Violence in the media can lead to aggressive behaviour in young children


NB. Please note that if you are outside North America, the embargo lifts at 0001 hours UK Time Friday 18 February 2005.

Violent imagery in the media can have a substantial short-term effect on young children's arousal, thoughts and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour, concludes a review published in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

Kevin Browne and Catherine Hamilton- Giachritsis (University of Birmingham, UK) analysed data from six North American reviews looking at the effects of media violence on children. They found that for passive viewing (television and film) and interactive viewing (video and computer games) there is consistent evidence of an association between younger children watching media violence and showing more aggressive play and behaviour, mainly in the short-term. The effect is small but significant and especially relevant for boys. The evidence was less consistent when considering older children and teenagers and long-term effects for all ages.

The review acknowledges that family and social factors are likely to affect a child's response to violent imagery. One UK study found that the effects of film violence were greater in young people who had grown up in violent families. However, the authors note that research has found that an affect persists even when socioeconomic status, intelligence, and parenting are taken into account, suggesting that some of the influence is independent of other factors.

The authors outline areas that need further investigation along with several public health recommendations. They write that population studies with large samples are needed to find out whether violence in the media leads to violent criminal behaviour. Currently, there is only weak evidence linking media violence directly to crime.

Professor Browne concludes: "Parents and caregivers might be recommended to exercise the same care with adult media entertainment as they do medication or chemicals around the home. Carelessness with material that contains extreme violent and sexual imagery might even be regarded as a form of emotional maltreatment of the child.

"There is an urgent need for parents and policy makers to take an educational rather than censorial approach. Parents and teachers can view age appropriate violent material with children and help them critically appraise what they see, in terms of its realism, justification and consequences. In this way caregivers can reduce the effect of violent imagery."

He adds: "Producers also need to recognise the potential effects of their violent images on vulnerable audiences who might not have the capacity or the will to see violence in the context of the story."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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