The Effect of Viewing Television Violence on Childhood AggressionAbstractThere is a great deal of speculation on the effect television plays in childhood aggression. Two contrasting views regarding this issue are violent television increases aggressive behavior and violent television does not increase aggressive behavior. Later research demonstrates there may be other intervening variables causing aggression. These include IQ, social class, parental punishment, parental aggression, hereditary, environmental, and modeling. Withal l of these factors to take into consideration it is difficult to determine a causal relationship between violent television and aggression. It is my hypothesis this relationship is bi-directional.

I feel violent television causes aggressive behavior and aggressive people tend to watch more violent television. Over the years there has been a large amount of research published, many with conflicting results, to the question of a causal link existing between the viewing of televised violence and childhood aggression. It is an important question because if violent television is linked to childhood aggression we need to adapt our television shows accordingly. Early 1960's Research There is earlier research, but the first association between violent television and aggression was in the early 1960's when Albert Bandura began researching his modeling theory. His series of experiments first set the precedent for a relationship between violent television viewing and aggression. He felt children would model or imitate adult behavior.

In one study he subjected children to both aggressive and non- aggressive adult models and then tested them for imitative behavior in the presence of the model. His theory was demonstrated when children readily imitated behavior exhibited by an adult model in the presence of the model (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1961). In a similar experiment children were exposed to aggressive and non-aggressive adult models, but then tested for amount of imitative learning in the absence of the model. Subjects in the aggression condition reproduced a good deal of physical and verbal aggressive behavior resembling that of the models. The data clearly confirmed the prediction that exposure of subjects to aggressive models increases the probability of aggressive behavior (Bandura et al. 1961).

Another study sought to determine the extent to which film- mediated aggressive models may serve as an important source of imitative behavior. Children were divided and then exposed to four different aggression models. A real-life aggression condition, a human film- aggression condition, a cartoon film-aggression condition, and a control group. The results showed that exposure to humans on film portraying aggression was the most influential in eliciting aggressive behavior.

Subjects in this condition, in comparison to Aggression the control subjects, exhibited more aggression and more imitative aggression. Subjects who viewed the aggressive human and cartoon models on film exhibited almost twice as much aggression as subjects in the control group. These results provide strong evidence that exposure to filmed aggression heightens aggressive reactions in children (Bandura et al. 1963 a). These results add to the conclusion that viewing violent television produces aggressive behavior.

But, in Banduras next experiment he begins to question if other factors are involved in the relationship between televised violence and aggression. His subjects are divided into three groups, model-reward, model-punished, and control. All view an aggressive filmed model with a task appropriate ending. The results show mere exposure to modeling stimuli does not provide sufficient conditions for imitative learning. The fact that most of the children in the experiment failed to reproduce the entire repertoire of behavior exhibited by the model, even under positive-incentive conditions indicates other factors are influencing the imitative response acquisition (Bandura 1965). At the time Banduras work seemed on target and with no one challenging his theory many were soon quick to follow in agreement.

His modeling theory seems plausible, but the fact that he only completed experiments in a laboratory setting leaves one skeptical. Many times results from a laboratory setting will not correlate to real life or in viv o results. Another problem was he only had acts of aggression toward blown up dolls and not real people. It would have been interesting to see how children reacted to a real life person receiving an act of aggression. Another problem is he only used adults as models. He should have also used children.

With only adults as models he can't explain how viewing an aggressive child in viv o or on television increases aggression. Feel Bandura was on the right track in his last experiment when he determined other factors were involved, but he failed to follow up on this question. Thesis an area in need of additional investigation. 1970's Research Up until now the relation between television viewing habits and aggression had been shown in several experiments, but what was lacking was the ability to determine cause and effect. One possible way to demonstrate cause and effect is to use a longitudinal context (Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz & Walder, 1972). In Eron et al.

(1972) subjects were tested over a ten year time period for measures of aggression and predictors of aggression. Several other factors were taken into consideration in this study. They included IQ, social status, mobility aspirations, religious practice, ethnicity, and parental disharmony. The results support the hypothesis that a preference for watching violent television in the third-grade time period is a cause of aggressive habits later in life independent of the other causal contributors studied. It is not claimed that television violence is the only cause of aggressive behavior since a number of other variables are also related to aggression. However, the violence on aggression is relatively independent of these other factors and explains a larger portion of the variance than does any other single factor which we studied (Eron et al 1972).

Although a longitudinal study was used to try to apply causation no such correlation could be found. The safest conclusion was the study does not establish a causal link between television violence and aggression in one direction or another (Kaplan & Singer 1976). In another study Kaplan and Singer (1976) propose another view toward televised violence increasing aggressive behavior. They suggest three different positions on the subject. An activation view that watching televised fantasy violence causes aggressive behavior. A catharsis view that aggression in some groups may be decreased following the observation of such violence.

And a null view that such violence on television has not been demonstrated to have significant effects on aggressive behavior. The evidence in this study is in support of the null view (Kaplan & Singer, 1976). They have built their case around several valid arguments. The first being that the evidence that television causes aggression is not strong enough to justify restrictions in programming.

Most of the research on television and aggression has been done in the laboratory and we really just don't know how this correlates with in. Secondly, we must look at the sample from which the subjects for these studies are drawn. Are they representative samples from a variety of social classes? If not then we cannot speak of overall effects, but only for that limited sample.

Third is method of viewing. In several studies children are gathered together to view a film. If some of the children begin to get more active they may stimulate the other children to act accordingly (Kaplan & Singer 1976). Kaplan and Singer cite several studies in which viewing violence did not cause an increase in aggression. Feshbach and Singer (1971) conducted an experimental field study controlling the television viewing of nine to fifteen-year-old boys. For six Aggression weeks they were required to watch two hours of television per day.

Half watched aggressive shows and half watched non-aggressive shows. Feshbach and Singer found no evidence that violence on television leads to increases in aggressive behavior. Certainly the study shows no support for the theory that viewing of aggressive television increases real life aggression (Kaplan & Singer, 1976). In a study by Carlisle and Howell (1974), angered and non angered college students were exposed to either violent or nonviolent movie scenes. Results revealed that the violent film was more likely than the nonviolent film aggression among either angry or non angry subjects (Kaplan & Singer, 1976). With the above data it is certainly possible to see why Kaplan and Singer feel the null-effect view to be the most plausible one.

Still as our research moves into the 80's the question of intervening variables has yet to be well addressed. 1980's Research It is the research of Leonard Eron (1982) that first suggests the relation between violent television and aggression does not go just one way. It is a bi-directional relationship. He demonstrates that television violence is one cause of aggressive behavior, it is also probable that aggressive children prefer to watch more violent television (Eron, 1982).

This seems to be a more plausible alternative because it allows for a more circular theory. It means that violent television may or may not be causing an increase in aggression. I feel it means more aggressive children tend to watch more violent television shows. These children are aggressive to begin with and the violence they witness on television does not have a great deal to do with their aggressive tendencies. I agree televised violence may be an intervening factor, but I don't think it is the sole contributor to aggression in children. Johnathan L. Freedman (1984) reviewed the available field and correlational research on televised violence and increases in aggressiveness.

He only reviewed studies concerning long-term effects or natural settings. He found no reason to support the conclusion that violence on television increases aggressive behavior in a natural setting. It remains a plausible hypothesis, but one for which there is little supporting evidence (Freedman, 1984). In another review by Friedrich-Cofer and Huston (1986) their data reveal there is in fact a bi-directional causal relation between viewing television violence and aggression.

They support their findings with several longitudinal studies including Eron et al. (1972), Freedman (1984) and Cook et al. (1983). They also measured for several perceived intervening variables and found none of these variables accounted for the relation between viewing and aggression (Friedrich-Cofer & Huston, (1986).

Still even through the 80's no one has really addressed the question of whether there may be an intervening variable in this great debate. Discussion As one can see from reading the above studies the question of whether televised violence increases aggression is still unanswered. There is as much data for as for against so it is hard to distinguish an answer. There is no concrete evidence to argue for one way or the other. It is a debate that continues today.

The best possible answer I can come up with is that the causation is bi- directional. Also, it is pertinent to many intervening factors. Aggression levels of the child to begin with and their home environment play a big role in determining aggressive tendencies. I think the best way to test fora causal relationship is a well documented longitudinal study. The subjects must be able to be contacted in five year increments to answer questions. With this method of testing and by controlling for all possible intervening variables one can get the best results.

It was interesting to see over the years how thoughts and ideas had changed about viewing televised violence and aggression. But, even today there are still many unanswered questions. Maybe sometime in the future we will have a definite answer to this relevant question.


Bandura, A. (1965).
Influence of models' reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1,589-595. Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1961).
Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63,575-582. Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1963 a).
Imitation of film mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3-11. Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1963 b).
Vicarious reinforcement and imitative learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67,601-607. Eron, L.D. (1963).
Relationship of television viewing habits and aggressive behavior in children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67,193-196. Eron, L.D. (1982).
Parent-child interaction, television, violence and aggression of children. American Psychologist, 37,197-211. Eron, L.D., Huesmann, L.R., Lefkowitz, M.M. & Walder, L.O. (1972).
Does television violence cause aggression? American Psychologist, 27,253-263. Freeman, J.L. (1984).
Effect of television violence on aggressiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 96,227-246. Friedrich-Cofer, L. & Huston, A.C. (1986).
Television violence and aggression: The debate continues. Psychological Bulletin, 100,364-371. Kaplan, R.M. & Singer, R.D. (1976).