The Effect of Viewing Television Violence on Childhood Aggression


There 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. With
all 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

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. 1963a). 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 vivo 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 vivo or on television increases aggression. I
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. This
is 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