More on TV Violence

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Science  21 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5614, pp. 1839
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5614.1839a

Does TV engender violence?

CREDIT: TERRY E. SMITH

An unusual longitudinal study has strengthened the case that children who watch violent TV become more aggressive adults, but agreement is still elusive on this long-smoldering issue.

L. Rowell Huesmann and colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studied 557 young Chicago children in the 1970s and found that over a 3-year period their TV habits predicted childhood aggression. Now they've done a 15-year follow-up on 329 of their subjects. In this month's issue of Developmental Psychology, they report that people who watched violent shows at age 8 were more aggressive in their 20s. Men who had been in the top 20% of violent TV watchers as children were twice as likely to push their wives around; women viewers were more likely to have thrown something at their husbands. The differences persisted, the researchers say, even when they controlled for children's initial aggression levels, IQs, social status, and bad parenting. Study co-author Leonard Eron thinks the association is now airtight—“just as much as smoking causes lung cancer.”

Some researchers agree. The study “shows more clearly than any other that TV is more than just an amplifying factor: It alone can cause increases in aggression,” says Duke University biologist Peter Klopfer. But skeptics remain unconvinced. “We already know that exposure to media violence is associated with aggressive behavior,” says biostatistician Richard Hockey of Mater Hospital in Brisbane, Australia. And the most plausible explanation is still that “aggressive people like violent TV.” Hockey adds that if causation exists, the effect is modest: Correlations of childhood violent TV viewing with adult aggression hover around 0.2, which means that TV contributes just about 5% of the increase in aggressive behavior.

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