Media influences on aggression
Media, such as TV and magazines, are sources of influence on aggression. Computer games desensitise players to the effects of aggression and provide positive reinforcements for violence, which are then re-enacted in real-world scenarios. Computer games could also be a source of catharsis, a safe release for aggressive tendencies. Desensitisation is the idea that if individuals watch lots of media forms of aggression, they will become so habituated (used to) such acts of violence that similar forms of aggressive behaviour may be enacted in real-world scenarios, as they have a reduced emotional reaction to such behaviour. Disinhibition occurs where people behave in uncharacteristically aggressive ways. Media sources, such as computer games, can lead to such disinhibition where players demonstrate aggressive behaviours that they normally would not display. This occurs because of (i) anonymity — which reduces responsibility for aggressive behaviour, (ii) solipsistic introjection — becoming merged with a character in a media source, and (iii) minimisation of authority — the lack of legal consequences. The danger is that such disinhibition could lead to uncharacteristic acts of aggression in real-life scenarios. Cognitive priming is the idea that we are exposed to aggressive cues in media sources, which may trigger aggression when such cues occur in real life.
Fig 15.5 Violent video games can lead to desensitisation
Pinto da Mota Matos et al. (2011) assessed the impact of aggression in TV programmes on children’s subsequent behaviour. The participants were 722 Portuguese school children aged 9—16 years. Age, school year and socioeconomic status were recorded and measures taken by questionnaire of how often they watched different types of aggressive TV programmes, how they would react physically and verbally to various aggressive scenarios in real life, how much they enjoyed violence on TV, how similar to real life they thought violent TV programmes were, and which TV character they would like to be. It was found that children’s aggressive behaviour was related to degree of enjoyment of TV violence, how realistic programmes were and identification with violent characters. Children who watched the most violent TV showed more physical aggression. It was concluded that exposure to TV violence is linked to aggressive behaviour, with several factors involved.
• Bushman (2009) found that when individuals who had been playing violent video games for 20 minutes saw someone injured in a fight, they took longer to help them than individuals who had been playing non-violent video games for 20 minutes. This suggests they were desensitised, as the injury did not affect them emotionally.
• Bandura et al. (1975) found that disinhibition (in the form of reduced responsibility) led to increased aggressive behaviour and the more disinhibited a person was, then the greater the aggressive behaviour. This suggests that disinhibition may be a factor in media sources of aggression.
• Josephson (1987) found that characteristically aggressive boys who watched a violent TV programme involving the use of walkie-talkies behaved aggressively when playing floor-hockey, which involved using walkie-talkies. However, characteristically non-aggressive boys were not similarly affected. This suggest cognitive priming only increases aggressive behaviour in aggressive individuals.
Research suggests that the negative effects of video games are short-lived, while positive effects can have a greater, longer-lasting impact, so that overall computer game playing can be regarded in a favourable light.
Research has indicated that cognitive priming only has a negative effect on aggression levels of aggressively-inclined individuals. Only by conducting carefully executed research can such important findings come to light.
It may be that disinhibition, in reducing the emotional impact to aggression, may reduce actual aggression levels in real-world scenarios, as aggressive responses usually require heightened emotion.
The correlation found between amount of aggressive/pro-social TV watched and degree of aggressive/pro-social behaviour exhibited may occur because aggressive/pro-social individuals choose to view more violent/helpful programmes.
Prolonged use of computers can create disinhibition that makes users indifferent to the welfare of others, self-centred and lacking in real-life communication and social skills. This suggests that access to computer usage should have time limitations, especially for the young who are still developing their communication and sociability skills.
The extent to which individuals become involved in the media they are experiencing varies. So, disinhibition only occurs in people who are fully engaged in playing and are not easily distracted by external stimuli (for example, introverts). This suggests disinhibition is not a universal effect.
If watching and interacting with aggressive forms of media leads to increased aggression levels, then getting individuals to watch and interact with pro-social forms of media should have the opposite, positive effect of reducing aggression levels.