The problem I am researching is the desensitizing of Americas youth through violence in the mass media, specifically television and video games. I am interested in studying it because as violence on television and the violent content contained in video games has increased, so has youth violence. I want to find if the increasing violence shown on television and video games has a desensitizing effect on Americas youth, thus, increasing the probability that they will commit an act of violence. I believe that this research is important because I think violence on television and video games is a form of classical conditioning. In the movie, A Clockwork Orange, the character was given negative reinforcement whenever he sees acts of violence shown to him on television. Eventually, he becomes repulsed by it and feels ill every time he sees or thinks of committing an act of violence. I think television and violent games are having a reverse effect on Americas youth. Violence is glorified in the mass media, thus youth become to associate killing with entertainment, they see violence as the manly thing to do, and they see how violence on television often goes unpunished. I feel this is a cause of youth violence because of the desensitizing nature of violence on television. One study showed that network programming averages 36.6 violent acts per hour. Is there any question that this would have a desensitizing effect on Americas youth over time?
I looked at five other studies that were related to my research. The first was from an article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill. In the article, the effects of violent video games on youths were studied. What was found was that real-life violent video game play was positively related to increased aggressive behavior and delinquency. Also, academic achievement was negatively related to the overall amount of time spent playing games. This study involved two different forms of observation. The short-term effects (laboratory aggression) of the video games was studied using laboratory observation, while the long-term effects (increased delinquency) were studied using surveys.
Another study I looked at was an article from the Sociological Spectrum entitled Violence, Morality, and Television Commercials by Brenden Maguire, Diane Sandage, and Georgie Ann Weatherby. This study examined whether violence in television commercials was related to declining morality and rising crime among youths. A content analysis was performed of 1699 commercials shown over sixteen days and evenings in January and February of 1996 and June and July in 1997. What was found that only a small percentage of commercials contained violence and a small number of commercials exhibited behavior or attitudes contrary to conventional moral standards. Maguire et al concluded that although advertisers sponsor programs that feature violence, they do not wish to associate violence with their products. Therefore, commercials have little to effect on the increasing aggressive tendencies of Americas youth.
The third article I studied was from the journal, Aggression and Violent Behavior 4, entitled Film Violence and Young Offenders by Amanda Pennell and Kevin Browne. In this article, Pennell and Browne found that screen violence can affect consumer behavior by: imitation of violent roles and aggressive acts; triggering of aggressive impulses in predisposed individuals; desensitizing feelings of sympathy towards victims; creating indifference towards use of violence; and creating a frame of mind that sees violent acts as socially acceptable responses to stress and frustration. Pennell and Browne found young offenders like violent videos because of their aggressive backgrounds and behavioral tendencies, but concluded that whether such tastes in film reinforce violent behavior and increasing frequency of aggressive acts is debatable. The methodology used in this study was laboratory observation, with each youth being shown a violent video and their immediate reaction as well as their impression of the video late being noted.
The fourth article I used was entitled Cutting Film Violence: Effects on Perceptions, Enjoyment, and Arousal by Mike Berry, Tim Gray, and Ed Donnerstein. This article was taken from the Journal of Social Psychology. This study investigated the effects of cutting specific graphic scenes of film violence on self-reports of arousal, enjoyability, and perceptions of violence among a sample of 184 United States undergraduates. In three studies, film exposure was varied from 90 seconds in the first study to a complete motion picture (U.S. versus British version of the same film) in the third. In all three studies, the participants rated the cut versions as less violent than the uncut versions. The participants distinguished quite subtle differences in levels of violence, even when the cuts were minor and contextualized within the entire movie. Cutting the movie significantly increased its enjoyability for the women; for the men, there was no significant difference. The methodology used in this study was laboratory observation as the films were shown to participants in a laboratory setting and their impressions of the alterations to the film were monitored.
The last article I used was Revenge of the Video Games by Katrina Woznicki and printed in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In this article Woznicki suggests that playing violent video games could lead to an increase of real-life aggression. She says that frequently playing graphically brutal video games is more likely to increase aggression among young men than watching violent television shows or movies. The difference is that television or movie viewers have a passive role, while video and computer game players are actively involved in what they’re seeing. If the player doesn’t shoot first, the enemy will shoot him, or at least his on-screen persona. However, she had no evidence in her article to back up her research.
I think my study will be an improvement on these studies because I feel none of them explained enough the effects of this violence on youth over an extended period of time. My study is going to monitor youths over several years to see long term effects of violence in the mass media.
My hypothesis for this study is that violence in the mass media has a negative effect on the aggression levels in Americas youth. I believe that enough exposure to violent materials over time could desensitize some youths and lead them to believe that violence is an acceptable form of behavior. The independent variable in my study is violence in the mass media while the dependent variable is an increase in youth violence. I chose my independent variable because I felt it was the obvious choice. If the independent variable is the cause and the dependent variable is the effect and my study wants to find if violence in the mass media is the cause with increasing youth violence as the effect, then my choices are obvious. In my study, I am going to measure levels of aggression in selected youths and compare them to the amount of violent content they have been exposed to. I will collect my data via unobtrusive research because I do not want my subjects to act more or less aggressively than they typically would because they are aware that they are being studied. I thought about using evaluation research and conduct my study in a laboratory setting, but I rejected it because I thought it would affect the behaviors and attitudes of my subjects. The unit of analysis in my study is going to be American youths, probably around the age of eight. I chose these subjects because they havent experienced a whole lot of violent content that early in their lives, however they are at the age where television and video games are their primary source of entertainment. In order to find my subjects, I plan on placing an advertisement in local newspapers asking for parents to volunteer their youths for the study. Because of the nature of my study, I will require several families that will not allow their youths to view violent films or play violent video games as well as several families who will. The families must be nuclear (mother and father together) so the youths behaviors and attitudes can not be attributed to a broken home. Ill need similar families, I plan on using families that attend church regularly, have stable incomes, and live in suburban areas. These criteria will help ensure that the difference in the youths aggression levels can be minimally attributed to the family.
Conducting the Research
I plan on my study taking one year. The first step Im going to take is to note each youth aggression level via psychological evaluation. I will then compare this level of aggression to the level obtained by another psychological evaluation after the conclusion of the experiment. Next, I plan on using the youths whose parents will not let them view violent content as my control group and the youths whose families will allow them to view violent content as my experimental group. After one year has elapsed, I will gather the families and reconduct my psychological evaluations of the youths. Of course, I will require the services of a certified psychologist, as well as a concerted effort on the control groups parents part to not allow their child to be exposed to violent films or games. This is one potential difficulty I foresee. It will be difficult to keep the control group from being exposed to violent material, considering the sheer volume of it in todays mass media. In order to help remedy this concern, I plan on supplying the control group with several family-oriented films and games that contain no violent content. This shouldnt pose to large of a problem considering the wide availability of Disney and other childrens films and games. I foresee no potential problems with the experimental group. Basically, I want them to watch television and play video games just as any other normal youth would. This way, they view film violence and play violent games just as any normal person. Then at the end of the one year limit I have set, I want to see how the aggression levels in each group have changed, if at all.
What are the implications of my research? I plan on finding that the aggression levels in the experimental group are substantially higher than those of the control group. I can then attribute the higher levels of aggression in the experimental group to violence in the mass media. There is an ethical dilemma I am faced with in my study and that is what to do if the aggression levels in the experimental group are excessively high. I might feel a certain degree of guilt and responsibility for asking the parents to let their child watch regular television and play popular video games if the childs attitudes and behaviors are strongly affected by this material. I would then resolve dilemma by offering to fund counseling for the youth(s) in hopes of negating some of the adverse effects caused by violence in the media exposure. The validity and reliability of my study might be in question. It would be very difficult to blame an increase in aggression levels fully on the mass media. For instance, the youths role models, peers, and daily routine could all play a role in the youths behaviors and attitudes. These factors would be extremely difficult to regulate. However, this problem exists along both groups and hopefully cancel each other out. I would like to conduct the same experiment again after awhile using different groups to test the reliability. Until then, it would be impossible to predict its reliability.
I dont feel that these dilemmas will pose too large a problem. The goal of my study is simple. America is a culture that glorifies violence, neglects our social problems, and puts vengeful, ruthless characters on a pedestal. Violence runs rampant in the media and video games contain ungodly amounts of realistic, animated gore. I feel Americas youth is systematically becoming desensitized to violence for these reasons, thus the levels of youth violence in America are rapidly increasing. Through my research, I want to prove my hypothesis and show that violence in the mass media must be reduced.