Cross-Cultural Study Strengthens Link Between Media Violence, Aggression

A new study of young adults in seven countries shows that media violence is a strong contributing risk factor toward aggressive behavior, regardless of culture. The findings are published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

For the study, researchers at Iowa State University (ISU) surveyed 2,154 adolescents and young adults in Australia, China, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Romania, and the United States. The average age was 21 years old and 38 percent of participants were male. Participants were asked to list their most frequently watched or played TV shows, movies, and video games, and to rate the level of violence. The researchers also collected data on aggressive behavior and empathy.

The research team identified four key findings from the study:

  • Violent media use was positively and significantly related to aggressive behavior in all countries
  • Exposure was related to heightened aggressive thinking and lowered empathy
  • Media violence remained significant even after controlling for other risk factors
  • The effect of media violence was larger than all other risk factors, except peer delinquency

“This is strong evidence that the main psychological processes that cause repeated media violence exposure to lead to increased aggressiveness are essentially the same across cultures, at least during normal times,” said study leader Craig Anderson, an ISU distinguished professor of psychology.

“However, we believe that local cultural and social conditions may influence such processes when those conditions are more extreme.”

Anderson went on to explain that in war-torn societies, media violence exposure may have heightened effects due to the real violence children and teens experience on a daily basis. On the other hand, the media violence effect could be smaller in such extreme conditions.

In addition to measuring media violence, the research team looked at five other risk factors of aggressive behavior: neighborhood crime, peer delinquency, peer victimization, gender, and abusive parenting.

Combined, these factors significantly predicted aggressive behavior and as a group were more powerful than any individual factor. The findings show that media violence was the second most important predictor.

Below are the six major risk factors of aggressive behavior and how each contributes to overall risk:

  • Peer delinquency — 28 percent
  • Media violence — 23 percent
  • Peer victimization — 17 percent
  • Gender — 12 percent
  • Neighborhood crime — 11 percent
  • Abusive parenting — nine percent

“The findings strongly suggest that media violence is similar to other known risk factors for aggression,” said Douglas Gentile, an ISU professor of psychology and one of the co-authors.

“That’s not to say media violence deserves special attention, but that it should be considered as seriously as other risk factors such as coming from a broken home. What matters most, however, is not any single risk factor, but how they can combine to increase the risk of aggression.”

Anderson notes that although the findings were based on self-reports and the study was cross-sectional, the large, diverse sample allowed for direct comparisons of media violence effects across many cultures.

The study also disproves claims by the entertainment industry that dismiss all media violence effects.

“There are highly motivated groups dedicated to denying scientific findings of harm, such as the tobacco industry’s decades-long denial of harmful effects of their products on cancer,” Anderson said. “This study clearly contradicts the denialism that currently dominates news media stories on media violence effects.”

Source: Iowa State University