Violence is everywhere and it is the undeniable truth that violent themes appear in the classical mythology of many nations, masterpieces of literature and art, and theater (Trend 3). Ever since Canada’s confederation when the country finally gained independence and identity, Canada’s first mass medium was formed: the newspaper – which was later followed by magazines. Then these forms of media advanced alongside society, therefore it technologically sophisticated into the popular modern television medium which in 2009, ninety nine percent of Canadians possessed in their household (Vipond 58). Computers and the internet then arrived, at first with the simple objective to send emails which now can access millions of sites that provide various services (Vipond 85-88). However, the rise of violence in the mass media has impacted youth in an enormous ways. First of all, children are especially vulnerable at such a young age, hence any violent stimulation may alter natural behavioural into undesirable outcomes. Unfortunately, society promotes explicit displays of violence as it “blurs the line between reality and fantasy” towards youngsters (Trend 5). Second, many theorists and studies have concluded that there is a “causal connection between early media violence and later aggression” (“Media ”). The mass media’s form of entertainment has now become the hot topic debate as video games, for example, now teach kids to “carry out acts of violence such as carjacking, drug-related crimes, and attacking police officers” (“Video”). Lastly, many theorists are against the common belief that violence in the media has any connection to negative impacts to children whatsoever. Mainly due to the lack of unreliable and contradicting data, it raises popularity among these digital debates.
Children are easy influenced by the media and their natural behaviour is heavily based on what scenes of violence they may witness. Youth can be impacted very negatively in both short term and long term effects. They become at risk to “[learn] desensitization to violence, and [increase] fear” (Trend 43).
Children are young and are still in their early developing stages both physically and mentally. They have not yet achieved the complexity in the brain that allows for “analysis, evaluation, or moral judgement” (Grossman and DeGaetano 54). Thus children are conditioned by the environment and they are “born with an instinctive capacity and desire to imitate adult behaviors” (Grossman and Degaetano 53). When it comes to violent media such as television, they are unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality, and therefore follow TV characters as they classify them as role models (Grossman and Degaetano 25). Consequently, children receive the message that violence is a method for problem solving (Trend 104-105).
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It is noted that children “lose the ability to understand the violence, to emphasize, to resist, and to protest” (Trend 104). They simply have so much exposure to it that they become numb to what the TV depicts – gore and blood (Grossman and Degaetano 26).”Violent imagery as a form of amusement for children and youth- who haven’t yet to develop accuracy in interpreting and describing feelings spurred by violent imagery – is at very least a dangerous proposition” (Grossman and Degaetano 25). They are perceived as fun and sensational through the eyes of children, as special effects and action takes up the screen (Grossman and Degaetano 94-96). Finally, when desensitization has overpowered, another change in behaviour may also occur which is referred to as “Operant Conditioning” (Grossman and Degaetano 73). This is a “powerful procedure of stimulus-response training, which gives a person the skill to act under stressful conditions” (Grossman and Degaetano73).It is used for pilot stimulator training, so that when certain warning lights go off, the pilot would be triggered a conditioned response. Similarly, this tactic is used for training soldiers when they fire within a split second at man shaped silhouettes, to develop a conditioned response (Grossman and Degaetano 73). In South Carolina there was an incident of when Wesley Schafer, a teenage boy decided to rob the local store. However due to a stimulus-response of playing too many violent video games, events escalated quickly when the clerk turned around. Schafer unintentionally shot the man. He defended himself saying “I don’t know; it was a mistake; it wasn’t supposed to happen” (Grossman and Degaetano 76). Nevertheless, there is still controversy stating that games such as Halo is so veritably unrealistic that it actually does not teach shooting capabilities (Kutner and Olson).
Children who are too exposed to violence in the media will correspondingly begin to feel a rise of fear in society. The constant exposure to gore and violence drowns them in distrust and to believe in exaggerated nonexistent violence (Grossman and Degaetano 35). This eventually consequences behaviour changes, such as “crying, clinging behaviours and stomach aches” (Grossman and Degaetano 36). They could also result in sleeping difficulties and nightmares. A case of two children was reported of suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder; however the disorder was commonly diagnosed to participants of the Vietnam War (Grossman and Degaetano 36).
An intensive case of fear is diagnosed by George Gerbner and Nancy Signorielli conjecturing into the “mean world syndrome”, how a “steady diet of violent programming caused both children and adults to see the world and other people as more dangerous than they actually are” (Grossman and Degaetano 37). It distorts a person’s perception of reality and compels a need for guns as defence, which may lead to violence “and so on, in an endless, tragic spiral” (Grossman and Degaetano 37).
Despite possible negative impacts, violence in the media is moreover said to be positively influential to a child’s behaviour; that it is informational and sensitive. For example, when 11-12 year olds view violence in Canadian news channels, they are at a cognitive functioning age, capable of watching and understanding, therefore learning the myths and realities of violence (Grossman and Degaetano 96-98). Additionally, it educates children about our globe’s violent past and to learn from it and gain national pride in the country’s history, such as the Holocaust. It would “encourage people to reflect upon morals and ethical questions and upon their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy” (Trend 73). Sports on TV are also said to teach boys sportsmanship and teamwork (Trend 106-107). Furthermore, contradicting the theories of video games, theorists dispute that it actually exercises the brain by training players to solve problems using strategies, juggle different tasks, and effectively make decisions (“Breeding”). They consider it a “safety valve” (“Breeding”) that will prevent violence, and therefore “it can be a catalyst for good” (Grossman and Degaetano 95).
Very austere concerns lie on the concept of how “habitual early exposure to TV violence is more strongly linked with aggression later in life than other factors like as IQ, social-economic status and parental TV viewing” (“Media”). It has been observed that “violent video games have the ability to affect a person’s internal state, including their thoughts, feelings and physical reactions” (“Video”). Increasingly with time, “depicted violence has become more graphic, sexual, and sadistic than in previous times” (Media ). “We have gone from the benign Pong video game in the 1970s to games in the 1990s that act more as murder simulators and permit youth to mimic the actual experience of killing” (Grossman and Degaetano 22). Even so, children still accept games as they claim it to be their favourite genre, as proved in the 2001 study in British Columbia, where 60% of 9-17 year olds who often played video games claimed that “action or combat” was their favourite (“Media”). Furthermore, on the TV screen, “between 1993 and 2001, depictions of physical violence on Anglophone Canadian stations increased by 183 percent” (“Media”).
A study conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine scanned the brains of both unaggressive and aggressive youths to an MRI machine to detect brain activity while they viewed violent video games. The more aggressive youths who had a history of defying authority displayed “less frontal lobe activity when watching violent video games”, which was the “area of brain responsible for decision making and behaviour control” (“Video-game”). This showed the direct correlation between aggression and violent imaging games.
An incident which brings the impact of violent video games close to youth violence is the case study of Michael Carneal. On March 24, 1998 in Littleton Colorado, the 14 year old stole a gun from his neighbour and brought it to the school where he fired 8 shots, all of which were successful although he had never used a real handgun prior to that date. FBI stated that only 1/5 shots should have been successful yet he made contact with all bullets, landing 5 headshots, and 3 upper torso shots. 3 kids were left dead and 1 paralyzed (Grossman and Degaetano 2-5). Where Carneal learned his skill was from his plentiful experience with stimulator first shooter games. More children are committing unspeakable crimes, such as this example; mass murder. “Children do not naturally kill” (Grossman and Degaetano 2), and if they did they wouldn’t “avoid latter type of violence and write happy endings” (Trend 38). On the contrary, some recognized a theory Freud had conceived; that “human beings mature through their struggles with the violence inside them” (Trend 32). Therefore this would state that violence is biologically interrelated to human activity and behaviour; that we don’t necessarily hold control, therefore erupting with acts of violence are natural and help us mature and learn (Trend 31-32).
Throughout 1960-1982, psychologists Leonard D. Eron and L. Rowel Huesmen steered a “22-year study” (Trend 42-43). It was proven that aggression grew among boys, not necessarily girls, who were exposed to violent shows in their early years. They concluded their research that “children exposed to violent video programming at a young age have higher tendency for violent and aggressive behaviours later in life than children not so exposed” (Trend 42). These aggressions may lead to bullying, as reports of these behavioural problems have risen in Canada (Kutner and Olson).
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Critics heavily attacked the theories derived from the 22-year study. Richard Rhodes argues that Huesmann’s conclusion was only based on 3 cases of acts on aggression among 145 adult males prior exposed to action television shows in their youth (Trend 42-43). Another short term study was performed with participants maintaining a continual play with violent video games. A month later, results concluded that there was no level of aggression among the participants (“Breeding”). Other theorists against the causal theory also challenged that violent acts in which a person begets due to early exposure to media violence “overlooked other factors” (“Video”). It may likewise be dependent on poor parenting, gun culture, peers, and neighbourhood (“Media ).
Numerous people oppose what theorists have said about the negative impacts of violence in mass media and simply consider them “exaggerated and oversimplified” (“Video”).
First of all, research that has been carried in this field has not led to perfectly candid conclusions between media violence and its negative impacts because it is “hard to define and measure” (“Media”). Therefore studying techniques will vary, which leads to contradictions. For example, a study of violence may consider the participants’ violent cartoons viewed in their childhood, while others may exclude such factors and find it “comical and unrealistic” (“Media”). This leads to obscured results if theorists land on different conclusions. “Researchers disagree over the type of relationship the data supports” (“Media”). It is simply due to the fact that there are studies where no correlation of negative impacts of media violence was found. An example would be the previously explained ‘one month study’.
Another defense of negative impacts of mass media is how crime rates have not increased. Ironically, statistics in crime rates are incompatible with hypotheses. For one, U.S. crime rates are falling although there is an increase in the exposure to media. If considering stats globally, Japan and Europe exhibit violent crime rates staying or declining in years after the introduction of television (Trend 42-43).The concerns of video games have also been refuted because “during the period in which gaming has become widespread in the America, violent crimes has fallen by half [whereas] this tendency might be expected to show up in the figures given that half of Americans play computer and video games”. (“Breeding”)
Even so, there are still critics that contend to those who complain that the effects of media violence have been exaggerated. One is directed to the statistics of decreasing crime. A counterargument contests that the serious assaults per year in Canada between 1964-1993 actually increased 5 times (Grossman and Degaetano 11). They argued that statistics involving crime should not be looked at by only “how successful we are at killing each other” (Grossman and Degaetano 12). They consider that actual reported crimes will not accurately measure the violence rate, since most go undetected. All homicides and serious robbers are probable to be reported, but less serious ones seem “more of a hassle than it’s worth” (Grossman and Degaetano 12). “Therefore, we must always take crime statistics with a grain of salt and realize they tell only so much of the story” (Grossman and Degaetano 12). Other considerable statistics that wouldn`t be considered the “typical violence” were that suicide amongst teens, tripled in the States from 1960-1999 (Grossman and Degaetano 17). Also, men influenced by early TV violence were more likely to physically mistreat their spouse (eg. Push, grab, or shove. All the same while, women were “four times more likely than other woman to say that they had punched, beaten or choked another adult” (“Media ”). Other factors such as the improvement of health technology (which lessens successful murder), and society’s dismissal of racism has also helped with the decrease of certain violent rates (Grossman and Degaetano 12). Even though some current studies may not have such a palpable depiction of the effects of violent media, Andrea Martinez from the University of Ottawa says that “it would be illogical to conclude that a phenomenon does not exist simply because it is found at times not to occur, or only occurs under certain circumstances” (Schneller).
In conclusion, it has been long since violence in Canada’s mass media has become a concern towards youth. Concluded by various studies and theorists, these everyday entertainments are able to change the natural behaviour of children in negative ways, and have the capability to increase aggression later in their life. Yet many still oppose any link between the two variables and therefore debate that the public is overemphasizing the effects that violent media may have on youth.
If children are exposed to violent mass media in their early years, they will result in more possible cases of aggression later in their life such as bullying, desensitization and acts of violence.
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