One of the central concerns of forensic psychologists is the prediction of violence coupled with assessing the risk factors that may result in violence. Generally, forensic psychology merges psychology and law (Bartol & Bartol, 2004). Media may be one of the risk factors that help in propagating the portrayal of violence among people especially children through programs, games, and cartoon programs among others. In this section, a summary of the article Cartoon Violence makes Children more Aggressive written by Clarks in 2009 is conducted as a mechanism of setting the foundations for scrutinizing how media may lead to committing crime among children following the normalization of violent behaviors attributed to exposure to violent TV programs, video games, music, and films.
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Clarks argues that one of the studies that provide amicable empirical evidence of the link between media and violence among children is the study conducted by the U.S psychologists in 2008. In the study, “psychologists quizzed 95 girls aged 10 and 11 years about their favourite TV shows, rating them for violent content, verbal, and indirect aggression” (Clarks, 2009, Para. 3). Among the shows that were scrutinized included American idol, Pokemon, Lost, Scooby-Doo, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer among others.
The results of the study indicated that some of the programs that were developed targeting children who are seven years and above possessed incredibly higher levels of violence in comparison to some of the programs that were meant for general mass viewing. Additionally, the study “recorded 26 acts of aggression an hour compared with just five in shows aimed at general audiences and nine in programs deemed unsuitable for under-14s” (Clarks, 2009, Para 8). The general argument of the article is that violent media is a contributor to aggressive behavior or violent behavior among people of all demographic differences.
Empirical Evidence on Relationship between Media and Crime
Generally, in the discipline of forensic psychology, there has been immense research on the contribution of violent media on the portrayal of aggressive behavior among people, particularly children. Although the definition of violent media varies, many of the researchers in the field consider violent media as embarrassing TV programs, music and, video games (Ferguson, 2009, p.103: Schofield, 2007, Para. 7). Empirical proofs by various researchers who have proactively participated in the subject of forensic psychology contend that the verification on the link between violent media and aggressive behavior among children and adults is undeniable. Anderson et al (2003) are one of such researchers who additionally claim, “…the scientific debate over whether media violence increases aggression is essentially over” (p.81).
However, other scholars in the field contest this conclusion claiming that the quality of the strength of empirical evidence on the association of violent media and indulgence of the audience in criminal activities does not warrant the intensity of the conclusions arrived at (Ferguson, 2009, p.104). Nevertheless, the results of experiments on the roles of violent media on inculcation of aggressive behavior among children and their subsequent validation and justification of the behaviors place an enormous weight in the case for associating violent media with criminal activities instigated by the developed aggressive behaviors. Many of the studies on the impacts of violent media on aggressive behavior concentrate on the general audience while some concentrate on the impacts of media violence on certain genders.
For instance, while Huesmann, (2007) evidences, “Violence depicted on television, in films and video games raises the risk of aggressive behavior in adults and young viewers and poses a serious threat to public health” (p.6), Macrae (2012) argues that scientists believe that watching violent TV programs and playing violent video games make boys aggressive and hence violent (Para.1). In the generation of empirical data, it is crucial to have quantitative data of the variables of a study. Unfortunately, violence is a difficult variable to allocate quantitative values. Consequently, research on the role of violent media in resulting in violent acts among children and adults takes two formats. These are correlational and experimental. Due to the challenges encountered in studying violence ethically and practically, the term aggression is used as a substitute for the term crime.
Consequently, those factors that would truncate into aggressive behaviors are also treated as close estimations of the factors that result in violence and hence crime. Therefore, in correlational research, attempts are deployed to allocate quantitative and qualitative values to aggressive behaviors (emotions and thoughts) and exposure to violent media (TV programs, music, and video games). From the contexts of the experimental research, the focus is to measure the impacts of various levels (durations) of exposure on violent media on the subsequent expressions of aggressive behaviors towards opponents through ways such as punishing and or assaulting either practically or implied by thoughts and emotions.
Arguably, therefore, establishing an empirical link between violent media and aggressive behavior is tantamount to establishing an empirical link between violent media and indulgencies by members of a society affected by the media psychologically in criminal activities. The correlation between media crime and aggressive behaviors among the audience stems from psychological cognitive theories and social modeling theories. The general model for aggression explains this correlation. The model “suggests that aggressive behavior occurs when cognitive scripts are activated by particular environmental stimuli” (Ferguson, 2009, p.105).
Consequently, it is arguable that exposure to stimuli involving violence such as the one found in a violent video game and some TV programs including cartoons may cause activation of aggressive scripts among children. Ferguson ( 2009) supports this argument by informing further, “ the greater extent to which a person is exposed to violent stimuli, the more aggressive scripts that are formed and the more often these scripts are called upon when presented with potentially hostile environmental stimuli” (p.105). Essentially, this implies that the more people are exposed to violent stimuli, the more probably they would interpret stimuli that are ambiguous as being hostile and or stimuli that are harmful as being intentional.
This makes them respond in an aggressive way while the situation does not warrant such kind of response. This model is ideally passive. The implication is that, amid varying biological, familial, personality, and genetic traits of people, persons who are exposed to violent media have high chances of engaging in violent acts (crimes) in comparison to persons who are not exposed to such media. From this perspective, it sounds plausible to reckon that people may start with no motivation for indulgence in violence. Nevertheless, with repeated exposure to violent media, they end up acquiring violent or aggressive behaviors.
Various scholarly findings replicate and support this argument. For instance, Clarks (2009) asserts that children copy and identify themselves with certain fantasy characters in a similar manner in which they would do with various screen characters (Para 1). This argument is particularly substantive upon considering that cartoon programs such as Scooby-Doo have been found to possess more brutality in comparison to some other programs, which are principally meant for general family viewing. According to Bartholow and Anderson (2002), American children utilize 3 to 4 hours watching TV on a daily basis (p.284).
Additionally, children also make use of an enormous portion of their time playing video games, which contain an enormous amount of violence. This trend raises a lot of concern especially upon noting, “video game units are now present in 83% of homes with children” (Huesmann, 2007, p.5). In 2004, empirical studies evidenced that “children spent 49 minutes per day playing video games, and on any given day, 52% of children aged 8–18 years play video games” (Huesmann, 2007, p.5). Essentially, scholarly evidence shows that video game is prevalent among children in mid ages (8-10 years) in which a child spends 65 minutes per day gamming.
On the other hand, 15 to 18-year old American children utilize 33 minutes of their time per day playing video games. Surprisingly, many of these games are dominated by immense violence. In particular, Huesmann (2007) reckons, “94% of games rated (by the video game industry) as appropriate for teens are described as containing violence, and ratings by independent researchers suggest that the real percentage may be even higher” (p.10).
Meta-analysis experiments perhaps provide the most plausible estimations of the impacts of violent media on aggressive behavior among people. A good example of a meta-analysis study is the experiment by Paik and Comstock in which they “examined effect sizes from 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990” (Huesmann, 2007, p.11).In all the experiments that were randomized in nature reviewed by the researchers, an impact size of r=0.38, for N=432 was obtained. N was the number of independent tests with r being the average value of the impact size. In an attempt to verify their results, an analysis was focused on experiments scrutinizing acerbating of physical violence following exposure to violent media.
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Tantamount to prior findings, an average value of r=0.32 was obtained, but this time with N= 71. The meta-analysis study also examined various longitudinal coupled with cross-sectional surveys that were conducted within the same time span (1957 to 1990). In these surveys, for N =410, the researchers found an r-value of 0.19. On the other hand, a comparative basis analysis was conducted for studies in which the dependent variable was physical aggression acerbated towards another person following exposure to violent media. The results indicated that r was not impacted (remained as 0.19) when N=200. “Finally the average correlation of media violence exposure with engaging in criminal violence was 0.13” (Huesmann, 2007, p11).
While the results of various meta-analysis experiments are critical in deducing the impacts of media violence on the portrayal of violence and or aggressive behavior among people, the accurateness of the deductions are limited by the “drawer effect”. Nevertheless, it is possible to correct this limitation through the estimation of the number of studies that produce ‘null effects’ sufficient to alter a meta-analysis experiment results. According to Huesmann, in the case of Paik and Comstock, “more than 500,000 cases of null effects would have to exist in file drawers to change their overall conclusion of a significant positive relation between exposure to media violence and aggression” (2007, p.12).
Consequently, the result of the meta-analysis experiment conducted by Paik and Comstock is a reliable indicator of the association between media and crime. Generally, empirical evidence demonstrates that, when people are exposed to violent behaviors via TV or films, chances increase that they would indulge in violent behaviors after their exposure. “In the typical paradigm, randomly selected individuals are shown either a violent or nonviolent short film or TV program or asked to play a violent or nonviolent video game, and are then observed as they have the opportunity to aggress” (Huesmann, 2007, p.11).
The capacity of this exposure to result in violent acts later produces more impacts, particularly among youths and children. In the case of children, opportunities for expression of aggressive behaviors entail participating in plays with other children in which, while a conflict is stimulated, children may afflict pain through violent acts to their peers.
Video games, TV programs, films, and cartoon programs have been claimed to cause an increment of aggressive behaviors among children and all people in general. The question is whether other media genres have similar perceptions. As a response to this query, Clarks (2009) reports, “Research on the effects of violent video games, which are all animated, indicates that they have the same effects on children’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors that violent TV shows have demonstrated” (Para.12).
In the context of the empirical evidence on the link between media violence and aggressive behaviors among the viewers and prevalence of media violence in animated programs such as cartoons, it is arguable that media considers the possession of violence in animated programs as having milder effects in comparison to non-animated programs. This may perhaps help in explaining why the latter has lesser violence than the former group of TV programs. One can draw valid inferences from Clarks’ argument on the evidence of media contribution to aggressive behavior and violence among children in comparison to the empirical evidence discussed above.
As such, it is arguable that in case media tags violence as fantasy, exposure to such environmental stimuli, as suggested by the general aggression model may result in making children seek out more violent content in search of more gaming fantasy. Such fantasy is incredibly harmful as it may translate into the indulgence of the viewers and the players into violent and or aggressive conducts reminiscent of cognitions of violence acquired in the media.
Bartholow, D., & Anderson, C. (2002). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior: Potential sex differences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(3), 283–290.
Bartol, C., & Bartol, M. (2004). Introduction to Forensic Psychology. California: Sage.
Clarks, L. (2009). Cartoon violence ‘makes children more aggressive. Web.
Ferguson, C. (2009). Media Violence Effects: Confirmed Truth or Just another X-File?. Journal of forensic psychology practice, 9(2), 103-126.
Huesmann, R. (2007). The impact of electronic violence: scientific theory and research. Journal of adolescent health, 41(6), 6-13.
Macrae, F. 2012. Violent films, video games and TV shows do make boys aggressive. Web.
Schofield, J. (2007). Media violence is almost as bad as smoking. Web.