Violence exhibited in the media and causation of aggressive and violent behaviors in children and young people has been keenly researched. Due to cases of assault such as terrorism, homicides and bullying, patterns of violence have been a concern to the government and the society. Today, new technology has not only increased access to media but also the number of hours spent on digital media. Young people are nowadays spending a significant number of hours on media including television, internet and video games. In 2010, a research carried out by the Kaiser Foundation reported that children of age between 8-18 years spent an average of eight hours playing the games in a week. The report also highlighted addictive effects to some, who engage in the video games and television for more than 20 hours in a week. The content of some of the popular games, television news, videos and movies include violent scenes. Although a direct link between media violence and aggression in children has been contested, various studies have supported the hypothesis (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008). How does media violence violence influence personality of children as they grow and what are the effects? Earlier in 1982, a report carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health had indicated that television violence raised fear in children, caused aggressive behavior and less sensitivity to the suffering of others. As technology enables widespread access of children to media and, violence increases the modern world, studies on effects of media violence are essential.
Social learning theory has been one of the widely applied theories of learning. It was put forward in the 1960s by Robert Bandura and experimented through the Bobo Doll experiment. From the experiment, Banduara concluded that learning of social behaviors can occur through observation. Aggressive behavior was imitated by the children exposed to violent behavior by adults. Violence involves physical harm and aggression entails thoughts or intentions of harming. Behavior in children is modeled through social interactions. Agarwal & Dhanasekaran (2012) observed that on average a young person can be exposed to about 10,000 acts of violence annually. Such continued exposure can distort psychological and moral development leading to aggressive behavior because children are naïve. In addition, the heroic characters in the violent television shows or video games form the notion of violence as a way of solving matters. They also exhibit anti-social and competitive behaviors that discourage coperation in dealing with people (Gentile et al, 2009). To a child, the violence observed in the media constructs thoughts, attitudes and beliefs about violence.
Repeated exposure to violence has been said to cause people to be less sensitive or insensitive to violent acts. The effect known as desensitization has been found to occur due to repeated exposure to violence (Krahé et al., 2011). The effect reduces emotional response and can be observed through physiological and psychological changes such as anxiety, sweating, fear. In the experiment, the emotional changes in 303 participants after exposure to a violent, sad and funny clip were studied. Exposure to the violent video was found to have the most significant change in arousal of anxious emotions. Such tolerance to violence can cause an individual to be less empathetic to the victims of violence. Thus, such a person would not be concerned by actual acts due to desensitization leading to lack of emotional apprehension. According to Carnagey, Anderson, & Bushman (2007), desensitization involves people having unusual affective and cognitive reactions. For example, reactive aggressive people can find violence to be entertaining. On the other hand, fear can be instilled leading to aggression due to negative thoughts of defense. Thus such children are either insensitive or even reactively aggressive.
Addiction to violent media can be overwhelming leading to children thinking and spending their hours on television, internet or video games. On the other hand, it can cause loss of attention leading to Attention Deficit Disorder. It is for this treason that addiction has been classified as a mental or psychological disorder. Such addictions affect social interactions both at home and school. Additionally, they create children who are unable to socialize with peers and who become antisocial (Anderson & Wayne, 2012). Adults such as Cleave Ryan reported to have addictions that are irresistible causing desperations to nearly committing suicide. Obsession sin the entertainment by violence occupies children mind leading to poor education outcomes. Usually for video games, the player reacts without calculated actions. Thus, they do not involve much mental involvement.
In conclusion, studies have shown that media violence affects social and psychological development of children. The phenomenon could be a risk factor that does not affect all the children. However, there have been cases such as the 1999 shootings by Harris and Dylan in Columbine which were associated by the shooters’ playing the violent game called Doom (Bond, 2011). The social learning theory has been found useful in teaching children. Therefore, a causation based on the theory should not be ignored. Since models are created through socialization, media violence could be a factor that combined with other factors such as domestic violence or neglect aggravates the aggressive behavior. Studies indicating a desensitization effect have a strong psychological backing of the emotional changes that occur from exposure to violence. It is essential to link other suspected factors in order to come up with linkages of how media violence directly or indirectly impacts children personality.
Agarwal, V., & Dhanasekaran, S. (2012). Harmful Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents. Journal of Indian Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 8(2), 38-45.
Anderson, C. A., and Wayne A. W. (2012). The impact of violent video games: An overview. Growing up fast and furious: Reviewing the impact of violent and sexualised media on children.
Bond, D. (2011). The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior and the Relationship to School Shootings (Doctoral dissertation, Bond University).
Carnagey, N. L., Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2007). The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(3), 489-496.
Escobar-Chaves, S. L., & Anderson, C. A. (2008). Media and risky behaviors. The Future of Children, 18(1), 147-180.
Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., Yukawa, S., Ihori, N., Saleem, M., Ming, L. K., … & Huesmann, L. R. (2009). The effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behaviors: International evidence from correlational, longitudinal, and experimental studies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Krahé, B., Möller, I., Huesmann, L. R., Kirwil, L., Felber, J., & Berger, A. (2011). Desensitization to media violence: Links with habitual media violence exposure, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 100(4), 630.
Roberts, D. F, Foehr, U. G, Rideout, V. (2005). Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8–18 Year-Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation