitors on the brain to indicate increased neural activity through electro-synaptic pulses, there would be a large glow coming from the archipallium area. In evolutionary terms, this is the reptilian part of the brain that includes the brain stem, medulla, and cerebellum, and it produces a type of primal pleasure response.

So, in laughing terms, watching violent films is liking having reptile sex...

Bad Subjects, Political Education for Everyday Life, Issue #61

What Are the Psychological Effects of Media Violence?

It has been suggested that the observable psychological effects of violence in the media on an audience are as follows:

Direct Watching a lot of violence via the media may mean children & adults may demonstrate more aggressive behaviour themselves, or they may have more approving attitudes towards the use of violence to resolve conflicts
Desensitization exposure to media violence may mean children in particular become less sensitive to violence occuring around them, and less sensitive to the pain and suffering that violence causes to others. They also have less sensitive views on "acceptable" levels of violence in society - i.e. they are prepared to tolerate more.
Mean World Syndrome watching large amounts of violence on TV may lead children and adults to believe that the real world contains this amount of pain and violence, and therefore they begin to view their environment as a mean and dangerous place.
Catharsis a potentially POSITIVE effect, where exposure to media violence may result in reduced aggression in viewers, as it's a way of working through aggressive tendencies in a harmless manner. Check out Feshbach's & Singer's 1971 observational research.

However, given the difficulties involved in isolating cause-effect in the complexities of human behaviour, and the ethics of testing child subjects, effects theory is an area of very heated debate. Bandura's Bobo Doll Experiments are half a century behind us now, but the questions they raised are still unresolved.

Measuring the Effects - Children

Children are considered to be the group most 'at risk' from media violence, because they do not have filters in place which differentiate between violence seen via a media channel, and violence in real life. A lot of work has been done on the effects of violence on television on children, as this is the medium they are most exposed to. Look at the following reports:

You will notice that the above reports are predominantly American. This is because a) more Americans put these reports on the internet b) American society is violent and those with social responsibilities are constantly seeking a cause c) Americans have more TVs and a longer TV history than most other nations.

Further Reading