Exposure to media violence is one of six risk factors for predicting future aggression in children, according to a new study.
The other factors, according to Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State University associate professor of psychology, are: bias toward hostility; low parental involvement; gender; physical victimization; and prior physical fights.
The more risk factors they have, the more likely the children are to be aggressive, he said.
“As you gain risk factors, the risk of aggression goes up disproportionally,” said Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State.
“Having one or two risk factors is no big deal. Kids are resilient — they can handle it. You get to three and there’s a big jump. When you get out past four risk factors, risk is increasing at a much higher rate than you would expect.”
For the study, 430 children between the ages of 7 and 11 in five Minnesota schools and their teachers were surveyed twice in a school year. Physical aggression was measured using self-reports, reports by peers, and teacher reports of actual violence.
In the self-reports, participants listed their three favorite TV shows, video games and movies. For each, participants rated how frequently they watched or played it, and how violent it was.
An overall violence exposure score was computed for each participant by multiplying the violence rating by the frequency of viewing or playing, and then averaging across the nine responses. That approach has been used successfully in other studies that study children and media violence, the researcher said.
Gentile noted that of all the risk factors, high exposure to media violence is the one that is easiest for parents to control.
“If we are concerned about bullying in schools, then this approach has real world implications for helping to target the kids who are at higher risk for bullying behavior so we could use our limited resources more effectively to reduce bullying in schools,” he continued.
“We could profile kids by measuring their risk factors. In fact, I can get over 80 percent accuracy knowing only three things — are they a boy, have they gotten in a fight within the past year, and do they consume a lot of media violence? When you get out to having six risk factors, then we can predict with 94 percent accuracy which kids will get into fights in the coming year. We just can’t predict which day.
“Most of the risk factors for aggression are really hard to change. You can’t easily change whether your child has previously been in a fight or bullied,” Gentile said.
“That’s what makes this different is that it’s actually fairly easy to control compared to most of the other risk factors. But how it acts as a risk factor is exactly the same as all others. It’s not the biggest, it’s not the smallest, it’s actually right there in the middle of the pack.”
The research was published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
Source: Iowa State University