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One of the notable changes in our social environment in the 20th and 21st centuries has been the saturation of our culture and daily lives by the mass media. In this new environment radio, television, movies, videos, video games, cell phones, and computer networks have assumed central roles in our children’s daily lives. For better or worse the mass media are having an enormous impact on our children’s values, beliefs, and behaviours. Unfortunately, the consequences of one particular common element of the electronic mass media have a particularly detrimental effect on children’s wellbeing.
Aggression is a term applied to behaviour aimed at hurting other people; also applies to feelings of anger or hostility. Aggression functions as a motive, often in response to threats, insults, or frustrations. Aggression is behaviour, verbal or physical, intended to physically hurt or harm in some other way another person or thing. Whether aggression is manifested by individuals or groups (including nations), it is the most destructive force in social relations and consequently an important social issue. A major concern in either individual or group aggression is its origin.
Research by psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron and others starting in the 1980s found that children who watched many hours of violence on television when they were in elementary school tended to show higher levels of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these participants into adulthood, Huesmann and Eron found that the ones who’d watched a lot of TV violence when they were 8 years old was more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults. The study showed, being aggressive as a child did not predict watching more violent TV as a teenager, suggesting that TV watching could be a cause rather than a consequence of aggressive behavior. However, later research by psychologists Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman, among others, suggested that exposure to media violence is just one of several factors that can contribute to aggressive behavior.
Most theorists would now agree that the short term effects of exposure to media violence are mostly due to Priming is the process through which spreading activation in the brain’s neural network from the locus representing an external observed stimulus excites another brain node representing a cognition, emotion, or behaviour. The external stimulus can be inherently linked to cognition, e.g., the sight of a gun is inherently linked to the concept of aggression. Mimicry is observation of specific social behaviours around them increases the likelihood of children behaving exactly that way. Specifically, as children observe violent behaviour, they are prone to mimic it.
Long term content effects. During early, middle, and late childhood children encode in memory social scripts to guide behaviour though observation of family, peers, community, and mass media. Consequently observed behaviours are imitated long after they are observed. During this period, children’s social cognitive schemas about the world around them also are elaborated. For example, extensive observation of violence has been shown to bias children’s world schemas toward attributing hostility to others’ actions. Such attributions in turn increase the likelihood of children behaving aggressively. Repeated exposures to emotionally activating media or video games can lead to habituation of certain natural emotional reactions. This process is called “desensitization.”
Negative emotions experienced automatically by viewers in response to a particular violent or gory scene decline in intensity after many exposures Enactive learning among children are constantly being conditioned and reinforced to behave in certain ways, and this learning may occur during media interactions. For example, because players of violent video games are not just observers but also “active” participants in violent actions, and are generally reinforced for using violence to gain desired goals, the effects on stimulating long-term increases in violent behaviour should be even greater for video games than for TV, movies, or internet displays of violence.
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