Ever since the invention of media it has been discussed, disputed, and debated by experts and idiots alike. As media violence will always shock and stimulate audiences, haters will always criticize it. So are these critics right to chastise it? Is it true that media violence encourages people to act violently? If so should video game violence be discouraged further than it already is? With the advancement of special effects, interactivity and global desensitisations increasing, these questions are being raised by “experts” everyday. Firstly I’d like to explore two specific theories as to why media violence is unhealthy for audiences, followed by why these theories are flawed. Then I’ll finish with a number of criticisms of the research methods used to back these theories.
The first most well-known theory is called the “Social Learning Theory” and focusses towards how easily children are influenced; this theory suggests that children may learn aggression from viewing others. This theory was “proven” by Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiments which involved children seeing a video of a model beating up a Bobo doll, followed by the children being put in the same situation where they copied the actions of the model in the video. However, it can be argued that the children’s actions were motivated simply to please the experimenter rather than be aggressive, meaning that they could have seen the video as a form of instructions rather than an incentive to be aggressive. In later experiments the model was shown being physically punished for the violence on the Bobo doll, this violence of one person to another resulted in a massive decrease in the amount of children who beat up the Bobo doll. These last results indicate that even young children don’t automatically imitate aggression without first considering its context.
It can be argued that the children’s actions were motivated simply to please the experimenter rather than be aggressive.
The second theory is called the “Social Cognitive Theory.” It proposes that continued exposure to media violence makes the viewer more desensitised to it in real life. While it may be true that media violence is required to constantly be increased in order to continually shock and stimulate audiences, the criticism of this theory rests in its link to real life violence. In a recent study a group of college students were told to play either a violent or a non-violent video game and were then shown a ten minute video of real life violence; the responses of shock were greater from those who played the non-violent video game. The flaw in this research was that although the students who played the violent video games were less fazed by the video, it does not necessarily mean that they would not be shocked if they saw the very same violence happen right in front of them in real life. Most human beings would react very differently if presented with that situation in real life compared to watching it unfold on a monitor.
There are a number of criticisms of the theories supporting the connection between violence in media and violence in real life. Statistics gathered from research of any kind can never be absolutely accurate, which is what a number of critics have taken advantage of in order to disparage the claims of the researchers. It is argued that the environment caused by experimental conditions cause more aggression than the violent media itself, for example, someone who gets aggressive while playing a violent videogame may have nothing to do with the violence but more the difficulty of the game and the frustration/boredom that follows.
It is argued that the environment caused by experimental conditions cause more aggression than the violent media itself.
Researchers have also failed to establish a measurement for media violence levels and time of exposure; instead they have only left two factors; violent media users and non-violent media users. Without a grey area in-between, the researchers are hurting the accuracy of their studies. As with many statistics the researchers fail to report negative findings in order to prevent disproving their own theories. Obviously this is dishonest and has been proven to be the case with a number of research projects by the AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) and APA (American Psychological Association).
Another problem with this research is that many projects have failed to account for variables such as genetics, personality and exposure to family violence before conducting experiments, meaning that the violence portrayed may not be a result of violent media. In this research the experimenters often fail to define “aggression”, meaning that a frown could be considered a display of aggression. Ultimately the biggest problem for media violence is that its increasing rates are often compared to those of violent crime. These comparisons are completely inaccurate, as a matter of fact violent crime rates in New Zealand have decreased as media violence has increased. Below is a copy of the most recent national statistics on violent crime released in December 2012.
So hopefully all of this evidence has convinced you to think about this topic in an alternative view opposed to the usual article showing inaccurate research in an attempt to scare society into consumerism (a topic I’ll save for another article). I am not saying that media violence has no effect on people—it almost certainly does—what I’m saying is that people should not take “expert” words as law and think about their own opinions once they have gathered information from both sides of the argument. I encourage each and every reader to agree or disagree with me; if you have any feedback please leave a comment below.
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dataspel.jpg