Indirect aggression on screen - a hidden problem?

Sarah M. Coyne on a new twist in the media violence debate.
Throughout history people have found violence and aggression entertaining. The Romans cheered in colossal arenas as gladiators were brutally murdered. In medieval England spectators applauded as knights fought each other in jousting tournaments. Shakespearean audiences were awed with bloody and violent conclusions of plays such as Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet. Violence in entertainment today exists in a more accessible form, with over 60 per cent of all television programmes containing some form (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). Psychologists have studied the effects of viewing violence on television and in the movies for the last 50 years. Early studies were criticised for failing to establish that television has a direct effect on aggressive behaviour (e.g. Howitt & Dembo, 1974), but research within the past two decades has demonstrated such an effect (Paik & Comstock, 1994; Wood et al., 1991). Most findings indicate that viewing violence influences children to become more aggressive, either in their attitudes or their actual behaviour.

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