Children's Entertainment

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Impact of Televised Violence

  • John P. Murray, Ph.D
  • Professor and Director
  • School of Family Studies and Human Services
  • Kansas State University

    Questions about the effects of television violence have existed since the earliest days of this medium. Indeed, the first expression of formal concern can be found in Congressional hearings in the early 1950s. For example, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency held a series of hearings during 1954-55 on the impact of television programs on juvenile crime. These hearings set the stage for continuing congressional investigations by this committee and others in the House and Senate from the 1950s to the present.

    These early congressional inquiries were focused on what we did not know about television and violence because social scientists were slow to respond to concerns about this medium of popular entertainment. Although there was a body of research on movies and comic books, these were quite different forms of media and different effects might be expected. Still, prominent social scientists such as developmental psychologist Eleanor Maccoby and sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld testified at the 1954-55 hearings that, although more research was needed, there were important reasons for concern about televised violence (Lazarsfeld, 1955; Maccoby, 1954; United States Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1955a; 1955b; 1965a; 1965b; 1966).

    In addition to the congressional hearings begun in the 1950s (which have continued through 1994), there are landmark reports that include: National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Baker & Ball, 1969); Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behaviour (1972); the report on children and television drama by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (1982); National Institute of Mental Health, Television and Behaviour Report (NIMH, 1982; Pearl, Bouthilet, & Lazar, 1982); National Research Council (1993), violence report; and reports from the American Psychological Association's "Task Force on Television and Society" (Huston, et al., 1992) and "Commission on Violence and Youth" (American Psychological Association, 1992; Donnerstein, Slaby, & Eron, 1992). All of these reports confirm the harmful effects of media violence on the behaviour of children, youth, and adults who view such programming.

    And yet, despite decades of research, there is a perception that the research evidence on TV violence is unclear or contradictory. This perception is incorrect and this review will address the following issues: What do we know about the impact of television violence? What are some of the major research findings that form the basis for concern? Without belabouring prior reviews, the main issues revolve around the extent of exposure to violence and the correlational, experimental and field studies that demonstrate the effects of this viewing on the attitudes and behaviour of children and adults.

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