Media violence does have an effect on children's behavior and a concerted public health response involving parents, professionals, the media and policymakers is needed to reduce its effects.
That is the conclusion of a study presented 27 June 2012, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology by Professor Kevin Browne. The conference takes place at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Professor Browne, who holds the Chair of Forensic Psychology and Child Health in the Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology at the University of Nottingham, and his colleague Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis surveyed research on children and violent films, television and computer games published over the past 18 years.
They found that the research is of widely varying quality, but that there evidence that in young children violent imagery has short-term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behavior.
The evidence is less consistent for older children and teenagers, while the small amount of good quality research that discusses sex differences suggests that boys are more likely to show aggression after viewing violent media than girls.
In his paper Professor Browne sets out a number of recommendations for parents, professionals, the media and policymakers. It includes a call for education in media awareness to be included in the school curriculum.
Professor Browne says: "Long-term outcomes for children viewing media violence are difficult to establish, partly because of the methodological difficulties in linking behavior with past viewing, and there is only weak evidence from correlation studies linking media violence directly to crime. However, there is some evidence that suggests children who grow up in violent families are more susceptible to violent images.
"Research shows that the children from violent homes are already predisposed to anti-social behavior and delinquency and this predisposition influences their increased preference and memory for violent images from media entertainment and computer games. Compared to other children they are more likely to act out violent scenes and incorporate what they see into their violent acts.
"Therefore, violent media entertainment and computer games have to potential to actively increase the frequency of violent crime, in those children already predisposed to aggression as a result of adverse past experiences. By contrast, other children have a passive response to violent images and are more likely to develop a fear of crime and be desensitized to violence by others.
"Parents who leave the children unsupervised viewing their adult DVD or computer game collection may damage their children's mental health. Most parents do not wish their children to see violent imagery before they are ready for it, but we do not always make it easy for them. For instance, a film may be given a 12 certificate, but toy shops can be filled with merchandise linked to the film but aimed at much younger children. Not surprisingly, these children then have a strong desire to see a film for which they are much too young."
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