What are violence’s influencers? Why does it occur outside of war? Are there different things in our society that can be held responsible for promoting an individual’s violent and/or aggressive behavior and/or attitude? Numerous amounts of studies and reports on violence depicted in a variety of media outlets— which include but are not limited to books, movies, TV shows, video games, and advertising—and its influence on individuals, especially adolescents, have been performed and published. What has been discovered is that they all point toward the same thing, the presence of violence in social media and video games has an adverse effect on many individuals in our society, starting with adolescents.
It’s no secret that flashy action movies with numerous fight scenes (among a huge variety of different depictions of violence which include but are not limited to physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional) are incredibly popular. In fact, according to IMDB.com, the most popular categories of film genre are Action (with two out of its three subcategories being crime and thrillers) and Adventure, (with two out of its three subcategories being thriller and war). In 1972, U.S. surgeon general, Jesse Steinfeld, even testified before congress on behalf of his belief in these findings. He stated that “The overwhelming consensus and the unanimous Scientific Advisory Committee’s report indicates that televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society” (Steinfeld, 1972, p.
26). We have all experienced feeling sad, happy, or almost any range of emotion really while enthralled in a film, TV show, or book. Advertising relies heavily on this fact in order to sell products, they need to make an impact in the short amount of time they’re given to be on the air. And if you haven’t watched a family member or friend get heated while wildly clicking their controllers trying to gun down a pixelated enemy, or yelling at the TV while the news plays, then you’ve at least seen it in some movie.
Media is how the world stays connected and up to date on what’s trending, it’s how the world shares different stories. Based on these experiences, if we accept that being exposed to a positive/negative movie, television show, commercial, news report, book etc. raises/lowers our mood, then we must accept that what we view on various media outlets does, on some level, impact our conscious. If these media outlets have the power to manipulate individuals into singling certain things out as acceptable and unacceptable, cool or lame, fun or boring, if media has the power to influence individuals to categorize things in certain ways, then shouldn’t it be easy to say that viewing constant portrayals of violent behavior can desensitize it for an individual, or a society as a whole. Shouldn’t it be easy to reason that the media can manipulate a certain individual into viewing violent behavior as something fun, or necessary? Take habit forming actions as an example, it can be said that if someone views a commercial for fast food and thinks to themselves that it looks appetizing, and then they go out and they buy that fast food item and they repeat this numerous times, it becomes normal to them, just as any action repeated numerous times would.
If we can agree with this, then we can definitely start to consider that the repeated exposure to graphic violent behavior in media and video games would become normal to an individual, even a society as a whole. Therefore, if violence in the media and video games evolves into the norm, is desensitized, it could be said that individuals are more apt to perform violent acts themselves, more apt to display acts of aggression, as is the process of a habit. Something very important to keep in mind is the meanings surrounding the words “aggression” and “violence.
” When the topic of whether or not depictions of violence in the media can promote aggression and violence in individuals comes up, many people focus primarily on the fact that they think this means behavior intended to harm another, they don’t give entirely enough thought to the word “aggression.” The true definition of violence is “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something” or in other words, violence is aggressive physical behavior. They key word here is physical, this is important because it solidifies violence as being a physical action one performs.
Now, the true definition of aggression is very similar but includes something that sets it apart. Aggression is defined as, “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.” I agree that these two words can more often than not, be interchangeable, but what allows for differentiation between them is the fact that aggression can also take the form of an individual’s attitude, not just their behavior. Aggression can include aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
So, when we accept that aggression can take other forms besides those that are physical, then we are forced to broaden our scope of adverse effects. Now that we have accepted that possible adverse effects can include thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we can discuss who could potentially be harmed by this violence/aggression. The obvious concern is that violent/aggressive behavior will be directed at others, harming them in some way. While this concern is indeed incredibly present and in need of being addressed, we must not forget that violence/aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can also harm oneself. Many different types of violence are being portrayed in media outlets today, anything from physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional violence to reward for violence, violent role models, and justified violence.
Keeping this in mind, it’s important to understand that one can inflict forms of violence and aggression towards oneself, as well as others when considering adverse effects. Keep in mind that the claim “violence in the media promotes violence and aggression in individuals” is not claiming that viewing depictions of violence through books, movies, television shows, video games, advertising etc. is the only thing, or the most influential thing, it is simply, but definitely, a contributing factor in some individuals. Just as how every individual who eats fast food isn’t guaranteed to have high cholesterol or be obese, but some individuals definitely experience those adverse effects.
Just as how high cholesterol and obesity are developmental symptoms, the promotion of violence and aggression in individuals is progressively developed over time and grasping that is imperative. Research has shown that “A significant proportion of aggressive children are likely to grow up to be aggressive adults, and those seriously violent adolescents and adults often were highly aggressive and even violent as children. In fact, the best single predictor of violent behavior in older adolescents and young adults is aggressive behavior when they were younger” (The Influence of Media Violence on Youth 2003).
Furthermore, anything that stimulates violence and aggression in an individual during childhood and adolescence, is likely to inflate the probability that that individual will continue with violent and aggressive behavior, thoughts, and emotions, in their later life. A research study performed in the 1980’s by psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron, and others, is a great example of this.
They found that children who viewed multiple hours of violence in television were more likely to display higher levels of aggressive behavior as teenagers. These individuals were observed up into adulthood, and the ones who had viewed more violent material as a child were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts (Violence in the Media 2013). One very important aspect that comes from the repeated viewing of violence on different media platforms, is the fact that it can desensitize people to the different collections of violent acts they are viewing. This plays a very big role in the increased levels of violent and aggressive adverse effects that can come from viewing these acts on a regular basis. Family and parent mental health advocate/consultant/expert, Michelle Renee describes this as an epidemic that is turning people “comfortably numb” to the violence depicted in graphic video games. Her concern is as follows, “Don’t allow yourself to become comfortably numb to a problem that is destroying and taking lives, and now being called a “game”; a game that is not educating our kids about violence, it is engaging them in it and lining corporate pockets with money that could be used to help those who are suffering in the aftermath of violence and abuse” (Have We Become Comfortably Numb 2011). Renee makes a very compelling point by describing how young children can become completely engrossed in these graphically violent video games— she particularly mentions ‘Call of Duty 2’ in her article— and over time become desensitized to what the game is asking them to do, whether that be to fight, kill, or maim an opponent in order to ‘win’. The problem with this is that it can extend past the screen.
We can’t pretend that children, even young ones, can’t differentiate between their games, movies, shows, etc. and real life, so we won’t entertain that in this argument. But, that’s not really the issue here, children and adolescents do know this media violence is meant to entertain and therefore it is not technically real, but what they do not know at that age is how incredibly absorbent their brains are. Childhood and adolescence are the most impressionable years psychologically, individuals go through unassailable mental and physical growth during this time (Raychelle Cassada Lohmann 2014). Jay Giedd, a child psychiatry researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, calls this period “a time of enormous opportunity.” (Teenage Brains, Smithsonian 2012). Scientists say that “teenagers’ reward systems are extra sensitive, while their self-control circuits are not fully developed, creating a disastrous pairing of unchecked recklessness.” (Teenage Brains, Smithsonian 2012).
This paired with teenagers’ highly impressionable minds and the mass amount of violence we see in the media creates the perfect environment for adolescents to absorb, be desensitized too, and potentially practice, violent and aggressive behavior. In her review of the neuroscience in, “The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development” by Clea McNeely and Jayne Blanchard, Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talks about the development of the limbic system, particularly how the amygdala nuclei are involved in the connection of sensory information and emotional responses. If we accept that Johnson’s words are true, then can’t we apply what we’ve previously stated about the condition of the teenage brain throughout its adolescent years? That it is highly impressionable and the exposure to intense violence and aggression (sensory information) can definitely affect their mental state and behavior (emotional responses). According to Dave Rozman, the five most common words adults use to describe teenagers are, lazy, disrespectful, creative, entitled, and connected. There was a mix of good and bad descriptors in his results, but we are going to focus on lazy, disrespectful, and entitled, the negative descriptors; the things that adults do not like about teenagers.
I suppose that when this opinion is paired with the results from many studies and research papers that explain that heightened aggression and anger is common in teenagers, it could be used to try and dispute the claim that violence in the media is mentally impactful. One could say that violent and/or aggressive behavior is just a part of being a teenager and the media really doesn’t have anything to do with it, that teenagers emotions are so heightened and they’re so keyed up all the time that anything could trigger them, not just watching fight scenes at the movie theater. However, by calling this true, it doesn’t make the fact that adolescents are highly impressionable untrue. It’s been established that the teenage brain is a sponge that absorbs what it witnesses and stores that information in some way, influencing different aspects of the person whom the brain belongs too. Simply agreeing that teenagers are angry anyway because of heightened emotion, regardless of what media content they view which may or not be violent, does not change the fact that their brains are still developing, still learning from their surroundings. And if in fact, we agree that through the adolescent years, the brain is progressively maturing, learning right from wrong, building a personality, then can’t we say that your environment plays a key role in that. And if we agree with that statement then we must agree that media plays a key role in our environment.
If our environment affects us as individuals, physically and mentally, and media platforms are a huge part of our environment then we must say that the violence they can depict can influence us. And since adolescents have such opportunistic and impressionable minds, the influence violence in the media has is especially concerning when it comes to their development into adults who contribute more heavily to society as a whole.