Boys and girls who watch violent television programmes are at greater risk of being aggressive than young adults, according to a study.
This applies regardless of the child’s initial aggression levels, intellectual capabilities, social status, their parents’ aggressiveness, or the mother and father’s ability as parents.
Rowell Huesmann, Jessica Moise-Titus, Cheryl-Lynn Podolski and Leonard Eron of the University of Michigan undertook the 15-year study of 329 youths as a follow-up of a 1977 study of 557 children growing up in the Chicago area.
In the first study, children named violent television shows they had watched most, whether they identified with the aggressive characters and whether they thought the violent situations were realistic.
Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man and Roadrunner cartoons were cited as violent programmes.
The new study, reported in the journal Developmental Psychology, surveyed again the original boys and girls, now in their early 20s.
Spouses or friends were also interviewed and were asked to rate the participant’s aggression. The researchers studied criminal conviction records and traffic violations.
Results show that men who watched a lot of television violence as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses.
They were more likely to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at three times the usual rate.
Women who saw a lot of violence on television as children were more likely to have thrown something at their spouses, to have responded to someone who made them angry by shoving, punching, beating or choking the person, to have committed some type of criminal act, and to have committed a traffic offence.
They reported having punched, beaten or choked another adult at four times the rate of other women.
Might these results simply be an indication that more aggressive children like to watch violent programmes'
“It is more plausible that exposure to TV violence increases aggression than that aggression increases TV-violence viewing," said Huesmann.
“For both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression.”
Researchers say one way to tackle the problem is for parents to watch television with children. This seems to cut the child’s identification with the violence, perception that the violence is real and likelihood that they will act out the violence in fantasy or play.
Last year, another study concluded that teenagers watching more than an hour of television daily are more likely to become violent adults.
A team led by Prof Jeffrey Johnson, of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, studied more than 700 children.
They concluded that, during early adolescence, responsible parents should not let children watch more than one hour of television a day. “That’s where the vast majority of the increase in risk occurs,” said Prof Johnson.
Concerns about television violence began in the 1940s. “Despite the consensus among experts, lay people do not seem to be getting the message from the popular press that media violence contributes to a more violent society,” researchers said at the time.