TV Violence Has Long-Lasting Effects

TV Violence in Childhood May Lead to Aggressive Young Adults

From the WebMD Archives

March 11, 2003 -- When Wile E. Coyote slammed into a wall while chasing Road Runner, we laughed. Violent? We thought it was funny. But all that TV violence adds up, negatively affecting child development.

Young adults who act aggressively -- pushing and punching other people, throwing things, getting into trouble -- likely watched too much TV violence when they were kids.

A new study looks back at TV shows that kids watched during the mid-1970s -- Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man, and classic Roadrunner cartoons -- and at the long-lasting effects they had on child development.

"Over the past 40 years, a body of literature has emerged that strongly supports the notion that media-violence viewing is one factor contributing to the development of aggression," writes lead author L. Rowell Huesmann, PhD, with the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan.

His study, appearing in the March issue of Developmental Psychology, is evidence of the long-lasting effects of TV violence into young adulthood. In the study, Huesmann and colleagues look at TV viewing habits of 557 young adults who grew up in the Chicago area.

They asked young adults which shows they watched as children, whether they identified with the aggressive characters, and if they thought the violent scenes were realistic. Researchers also interviewed their spouses or friends, asking about the aggressive behavior

Those who watched a lot of TV violence as children were more likely to:

  • have pushed, grabbed, or shoved their spouses
  • respond to an insult by shoving a person
  • have been convicted of a crime
  • have committed a moving traffic violation

For example, these men were three times more likely to be convicted of a crime than men who watched less TV violence as children.

Women who watched lots of violent TV as children were more likely to:

  • have thrown something at their spouses
  • have responded to someone who made them mad by shoving, punching, beating, or choking the person
  • have committed some type of criminal act
  • have committed a moving traffic violation

For example, these women were four times more likely to punch, beat, or choke another adult.

Which shows had the worst effects? Not necessarily the ones you would expect, say authors. If children could identify with the perpetrator of the violence on TV -- if the perpetrator is rewarded for the violence -- and if the scene seemed lifelike -- then children were affected.

"Thus, a violent act by someone like Dirty Harry that results in a criminal being eliminated and brings glory to Harry is of more concern than a bloodier murder by a despicable criminal who is brought to justice," they write.

It's a call to action -- parents should install V-chips to control TV violence in their homes, to reduce impact on child development, authors state.

SOURCE: Developmental Psychology, March 2003.