Violence in the media and criminal violence
Does Violence in the media cause criminal violence?
Several assertions have been made that watching television and playing violent video game strongly contributes to criminal violence especially in children. What a child watches and plays influences and desensitizes him or her. Thus the child becomes violent. This is mainly because behavior is developed from observations, imitations and reinforcement and since all these are well associated with violent media the child’s behavior is developed using that. According to a study by Coyne Sarah 60% of children in the United States aged between seven and fifteen use the media in their play time or as a form of recreation and 42% of children aged between sixteen and twenty four also depend on the media for some leisure period. Her article “Does Media Violence Cause Violent Crime?” goes further to state that this number of children is still increasing and in the near further it may even reach 80%. It is also worth noting that 80% of these children find violent media especially violent video games quite fascinating. With that analysis and real time data it is clear that we urgently need to determine whether truly violent media affect the character of children. To establish this assumption, focus should be given to the three concepts that influence or build a person’s behavior: observation, imitation and reinforcement (Bryce, & Kaye, 2011).
Observation or vicarious learning involves seeing behavior of others and finding it as perfect. Children will tend to play violent video games or watch violent behavior on television and tend to imitate that in real life. Since the video games do not show the consequences of these crimes as serious negative effects, children will also find them less punishable. To children that watch this violence will consider them as solutions to most problems or solutions. Further, some characters in the media tend to be expressed as heroes such as Batman. The children get the desire to emulate their behavior and techniques even in real life situations (Freedman, 2002).
According to Albert Bandura media violence provides observation learning to children in both long and short term, thus developing their character. He uses the Bobo doll experiment to prove his allegations. Bobo doll experiment was an experiment carried out on a number of children whereby they were assembled to watch a video that included Bodo doll model that got irritated and beat up a plastic doll. The beating included punching, throwing, heavy shaking, scratching, leaping and other violent actions. After watching the video the children were kept in another room full of dolls but asked not to touch any of them. Later they were transferred to another room full of colorful dolls and similar to the plastic doll that was in the movie. 80% of the children portrayed similar actions to those in the movie they had watched earlier while playing with the dolls. Eight months later, 40% of the children recorded these same violent actions is different situations, meaning that they still remembered and that affected their behavior (Murray, 2008).
Imitation is another aspect that brings about personal learning and behavior. This is also referred to as copycat crime. Watching or playing violent media provides perfect ideas to young children. They tend to distort views on how to deal with violence. For instance, protagonists’ use of swords, gun shooting and physical beating tends to provide perfect answers in most confrontations and danger experienced in the videos. The children watching these will find that these solutions are perfect when they do not know how to get out of a problem or danger. Copycat crime in media as stated by Ferguson Christopher is based on the fact that media desensitizes crime. This means that crime does not seem to have serious consequences as what may be preserved in real life. Therefore, children using violent media make them view serious violent actions such as; gun shooting, boxing and strong language are normal life actions. Weakening the seriousness of these actions in the media is further transferred in the children day today activities and they end up imitating these actions.
As earlier indicated reinforcement is another contributor to learning and behavior development as evidenced by instigation and arousal theory discussed by Dr. Stanton. The theory discusses the role of emotions in relation to television and its effect on violence. Watching violent television programs arouses feeling of violence. The viewer feels angered by a character in the program and later punishment is introduced to the character. Arousing violent feelings and desires while watching, is also likely to appear in the viewer’s real life behavior. In unpleasant situation the viewers who constantly have violence desire while watching television will not have problems when constant violence actions are practiced (Coyne, 2007).
Reinforcement learning attained through media is also associated with providing strengths to violence. This is because good behaviors such as peace, dialogue, and forgiveness which are contrasts to violence have cultural backgrounds. Cultural backgrounds such as religion, family ties and communism are aspects that are currently being disregarded and assumed as less important by the media. Human beings tend to develop behavior from things they regard important especially children and youth today who strongly value technology and media. Therefore, since strength to different actions which further develop to be behavior is upheld and accepted in the media which is considered to be of value, then the significance of good behavior weakness.
However, there exist different theories that argue that media violence does not necessary influence criminal violence. Catharsis theory is one of these arguments and it portrays that actually media violence lessens violent reactions. The theory was first tested using a sample of students from an approved school who were considered of violent behavior from their previous actions. The experiment result stated that by allowing the students to watch violent television programs and play video games provided a chance for them to relieve their anger thus limiting violent behavior in real life. Catharsis theory also stated that all humans are bound to be angry at some point, but it how well they handle these anger that prevents them from violent reactions. For these reason providing people with a less harmful way to relieve hanger such as computer games and watching television is important.
Another counter argument that has commonly been discussed and researched about by psychologists and researchers is on the development of behavior. Robert and Donald in the article “Generation Media in the lives” argue that behavior is developed by culture especially in the society and homes. Therefore watching television and playing of video games simply reflects on our personality. Individuals who are fascinated and excited by violence and crime even in the media are already violent persons and that is why they tend to immerse themselves in those activities. In most cases media is solely for recreation and does not dictate our behavior in the long run.
Different studies have shown that media violence contributes to criminal behavior mainly because it affects an individual’s learning. Behavior is dictated by what we learn over a period of time and is also related to our personality. Learning especially in children is determined by three aspects: observation, imitation and reinforcement. The media especially in children who still have strong desires to learn more strongly provide platforms for these three learning aspects. The media provides items to observe that later result to practicing, imitation especially by providing role models who are protagonists in the videos and reinforcement that is brought about by arousal theory. Clearly violent media assists in learning through different ways and therefore results to users learning and developing violent aspects in their actions and thinking. Though there are theories that weaken violent media and a contributor to criminal behavior they are quite weak and uncertain. For instance, the catharsis theory is not supported by multiple researches and statistical data on that media violence provides a platform for individuals to relieve anger feeling and violent reactions. In addition, argument that behavior is solely developed by cultural backgrounds is not correct according to Snyder (2004) by stating that behavior is influenced by different aspect of one’s live, actions and society.
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Murray, J. (2008)Media Violence: The Effects Are Both Real and Strong. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency American Behavioral Scientist
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Snyder, H. (2006). Juvenile arrests 2004 (Juvenile Justice Bulletin).Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Journal of Criminal Justice U.S. Department of Justice.