If you want to understand the impact that the mass media has on our lives, you need to look at some of the evidence about the nature and extent of media influence.
When forming an understanding about the nature and extent of media influence, it is important to evaluate the credibility of different studies. Research can be divided into a number of different types, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.
• Case studies. Often described as ‘moral panics’, case studies include events like the Columbine High School massacre or the murder of James Bulger. When tragic events like these occur, people are keen to find something to blame. In these cases, commentators were quick to blame violent media texts when it was quite evident that the violent behaviour was the product of a number of factors. Case studies are not considered credible evidence of media influence.
• Laboratory research. Conducted in a laboratory setting, this form of research means experiments can be replicated again and again and variables measured precisely. The controlled setting of laboratory research ignores the fact that media consumption occurs in the real world. Examples of laboratory research include Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment.
• Longitudinal research. Longitudinal research occurs over a long period of time. Researchers return to the same subjects and look at the long term effect of media.
• Correlation studies. Any research that finds a correlation between two sets of data. Just because there is a correlation between two sets of data, it does not necessarily mean that one thing caused the other. As noted in The Economist: “There is a correlation in Germany between the decline of the stork population and the falling human birth rate. That does not prove that storks bring babies.”
• Qualitative research. Qualitative research involves asking people about their media use. It involves long questionnaires and detailed responses about media use. Regarded as an extremely credible way of measuring media influence.
• Quantitative research. Includes the results of surveys and statistics, any research that can easily be reduced to numbers. Although raw data like this can be useful, it does not necessarily take into account the complex relationship between audiences and texts.
• Meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is when researchers look at a number of studies and draw conclusions from the collective results of this research.
In class, you will examine a great deal of evidence about media influence. This sheet is a useful way to start thinking about the credibility of this evidence and what it tells us about the nature and extent of media influence.
Video game violence
There is considerable debate over the effect that violent video games have on audiences. Watch the following clips and briefly describe what they argue about the influence of violent video games:
Evidence about video game violence
Using the above sheet, examine the following evidence about the effect of video game violence.
Use this handy revision sheet when preparing for the Media Influence SAC and exam.
Arguments about violent video games
Copycat behaviour. Some argue that audiences will copy or imitate what they see in violent video games. Copycat behaviour is often substantiated using isolated incidents such as the Mortal Kombat killer or the boy who shot his grandmother after playing GTA. Social learning theory is an extension of this idea. Developed by Albert Bandura and Richard Waters in 1962, it suggests that people learn by observing others. People learn rules and strategies for different types of behaviour from the media. A 1988 study titled ‘Effects of Playing Video Games on Children’s Aggressive and Other Behaviours’ took a random sample of thirty-one children were asked to either play a violent karate video game or a non-violent jungle swing video game. Those who played the violent video game showed more aggression during play. The General Aggression Model suggests playing violent video games results in the learning, rehearsal and reinforcement of aggressive knowledge structures. It cultivates aggressive beliefs and attitudes, perception, expectations, behaviour scripts and desensitises, leading to aggressive personalities and violence.
Desensitisation. It is often argued that repeated and prolonged exposure to violent video games will desensitise audiences to violence. In a 2006 study called “The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence”, Carnagey, Anderson and Bushman found that participants exposed to violent video games had a lower heart rate and lower galvanic skin response than those who were not. Speaking at a conference called ‘Media, minds and neuroscience’ Dr Wayne Warburton discussed that brain imaging has revealed that cumulative exposure to violent video games limits the development of the pre-frontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for impulse control. Warburton told ABC’s PM that this leads to a “loss of empathy”. Subjects were split into two groups, those with a lot of exposure to violent video games and those without. Those accustomed to violent video games had very little response to violent images, some studies demonstrating an “active suppression of the emotion centres of the brain.” This research didn’t involve exposing subjects to real world violence.
Vulnerable audiences. It is suggested that certain audiences, such as children or people with mental health issues, are more susceptible to violent video games. It is commonly argued that children more vulnerable to the influence of violent video games. The Australian Attorney General’s review of violent video game research reported that Craig Anderson’s 2010 meta-analysis showed “no evidence that younger participants were more affected than older participants.” This suggests that the effect is the same for adults and children. According to the same report, a 2007 Australian study found that violent video games were not linked with aggressive emotions. Players with non-aggressive personalities didn’t experience a change in emotion. Those with aggressive personalities experienced an increase in anger. If they were angry beforehand, however, playing a violent video game tended to decrease aggression. In 2010, a study by Markey and Markey found that people with psychotic personality traits were more susceptible to the effect of violent video games on aggression. According to the report, most other personality types were unaffected.
Interactivity. Because they are interactive, violent video games are more likely to cause violence and aggression compared to other media. Former military psychologist David Grossman argues that because the military uses video games to train its troops, violent video games are training young people to become violent and aggressive in the real world. As Henry Jenkins points out in ‘Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked’, this assumes that audiences don’t think critically about what they are consuming and it is assumed that people will “unwittingly apply” what they learn in a fantasy game to the real world. In a study titled ‘Do video games exert stronger effects on aggression than film?’, Jih-Hsuan Lin examined the responses of 102 male college students to a violent video game, recorded game play and a violent movie. The study found that the interactive video game caused an increase in short term aggressive responses when compared to the other forms of media.
Catharsis. The idea of catharsis stretches back to Aristotle who suggested that emotions could be purged through art. The notion of catharsis has not been extensively tested. While there has been a great deal of research into social learning theory, which has demonstrated small or weak effects, researchers don’t often examine how violent video games might be used to purge negative emotions. In ‘The Role of Violent Video Game Content in Adolescent Development: Boys’ Perspectives’, which was published in Journal of Adolescent Research, the researchers behind the paper reveals that some teenage boys use violent video games to channel anger and relieve stress. A 2003 report by Flammer and Schaffner found that teenagers use video games and music to cope with negative moods. The report acknowledge, however, that further study is required to see if using violent media to regulate emotions is beneficial or harmful.
Moral panic. The development of new media is often accompanied by anxiety about its effect on society. Around 400BC classical Greek philosopher Socrates was concerned that the advent of writing would create forgetfulness and people would generally know nothing. In the 1860s, British politicians blamed popular culture for delinquent behavior. One argued that “cheap publications” and theatre performances of an “immoral character” would lead children to life of dishonesty and vice. In the 1950s, American psychiatrist Dr Fredric Wertham published a book called The Seduction of the Innocent claiming comic books were a danger to children. Christopher J Ferguson claims that the discussion of violent video games has the hallmarks of a moral panic, compelling scientists to act in an unscientific way: “There is a huge gap between the effects of violent video games as presented by some social scientists and the actual scientific data on the effects of violent video games. This gap between social science and reality has led to a moral panic regarding the effects of violent video games on youths.
Ubiquity. Almost everyone plays video games – so why aren’t we all aggressive and violent? According to the Entertainment Software Association, United States consumers spent $22.41 billion on video games in 2014 They also reported that 155 million Americans play video games. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime in America has been declining since 1994. In 2014, Christopher J Ferguson published a paper in the Journal of Communication titled ‘Does media violence predict societal violence’? The study found an inverse relationship between youth violence and the consumption of violent video games. As Ferguson notes in the study: “Data comparing video game violence consumption to youth violence in society demonstrate an inverse relationship, at least for the years 1996 through 2011 when both sets of data were available. This relationship appears to be remarkably strong. However, it is important to point out that this is not an indication of causality.”
Download this sheet to help you revise for the SAC and exam!
MEDIA VIOLENCE: EVIDENCE AND ARGUMENTS ABOUT MEDIA INFLUENCE
Over the last seventy years, there have been many studies attempting to determine whether there is a link between violence in the media and aggressive behaviour. At one end of the spectrum there are researchers like Craig Anderson who argue that violent video games make children more violent and aggressive. Anderson told ABC’s Background Briefing that the effects of video game violence is greater than the effect of passive smoking on lung cancer. “The effect of media violence on aggression in general is bigger than the effect of passive smoking on lung cancer,” Anderson said, “it’s bigger than the effect of exposure to lead and IQ scores in children; it’s bigger than the effect of calcium intake on bone mass; it’s bigger than the effect of homework on academic achievement. These are all effects that people generally understand to be true, real effects that are large enough to be important and large enough to worry about.” At the other end, academics like Henry Jenkins maintain that we should be examining what children do with the media, rather than what it does to them. “The key issue isn’t what the media are doing to our children but rather what our children are doing with the media,” he wrote in his article ‘Professor Jenkins goes to Washington’. “The vocabulary of ‘media effects,’ which has long dominated such hearings, has been challenged by numerous American and international scholars as an inadequate and simplistic representation of media consumption and popular culture. Media effects research most often empties media images of their meanings, strips them of their contexts, and denies their consumers any agency over their use.” Understanding the effect of media violence requires an appreciation of these often conflicting studies. Here are five different studies and reports on media violence you should be familiar with.
Christopher J Ferguson and John Kilburn
In 2008, Christopher J Ferguson and John Kilburn conducted a meta-analysis of studies into media violence. After correcting these studies for publication bias, they found “little support for the hypothesis that media violence is associated with higher aggression.”
VIOLENT VIDEO GAME EFFECTS ON AGGRESSION, EMPATHY AND PRO-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR IN EASTERN AND WESTERN COUNTRIES: A META-ANALYTIC REVIEW (2010)
Craig A. Anderson, et al.
In a 2010 meta-analysis, Craig Anderson and a range of other researchers reached the conclusion that there is a significant relationship between violent media and aggressive behaviour. “Potential harmful effects of media violence have been scrutinized for over six decades, and considerable consensus has been reached on several of the most important issues,” they wrote. “As stated by a recent panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Surgeon General, ‘Research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts.’”
Australian Attorney General’s Department
In 2010, the Attorney General’s Department conducted a review of research into the effect of violent video games. The report looked at a range of studies, including experimental research, correlation studies, longitudinal research and meta-analysis. “Significant harmful effects from violent video games have not been persuasively proven or disproven,” the report concluded. “There is some consensus that violent video games may be harmful to certain populations, such as people with aggressive and psychotic personality traits. Overall, most studies have consistently shown a small statistical effect of violent video game exposure on aggressive behaviour, but there are problems with these findings that reduce their policy relevance. Overall, as illustrated in this review, research into the effects of violent video games on aggression is contested and inconclusive.”
In 1996, the Australian Institute of Criminology published a report examining research into the effects of violent media. The report acknowledges that violence is a complex issue which has many causes. “Most studies have shown that there is some sort of relationship or association. Most of these studies have focused on television violence and have concluded that there are some negative effects related to watching violent or aggressive behaviour on TV,” the report found. “They do not necessarily indicate a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, they suggest that exposure to media depictions of violence enhances the risk that the viewer will engage in subsequent aggressive behaviour. The effects of exposure to violence in the media are by no means inevitable and may be amplified or reduced by a variety of other factors ”
In this article, media theorist David Gauntlett puts forward ten reasons why the media ‘effects’ approach is flawed. “The effects model, we have seen, has remarkably little going for it as an explanation of human behaviour, or of the media in society,” he writes. “Whilst any challenging or apparently illogical theory or model reserves the right to demonstrate its validity through empirical data, the effects model has failed also in that respect. Its continued survival is indefensible and unfortunate.”
Research on the Effects of Media Violence
The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic Review
Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked
The Portrayal of Violence in the Media
THE COLUMBINE SCHOOL SHOOTING
On Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado. In the aftermath of the tragedy, commentators were quick to blame the mass media for the shooting, including television programs like South Park, violent video games and the lyrics of Marilyn Manson.
Harris and Klebold were both fans of the video games Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. “Doom is such a big part of my life and no one I know can recreate environments in DOOM as good as me,” Harris once wrote for a school assignment. “I know almost anything there is to know about the game, so I believe that seperates me from the rest of the world.”
Like all moral panics, there is little evidence to suggest that violent media texts can be blamed for this tragedy. “If video game violence was an immediate catalyst, we would have difficulty explaining why none of the shootings involving teens have occurred in movie theaters or video arcades where the direct stimulus of game playing would be most acute,” wrote Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California Henry Jenkins in his article ‘Lessons from Littleton’. “Instead, these murders have tended to occur in schools and we need to look at real-world factors to discover what triggers such violence. A more careful analysis would read video games as one cultural influence among many, as having different degrees of impact on different children, and as not sufficient in and of themselves to provoke an otherwise healthy and well-adjusted child to engage in acts of violence. Some children, especially those who are antisocial and emotionally unbalanced, should be protected from exposure to the most extreme forms of media violence, but most children are not at risk from the media they consume.”
Download this table to help you to revise your understanding of evidence about the effect of media violence. Of course, it’s a great revision to find studies of your own to summarise in this way!