Thus, although there is continuing discussion about the interpretation of research evidence concerning the impact of television violence, most researchers would agree with the conclusion contained in the report by the National Institute of Mental Health (1982), which suggests that there is a consensus developing among members of the research community that "...violence on television does lead to aggressive behaviour by children and teenagers who watch the programs. This conclusion is based on laboratory experiments and on field studies. Not all children become aggressive, of course, but the correlations between violence and aggression are positive. In magnitude, television violence is as strongly correlated with aggressive behaviour as any other behavioural variable that has been measured. The research question has moved from asking whether or not there is an effect, to seeking explanations for the effect." (p. 6).
While the effects of television violence are not simple and straightforward, meta-analyses and reviews of a large body of research (Hearold, 1986; Huston, et al, 1992; Wood, Wong, & Chachere, 1991) suggest that there are clear reasons for concern and caution in relation to the impact of televised violence. To be sure, there are many factors that influence the relationship between viewing violence and aggressive behaviour and there has been considerable debate about the nature of these influences and the extent of concern about televised violence (American Psychological Association, 1985; 1992; Centerwall, 1992; Comstock & Paik, 1991, Condry, 1989; Cook, Kendzierski, & Thomas, 1983; Donnerstein, Linz, & Penrod, 1987; Freedman, 1984; 1986; Friedrich- Cofer & Huston, 1986; Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, 1982; Huesmann & Eron, 1986; Huston, et al, 1992; McGuire, 1986; Milavsky, Kessler, Stipp, & Rubens, 1982; Murray, 1973, 1980; Murray & Kippax, 1979; National Institute of Mental Health, 1982; National Research Council, 1993; Paik & Comstock, 1994; Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behaviour, 1972). Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a considerable amount of violence on television and that this violence on the small screen may translate into changes in attitudes, values, or behaviour on the part of both younger and older viewers.
Although there are differing views on the impact of TV violence, one very strong summary is provided by Eron (1992) in his recent Congressional testimony:
There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behaviour, crime and violence in society. The evidence comes from both the laboratory and real-life studies. Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socio-economic levels and all levels of intelligence. The effect is not limited to children who are already disposed to being aggressive and is not restricted to this country. The fact that we get this same finding of a relationship between television violence and aggression in children in study after study, in one country after another, cannot be ignored. The causal effect of television violence on aggression, even though it is not very large, exists. It cannot be denied or explained away. We have demonstrated this causal effect outside the laboratory in real-life among many different children. We have come to believe that a vicious cycle exists in which television violence makes children more aggressive and these aggressive children turn to watching more violence to justify their own behaviour." (p. 1)
- So too, the recent report by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Television and Society (Huston, et al., 1992) adds: "...the behaviour patterns established in childhood and adolescence are the foundation for lifelong patterns manifested in adulthood" (p. 57).
- "We call upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review, as a condition for license renewal, the programming and outreach efforts and accomplishments of television stations in helping to solve the problem of youth violence. This recommendation is consistent with the research evidence indicating television's potential to broadcast stations to 'serve the educational and informational needs of children,' both in programming and in outreach activities designed to enhance the educational value of programming. We also call on the FCC to institute rules that would require broadcasters, cable operators and other telecasters to avoid programs containing an excessive amount of dramatised violence during 'child viewing hours' between 6 am and 10 p.m." (American Psychological Association, 1993, pp. 77-78)
- To be sure, most of the research reviewed above is based upon a broad conception of media influence rooted in social learning theory. So too, there are alternative conceptions of media influence and viewer response, such as uses and gratifications theory (Kratz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Kippax & Murray, 1980), that place greater emphasis on the active role of the viewer in determining the effects of media through selective use. Also, there are a number of scholars who have offered alternative interpretations of some of the research on television violence. For example, Cook and his colleagues (Cook, Kendzierski, & Thomas, 1983) point out some cautionary notes in interpreting the range of studies reviewed by the NIMH in 1982 report on Television and Behaviour and McGuire (1986) expressed strong concern about the overemphasis on the powerful effects of television. These are important tempering views and they need to be understood in the context of the large body of research findings noted above. And yet, one must not dismiss the extensive, cumulative evidence of potential harmful effect associated with viewing violence in film, video, and television.
The multiple discussions and communication strategies proposed in this project are designed to resolve these differing interpretations, both among social scientists and across the fields of mental health and journalism. The harmonic convergence of viewpoints and interpretation of research findings developed through this proposal will greatly enhance public understanding.
Furthermore, the recent summary (released in August, 1993) of the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth--Violence & Youth: psychology's Response--confirms the findings noted above and reaffirms the need to consider ways to reduce the level of violence in all media. In particular, the APA Commission suggests the development of rating systems for television programs and videotapes that would move beyond the existing rating system used by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) by focusing on more relevant behavioural descriptors and indicators of potential harm to children and youth. Indeed, other organisations, such as Media Scope, have suggested reviews of the rating system in the context of experiences in other countries where ratings are more attuned to the special needs of children (Federman, 1993). In addition to ratings issues, the APA Commission directed two strong recommendations for policy change to the Federal Communications Commission: