tV violence study
March 2002 - media coverage
Study Ties Television Viewing to
By Shankar Vedantam
Teenagers and young adults who watch even as little as an hour of television a day are more likely to get into fights, commit assaults or engage in other types of violence later in life, according to a provocative new study.
The more television people watch, the more likely it appears that they will later become violent, an effect that researchers argued bolsters the case that it is television that causes the aggression.
The study tracked the impact of television on violence among more than 700 young people over 17 years. Previous studies have found an association between television violence and aggression. But this is the longest study to track the consequences of TV viewing of any kind and the first to show that adults are affected as surely as children, the researchers said. If the study had examined violent programming alone, the link would have been more dramatic, they said.
"The correlation between violent media and aggression is larger than the effect that wearing a condom has on decreasing the risk of HIV," said Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University at Ames who wrote a commentary accompanying the study in today's issue of the journal Science. "It's larger than the correlation between exposure to lead and decreased IQ levels in kids. It's larger than the effects of exposure to asbestos. It's larger than the effect of secondhand smoke on cancer."
The findings renewed debate over whether media violence contributes to violent behavior.
Television and entertainment proponents said there was a long history of conflicting results on the issue. "The consensus is there is no consensus," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said in a statement that it supports "responsible television viewing" and that its ratings system allows viewers to block violent programs.
Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, said the study had failed to prove that television watching was the cause of the aggressiveness. "It has nothing to do with TV -- it has to do with lifestyle," he said. "People who watch more than three hours of TV are different than those who watch less than an hour."
The researchers said they tried to account for that possibility by statistically eliminating the effects of parental neglect, poverty, dangerous neighborhoods, a history of psychiatric disorder and other independent risk factors for aggression. Although all the participants were from upstate New York, the researchers said the group was broadly representative of the northeastern United States.
For the study, the researchers interviewed 707 teenagers about the amount of television they watched. In 1983, the average age of the group was 14. Eight years later, the scientists correlated the television statistics with police and FBI records of violence, and interviews with the participants.
Of the group that watched less than an hour of TV a day, 5.7 percent had committed a violent act that resulted in serious injury, such as a broken bone. Among those who watched one to three hours, 18.4 percent had been violent. Of those who watched more than three hours a day, the rate of aggression was 25.3 percent.
The researchers also re-interviewed the group about their television habits and followed up after another eight years. While 1.2 percent of the adults who watched less than one hour per day had committed a violent act, 10.8 percent of those who watched three or more hours had inflicted a bruise, scar or other assault. Men tended to be more likely to be violent than women.
The only definitive way to establish a causal link between television content and the violence would be to conduct an experiment where some people are randomly made to watch more TV for several years while others are made to watch less, the researchers said.
"To force people to watch a certain amount of TV for a lengthy period would not be permissible," said Jeffrey Johnson, a Columbia University clinical psychologist and the lead researcher. "It's analogous to research on cigarette smoking. . . . You couldn't force people to smoke a lot and see if they got cancer."
Nielsen Media Research reports the average American household has the television on for more than eight hours a day. Children and teens between 2 and 17 years old watch TV more than three hours per day. Adult men watch more than four hours, and adult women more than five.
Television violence may desensitize viewers, or depictions of violence without its real-life consequences may prompt viewers to assume that it is acceptable, the researchers speculated.
George Gerbner, who has done pioneering work on television violence and is dean emeritus of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, argued that the biggest consequence of TV violence was insecurity, not aggression.
Watching programs about violent crime on dark streets, for instance, does not turn people into muggers -- it makes them fear becoming victims. Even as violent crime in American society has declined, he said, heavy television viewing was more likely to make the viewers believe they lived in an unsafe world.
"They may accept and even welcome repressive measures such as more jails, capital punishment, harsher sentences -- measures that have never reduced crime but never fail to get votes -- if that promises to relieve their anxieties," he wrote. "That is the deeper dilemma of violence-laden television."
TV viewing raises risk teens may turn violent
More than hour daily worrisome, study says
By Michael Stroh
March 29, 2021
One more bit of disturbing news for parents: Teens who watch more than one hour of television a day may be at greater risk of becoming violent adults.
That's the conclusion of the first long-term look at how the TV viewing habits of adolescents affect them later in life. The research was published today in the journal Science.
The 17-year study is only the second in the history of television research to follow viewers from youth to adulthood. As a result, scientists say it provides the most persuasive evidence yet of a link between television viewing and violent behavior.
The study, coming on the heels of new evidence that sex and violence on network television may be dropping, is likely to stoke the 50-year-old debate over what broadcasters should be allowed to show and how much television is healthy for children to watch.
"Our findings support the conclusion that parents shouldn't let their children watch television for more than an hour a day," says Jeffrey G. Johnson, a Columbia University psychiatrist and lead author of the study.
To determine the long-term effects of television on teens, Johnson and his colleagues followed more than 700 randomly selected Upstate New York youths from 1983 to 2000, interviewing them about their TV habits and whether they had ever gotten into fights or committed other aggressive acts.
They also separately asked each child's mother the same questions and drew upon criminal arrest data from state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Researchers found that the more television a teen watched, the more likely it would be that he or she would commit violent acts later in life. Fewer than 6 percent of teens who watched television less than one hour a day committed assaults, robberies or other violent acts as adults. But nearly 28 percent of kids who watched television three or more hours a day did.
Johnson said the link remained even after researchers statistically subtracted the effects of previous aggressive behavior, low family income, neighborhood violence, psychiatric disorders and poor parental education - all of which have been found to influence television viewing or violent behavior.
Men and women responded differently to heavy television watching.
In their teen-age years, boys were more likely than girls to become aggressive. But by age 22, that difference disappeared. Women who watched lots were more likely than men to get into fights or commit crimes by the time they were 30.
Because scientists didn't track the programs youths watched, scientists were unable to explain the gender differences. But they say they're probably caused by witnessing violence because other studies have shown 60 percent of television programs contain some form of it.
"You can't avoid it," says Leonard Eron, a social scientist at the University of Michigan.
It's far from the first time that questions have been raised about the effects of televised violence on children. The first congressional hearings on the subject occurred in 1952, only a few years after TV made its national debut.
One of the first scientific studies was conducted in 1956 by Alberta Siegel, a Stanford University psychologist who died last fall. She showed that 4-year-olds who watched rowdy Woody Woodpecker cartoons were far more likely to roughhouse afterward than peers who watched the more mellow Little Red Hen.
While hundreds of social science studies have been conducted on television's effects since Siegel's groundbreaking work, most have
focused on children. By focusing on teen-agers and young adults, the Columbia study fills in a crucial piece in the puzzle, notes psychologist Craig Anderson of the Iowa State University in an accompanying article in Science.
Some social scientists were surprised that adolescents would be as susceptible to television violence as children.
"I had assumed that the older kids were, the less affected they would be," said Eron, whose pioneering research on television viewing and aggression began in the early 1960s. "It shows that the effects of television are quite pervasive."
While the scientific picture of television's effect on behavior may be growing clearer, what should be done about it remains as fuzzy as ever.
The National Association of Broadcasters points to new evidence that the amount of sex and violence on television is falling. A study released last week by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, an independent nonprofit media watchdog in Washington, found that the amount of sexual content on network TV shows fell by 29 percent from 1998 through last year while the amount of serious violence dropped by 17 percent.
But it's unclear whether the drop is due to a conscious effort by network broadcasters or accidental.
Adolescents' TV Watching Is Linked to Violent Behavior
Psychology: A 17-year study tracked 700 young people into their adult lives. Hours of viewing were correlated with acts of aggression.
By ROSIE MESTEL
TV viewing, U.S. experts urge parents
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The temptation is everywhere -- glitzy music videos, funny sitcoms, dramatic movies. But when even cartoons are violent, and the commercials shown in-between, how can parents protect their children?
Short of getting rid of the television set, experts advise, sit down and watch the programs with them.
"Parents being with their children while they are watching is always a good thing," Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University in New York, whose study linking hours of television watched with violence later in life will be published Friday, said in a telephone interview.
Johnson's study, published in the journal Science, finds that children who watched more than an hour of TV a day, on average, were four times more likely than children who watch less television to commit aggressive acts.
Johnson says all kinds of programs are to blame, because even something that seems innocuous to an adult will look violent to a child. "Even if it is something like 'The Wizard of Oz' -- some children can be traumatized by things that wouldn't seem traumatic to an adult," Johnson said.
Parents probably cannot bar their children from watching such shows but should start an early habit of watching alongside, Johnson said.
"They can help the children to understand and help answer some of their questions," he said. "The recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics are sound -- they are that parents shouldn't let their children watch more than one to two hours of TV a day."
The average child watches four hours of television a day, according to the New York University Child Study Center.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association all agree that violence in the media is related to aggression in real life.
This includes the news, Johnson said.
"One thing I did find of great concern was that when I learned that the networks were repeatedly showing the images of the planes crashing into the (World Trade Center) towers (on September 11) ... and that they only stopped when some of the family's victims pleaded with them to stop," he said.
If it bleeds, it leads
"That was indicative to me of the problem that we have. If it bleeds, it leads. That is the problem. Someone in a position of responsibility needs to think about the consequences of repeatedly airing events that could traumatize the nation."
Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University who wrote a commentary on Johnson's report, said he doubted this would happen.
"The media entertainment industries have a vested interest in denying to the general public, to elected officials, and even to themselves the possibility that their products might cause harmful effects in a significant portion of the population, much as the tobacco industry has a vested interest in denying harmful effects of their products," Anderson said in an interview conducted by e-mail.
But he said parents can fight back by educating their children.
"It appears that one needs to teach children that:
-- What they see is neither real nor realistic
-- That real aggression really does hurt people, their families
-- That aggressive solutions are not acceptable
-- That they should try to figure out possible solutions to viewed problems that are nonviolent, cooperative, helpful
-- That aggression by 'good guys' against 'bad guys' is also unacceptable
-- That watching violent material does hurt them," Anderson suggested.
"The best way to teach this is for parents to watch the shows with their children and to discuss these issues as they arise. This is particularly important when the children are allowed to watch anything that contains violence in it, including Saturday morning cartoons and Disney movies, as well as the more obvious violent TV programs."
Johnson said there is another incentive to limit TV watching, noting that many studies show a clear link between an epidemic of obesity and hours spent watching television.
More than 1 hour of TV a day
hurts kids, study says
Teenagers who watch more than an hour of television a day during early adolescence are four times more likely to be violent as young adults than those who watch less television.
That's the conclusion of a landmark study examining the long-term effects of television exposure among early teens and aggressive behavior in later years. Several other studies have linked viewing and violence, but the new study followed more than 700 people over a long period of time --- 17 years --- and focused on the amount of TV watched.
About 5.7 percent of young people who saw less than an hour of television a day at age 14 committed violent acts, such as fighting or robbery, as late teens and young adults. The rate shot up to 22.5 percent with one to three hours of TV and 28.8 percent with more than three hours of watching.
The study didn't draw distinctions between violent and nonviolent television programs.
Subjects in the study and their mothers were interviewed about TV viewing and aggressive behavior --- including assault and fighting that led to injuries (in males), and robbery and threats to injure someone (in females). Data for the research, which began in the 1970s, also came from state and federal criminal court records.
"Our findings suggest that, at least during early adolescence, responsible parents should avoid permitting their children to watch more than one hour of television a day," said Jeffrey G. Johnson, a Columbia University researcher whose study is published in today's journal Science.
The study's subjects --- 360 males and 347 females --- were drawn from two counties in northern New York State; 91 percent were white. "In 1975 when the first wave of data were collected, these two counties were regarded as being particularly representative of the U.S. population at that time," Johnson said.
Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist with the Emory University psychiatry department at Grady Hospital, said she agrees with Johnson's one-hour rule. But the advice shouldn't stop there.
"You can't just yell at the kid and say, 'Don't watch,' " Kaslow said. "You have to provide them with other outlets: extracurricular activities, family dinnertime together where you're talking about your day, playing games and sports outside, reading. . . . Children who aren't watching TV are out doing other things, so they have a much richer, fuller life."
The average American child watches four hours of television a day, according to the New York University Child Study Center.
The amount of time sitting in front of the tube may not be as important as whether parents discuss shows with teens, said Mary Langley, director of the health promotion resource center at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.
"Parents have relinquished their role in monitoring," she said. "The parent needs to be there to talk about the violence, to talk about what is real and what is not real."
The type of show was not taken into account, so it didn't matter if the kids watched "Tele-Tubbies" or "The Sopranos." Johnson cites previous studies, however, that say children's shows have 20 to 25 violent acts an hour, compared with three to five violent acts an hour for prime-time shows.
The study's findings don't shock Riverdale residents and Beecher Hills Elementary educators Patricia Winbush and Joycelyn McCulley.
"Kids have become anesthetized to crime," said Winbush, a mother of two older children.
"They've seen violence so much on television until it really doesn't matter in real life. But television doesn't allow them to experience the real hurt and pain and reality of violence."
McCulley, a fifth-grade teacher and mother of a 14-year-old, says poorly managed home environments and the lack of parental involvement is as much to blame as television.
"Parental support is everything," she said. "Television doesn't have as much of an impact as a parent does. . . . Our kids are a reflection of us."
Johnson's study also addressed two big questions in the ongoing TV-violence debate:
> Do the shows encourage or contribute to aggressive behavior, or are people prone to violence drawn to the shows?
> And what about other factors, such as childhood neglect, low income or living in an unsafe neighborhood?
The researchers found that people with a history of aggressive behavior were not more likely to be drawn to watch television, suggesting heavy TV watching does indeed lead to violence.
And even after environmental factors were taken into account, those who watched more TV as teens were more aggressive later in life.
--- News services and staff writers Charlotte Moore and Nick Tate contributed to this article.
TV AND AGGRESSION
TV viewing habits of 14-year-olds who go on to commit violent acts as late teens and young adults:
Sources: Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute