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Any tool used to deliver information (communicate) to an audience is considered to be media. This can include radio networks, magazines, newspapers, internet, and television programs. The media connects the world to an individual. It is a source that provides strong and influential messages to a large audience (Wikipedia, n.d.). There have been studies done trying to use the media as an explanation of aggression. Aggression can be violence, behavioral problems, challenging behavior, anti-social behavior, and social, challenging, behavioral problems (Mitrofan et. al, 2009). It is theorized that the media can influence on aggression. It can be said to affect how the audience thinks and behaves.
Since most individuals depend on the media to provide them with daily life information, it can influence the way a person thinks and behaves. The media can influence individuals in a negative way because their persuasive messages can make a person become more aggressive. The media’s persuasive messages make it effective in delivering those messages. Even though it is theorized that the media can explain aggression, many studies have not found any single significant correlation between the both. Aggression has been seen mostly has being biological or genetic. However, there are some studies that have found the media to be a correlation of aggression. One study found that children who viewed cartoons, regardless of their content, increased non-physical aggression (verbal aggression). This study also found that the children tend to be more verbally aggressive in the classroom setting. While expressing their aggression, they are likely to be aware of their actions, but are not sensible to the feelings of the victim. Aside from the media influencing negative effects, it also found to have some positive ones. This study’s positive effects were that the cartoons discouraged physical aggression and non compliance during play (Mitrofan et al., 2009). Another study investigated how violent shows affect children. The study found that violent television shows had stronger effects on boys than girls. It increased their social aggression because they learned how to aggress towards others and how it was socially accepted since it was on television. Social aggression is behavior that causes emotional harm to the victim by actions that damage another’s self esteem, social status or both (Martin et Al., 2009). Another way in which media can influence aggression is by observational learning. Observational learning is when people can observe a behavior and use it as a guide for their actions. One can learn from an observed behavior even when the social models behaving aggressively are represented in film or television shows. The influence observational learning has on aggressive behavior becomes greater if the aggressive model is reinforced for their behavior. The reinforcement can be a reward or as simple as not receiving punishment. For example, if a child sees that a kid on television beat up his sibling and did not receive any form of punishment by the parents, the child observing such behaviors will tend to do reenact similar behaviors. People become encouraged to adopt such aggressive behaviors because they know there will be no consequences (Baron & Richardson, 34). In a different study, media has been linked to increased aggression. The study found that violent media exposure mediates a relationship between cognitive distortions and levels of aggression. The study concluded this relationship because when an individual was exposed to violent media, the individual had irrational thoughts leading to irrational, aggressive, or exaggerated behaviors (Richmond et al., 2008). The study just mentioned performed by Richmond can be supported by another study that found that violent media preferences contributed significantly to the prediction of violence and general aggression from cumulative risk totals (Boxer et al., 2009).
With the studies mentioned, one can conclude that media can influence aggressive behaviors. Besides the media influencing aggression through observational learning, other situations involve other mediating factor in order to cause aggression. A person will need to be exposed to violent media in order to behave in a more aggressive demeanor. The setting of where the aggressive behavior is taking place is also another mediating factor. The study that mentioned how cartoons influenced aggression had both negative and positive effects. It increased verbal aggression, yet decreased physical aggression. Since the research was done in a school setting, the children are aware that they will be punished if they physically harm other students. This can be a result of how the setting played a role in their behavior. Also, authority can be a mediating factor that led the children to be more verbally aggressive than physically. Being aware of the effects media has, it can also be used to reduce aggressive behavior. This can be done if the media uses positive models to relay their messages. In using more positive models, the audience may want to behave in a more socially accepted manner. The intake of violent media provided to the audience should be minimized. This should also include the information provided by world or local news’ sources since most individuals rely on television to obtain their daily information.
Example / Application - Real-life
In the case of Phoebe Prince, media can be used to explain the aggressive behavior that occurred. In Massachusetts, nine teenagers (three males and six females) have been charged with involvement of bullying a 15 year old girl to death. Phoebe Prince was bullied for months by the teenagers and it eventually led her to commit suicide. This can be a real life example of how media influences aggression (cnn, 2010). One of the studies showed how even watching cartoons (no matter what rating it is) can influence verbal aggression in a school setting. It also found that those individuals that resort to aggression are aware of their actions, but not the effects it will have on the victim (Mitrofan et al., 2009). The teenagers’ verbal aggression towards Phoebe can be said to be influenced by television such as cartoons. One can come to this conclusion based on the previous study mentioned that Mitrofan et al did where they found that watching cartoons can influence verbal aggression in a school setting. Although, it contradicted the study of how it could minimize physical aggression as some of the female teenager victimized Phoebe physically as well as verbally. Frequent exposure to violent media can be one explanation on why those girls were physically abusive. It probably led to increased irrational thinking in those girls, therefore causing them to behave more aggressively towards the victim (Richmond et al., 2008). Exposure to violent television shows can explain the behaviors of the boys involved in the bullying. It was found that violent shows have a stronger affect on boys than girls. This study can also show that since most of the teenagers were girls, and they used physical abuse as well as verbal, other mediating factors had to be involved. Some of the mediating factors that could be involved are the setting or the influence of bystanders (Marin et al., 2009). Also, the teenagers engaging in the bullying may have had more exposure to media where social models behaved in a similar manner as they did. They learned their behavior of verbally and physically aggression by observing those models presented by the media (Baron & Richardson, 34).
Example / Application - Columbine
The Columbine High School Massacre involved two teenage boys in Oklahoma who walked into their school with the plan of wiping out hundreds. They had planned to kill everyone in the school using bombs, but since their plan failed they resorted to the use of their guns. Although, one of the boys was diagnosed to be a clinical psychopath and the other to be depressed, the media can be used to explain their aggressive behavior. The two boys already had biological problems such as the depression, but the violent movies and games they were exposed to do not diminish their cognitive distortions. The forms of violent media they engaged in, led them to lose their self awareness and live in their own fantasy world. Their whole plan was to reenact the Oklahoma City bombing which they wouldn’t have ever known about if it wasn’t for the information they received through the media. The films they enjoyed were films that involved a lot of aggressive behavior such as murder. They were torn between reality and fantasy because of their obsession with the violence they had seen in the media. The media did not cause their aggression in general but, it did influence their aggressive behaviors. When the boys were punished by having their games, movies, or television taken away, they would spend that time to deliver their fantasy into reality. They would work on making bombs and design their entire plan accordingly. Their fantasy world wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for their exposure to violent media. These boys came from good and loving families. One of the boy’s parents knew their child had a problem and got him help. The other boy’s parents showed love and attention and always around their son but never knew their child was depressed. One article even mentioned that it is hard to predict a psychopath who will commit murder since most don’t act on it (Toppo, 2009). Here one can conclude that there was another mediating factor (media) involved in at least one of the boys influence to act aggressively. Due to the violent media they watched and listened to, it can be said that the media played a role in their behaviors.
Baron, R. A., & Richardson, D. R. (1994). Human Aggression. New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Boxer, P., Huesmann, L., Bushman, B., O’Brien, M., & Moceri, D. (2009). The role of violent media preference in cumulative developmental risk for violence and general aggression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(3), 417-428. doi:10.1007/510964-008-9335-2.
CNN Wire Staff. (2010, March 30). Prosecutor: 9 teens charged in bullying that led to girls suicide. CNN Justice. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/03/29/massachusetts.bullying.suicide/index.html?iref=allsearch
Martins, N. (2009). You don’t have to get hit to get hurt: Social aggression on television and its relationship to children’s aggression in the classroom. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A 70. Retrieved from PsycInfo datase, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 3, 2010.
Mitrofan, O., Paul, M., & Spencer, N. (2009). Is aggression in children with behavioral and emotional difficulties associated with television viewing and video game playing? A systematic review. Child: Care, Health and Development [serial online]. January, 2009; 35 (1): 5-15. Available from PsycInfo, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 1, 2010.
Richmond, J., & Wilson, J. (2008). Are graphic media violence aggression, and moral disengagement related?. Psychiatric, Psychology & Law, 15 (2), 350-357. doi.10.1080/13218710802199716.
Toppo, Greg. (2009, April 14). 10 years later, the real story behind Columbine. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_n.htm.
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