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The Impact of Violence in Media; Does it Really Cause Criminal Behavior?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2952 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Humans learn how to behave by copying the examples they see, humanity is a species that learns social behavior by the example of . This system works well enough when a child’s main observation of human behavior are humans they interact with in real life. However, the amount of time children spend consuming mass media and, by extent, the violence present in over sixty percent of all media not intended of audiences under the age of thirteen is generally thought to teach the wrong lessons. The various degrees of violence depicted in multiple different types of media affects behavior, but the extent of those effects are widely disputed. Violence in media is one of the many factors that may potentially cause violent behavior, but it has a far less direct correlation with criminal behavior, and the strength of the correlation between violent behavior and violence in media is questionable. 

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One of the main arguments for the correlation between criminal behavior and violence in media is video games, specifically first person shooter games, which are often linked to glamorization of mass shootings.  However, it would not be nearly as influential because the media  generally shows pain, blood, and other negative consequence to these actions, even in video games.(Annual Reviews). In addition, for the vast majority of people the reconnection with the real world allow them to rationalize the compulsiveness of these electronic, violent actions that occur only in fiction. For instance, people know that pain is real, and  introducing someone to the pain and anguish of the victim who is injured and the long term consequences that jail and being forced to flee from society has on the perpetrator would greatly discourage any passing thoughts of committing murder.

 When a well publicized act of violence occurs, humans attempt to rationalize such behavior. The most frequently used claims are that the inflictor’s actions were influenced by drugs, a mental illness, or the way they were raised. One such question as to the manner in which a criminal was raised is their exposure to violence as a child or adolescent. Violent video games are commonly accused of causing or encouraging violent behavior that escalates to criminal behavior later in life.

The National Rifle Association frequently claims that criminal behavior, especially gun violence, being caused by drugs, mental illness, or exposure to violence in video games. The U.S. Supreme Court stated “Psychological studies designed to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.” (AP NEWS). in response to the state of California attempting to ban the sale of violent video games to children in 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that witnessing violent crimes and behavior in media may cause children to imitate the actions they see, but likewise  acknowledged that the connection between long term behavior and exposure to violence in various media forms is not certain or strongly proven. The mere fact that California was willing to blame violent video games for the actions and behavior of children is a prime example of a desperate attempt to rationalize behavior and failing to examine every possible cause or admit that numerous causes are responsible for the affirmation,  encouragement, and continuation of  criminal intentions that could lead to criminal actions.

One of the main reasons studies that analyze the correlation between violent behavior and exposure to violence in media are questionable is because the majority of studies usually only record and examine the behavior of prepubescent children for a few hours immediately after showing them a movie that does or does not contain violent or criminal actions. While studies such as these are useful for analyzing the immediate effects exposure to violence in media have on children, they do not gather data or properly examine the long term effects violence in media has on children.  One study conducted in 2004 had a sample group consisting of 1,254 students in seventh or eighth grade and 500 parents and was focusing on what video games kids were playing, the duration and frequency of play, and the possible relationship with violent or aggressive behavior.(Massachusetts General Hospital).  The study was supervised by Dr. Cheryl Olson and the  researchers were a team of Mass General research professionals. The study found some correlations between the amount of violent games played and the intensity and frequency of self-reported physical altercations and antagonistic behavior when subjects spent a longer sum of time  playing violent games. However, this relationship only occurred in a few children , all of which had previously exhibited high levels of stress and aggressive traits. (Massachusetts General Hospital). The results of this particular study indicate that increased use of violent video games is the result of combative tendencies and stress being channeled into violent games, instead of violent games causing the aggressive tendencies and stress.

Studies that examine the immediate results of children being shown physical violence in media have generally indicated a more direct relationship between combative behavior and seeing violence in media, and imply a relationship between aggressive behavior and the possibility of future criminal behavior. A study conducted in 1963 by Bandura, Ross, and Ross attempted to replicate the effects on violent media on children by showing preschoolers a clip of an adult physically assaulting an inflatable dummy or showing a clip that contained no violence.(Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963). The  children that had been shown the clips were then placed in a playroom that contained inflatable dummies, and various other toys including toy mallets that resembled the kind used in the videos. The preschoolers’ behavior was monitored and the children who had been shown the violent clip replicated the actions of the adult on the inflatable dummies they had available. The study proved that  “the children found new and creative ways to beat up the doll, and they played more aggressively with the other toys in the room as well” (LoBue) as a result of the children performing violent actions that did not specifically occur in the clip. However, this study does little to prove or analyse the relationship between long term exposure to multiple  forms of media that contain violence. The conclusion that witnessing violence in media causes a temporary increase in aggression is well established, but the timespan of observation does not lend itself to making any concise decisions about the lingering effects of  media violence on young children nor does it examined the effects as a child ages into an adolescent.

Another reason  why violence in media is so commonly considered a primary cause of criminal behavior is the human tendency to place the majority of the blame on a single source. Politicians and celebrities have been known to state that the violence in media, such as movies and video games, shapes the way children and adolescents think and drastically increases their likelihood of committing violent criminal acts later in life. Following well publicized violent incidents, especially ones concerning youths, such as school shootings, politicians raise concerns over the influence of violent video games and films on young people. President Trump responds by claiming violent video games and films are “shaping young people’s thoughts.” (Schipani). With so many influential individuals who posses no expertise on the subject all claiming the same thing, that violence in media is responsible for influencing the actions of a recently famous criminal, the masses of concerned parents have turned against violence in media.This is because it is easier for them to control the media their children are exposed to than it is for them to assess and address any concerning factors in their child’s morals, and ability to empathize with others, handle stress, and manage anger.

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The people who believe that violence in the media causes harm to the mental welfare of children, and encourages a child’s  aggressive behavior, have attempted to solve the problem by having the government regulate television and media to prevent children from being exposed to  excessive violence. The legality of the government regulating television is not in question, it is definitely illegal. Regulating excessive violence in media would require defining “excessive violence”, preventing all depictions of violence, positive or negative, and would be disconcerting  if only targeted towards regulating what children are allowed to view, given the impressionability of children. (Tribe pg. 92-98). It is illegal to have a law that uses overly vague language, so any law that regulates excessive violence would need to define what it  considers excessive violence. It is also a violation of the First Amendment to prevent the discussion of a topic based on the viewpoint expressed, so even if excessive violence was regulated, it would be required to prevent children from viewing negative portrayals of violence in which the horrifying aspects of violence are stressed to caution children of violence, as well as he positive portrayals of violence. While some respond the impossibility of legally preventing children from consuming violent recreational media by promoting media literacy, others are upset by it and respond by further vilifying violence in media.

One of the most frequently used arguments used to prove that violent media cause criminal activity are copycat shooters. Mass shooters, terrorists, and suicide victims are all highly covered in the news and on social media, and it is believed that the fame and attention perpetrators of such crimes receive is a motivation for others to commit similar crimes.  Since the2000s, the frequency of mass shootings has increased exponentially. The average time between mass shootings in 2018 was twelve and a half days, and an average of one attempted or successful school shooting every seven days. Prior to 2000, the average was roughly three mass shootings per year. The increase in mass shootings following 2002 can be partially attributed to the widespread reporting on the 1999 school shooting of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, with four hundred related incidents being reported in the following month. The shooter at Virginia Tech in 2007 killed thirty two people and several shooters have since claimed to be inspired to kill more than thirty two as if it is a competition or record to break.(Alex Pew et al.)  The media inspiring others to mimic widely reported crimes is called the media contagion effect, and is one of the significant reasons for the general association between media violence and criminal behavior. Unlike in the case of movies or video games, the problem with media’s attention to mass shootings is that too much attention is paid to the shooter, while the victims become nothing more than a statistic, a number the next shooter aims to surpass. In the case of news coverage of shootings, the coverage and exposure does increase the likelihood of more shootings, but not because the shooting itself is depicted in media. The problem is that the perpetrator gets far more attention than the victims or the victims’ families.

Media literacy is a generally suggested skill for anyone who makes frequent use of the internet, but many parents neglect to teach their children online precautions or media literacy until they are in their teens, despite children as young as eight years old consuming an average of six hours of media every day.  The lack of knowledge regarding media literacy, regulations or rating systems leaves children unguided, and in the absence of  general guidelines, many young children are attracted to the higher rated games because of they are not supposed to have or play such games, which is called the “forbidden-fruit” hypothesis. Rating guides are easily available for parents to learn what content would be found in the media given that rating, which would allow parents to put limits on what their children are exposed to in media.(Pediatrics, Media Violence) While media generally does not cause increased risk of criminal behavior, and the media that does can be easily changed to prevent such influence, media does expose children to violence and increase combative behavior. The increase in aggression is something parents may want to avoid and in the absence of clear , distinctive control of what their child is exposed to, parents generalize the media through which their child was exposed to violent behavior.

While violence in the media is one of the contributing factors  to violent behaviour , its relation to criminal behaviour is much less direct. News, social media, movies, video games, and TV shows all contain violence, and many claim that such content should be censored to regulated  despite ratings being an underused method of preventing children from being exposed to any content the parents wish to avoid. People generally agree that there is a relationship between violent and criminal behavior and exposure to violence through electronic means, however, the strength of this correlation is questionable.  A general increase in aggressive behavior is well proven, but criminal or violent behavior is not as studied or proven.


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