The use of profanity has exploded in movies, video games, TV and of course, over the Internet. Now, a study suggests profanity in the media may increase aggression levels among teens — acting, according to researchers, as a kind of stepping stone to violence.
Researchers say the study is the first to examine the impact of profanity in the media among middle school students. Earlier studies have posited a link between watching violent scenes and aggression, though the evidence is mixed.
In the study, scholars at Brigham Young University gathered information from 223 middle school students in the Midwest.
Although the study was not conducted over a period of time, statistical techniques were applied that give more clues than would simple correlation tests, says BYU family life professor Sarah Coyne.
Specifically, the statistical modeling points to a chain reaction: Exposure to profanity is associated with acceptance and use of profanity, which in turn influence both physical and relational aggression.
“On the whole, it’s a moderate effect,” said Coyne, the lead author of the Pediatrics study.
“We even ran the statistical model the opposite way to test if the violent kids used more profanity and then sought it out in the media, but the first path we took was a much better statistical fit even when we tried other explanations.”
Other experts agree with the conclusions as Brad Bushman, a media expert at Ohio State University says, “This research shows that profanity is not harmless.”
“Children exposed to profanity in the media think that such language is ‘normal,’ which may reduce their inhibitions about using profanity themselves. And children who use profanity are more likely to aggress against others. These are very important findings for parents, teachers, and pediatricians.”
“Profanity is kind of like a stepping stone,” Coyne said. “You don’t go to a movie, hear a bad word, and then go shoot somebody. But when youth both hear and then try profanity out for themselves it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive behavior.”
The association between profanity and adolescent aggression remained significant even when the researchers accounted for the influence of portrayals of aggression in the shows and games popular with the middle school students.
In one regard, Coyne says the ratings systems were “ahead of their time” by steering young people away from profanity without scientific research to state why. Yet she also sees a new gap in the video game ratings system when it comes to educating parents about games that enable online interaction between players.
The connection between profanity and adolescent aggression remained significant even while accounting for the influence of portrayals of aggression in the shows and games popular with the middle school students involved in the study.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.
Source: Brigham Young University