Cognitive Daily

In the summer of 2000, a committee of scholars was commissioned to write a chapter on the effects of media violence on youth for the Surgeon General’s Report on Youth Violence, published in January 2001. But their chapter was not included in the Surgeon General’s final report. The reason for the omission was unclear; however, there had been disagreement between the report’s authors—experts in the field of media and violence—and the Surgeon General’s office and the National Institue of Mental Health, regarding whether it was appropriate to include research not directed specifically at criminal violence.

After subjecting it to an additional round of peer review and revision, the American Psychological Society published a special report based on the omitted chapter in Psychological Science in the Public Interest in December, 2003. The thirty-page report, written by a team led by Craig Anderson and entitled The Influence of Media Violence on Youth (see comments for full citation), offers so much detail and insight that we cannot report on it here in a single article. This is part 1 of Cognitive Daily’s coverage.

Concerns about media violence are as old as the technology of television, and psychological research on media violence is almost as old as the concerns. Research has consistently shown that exposure to violent content–on television, in the movies, in music, and now in video games and on the Internet–leads to aggression. Responses have typically ranged from “no it doesn’t,” to downplaying the significance of the research, to “what’s so bad about aggression?” After all, when a successful athlete like Tiger Woods plays “aggressively” in a golf tournament, there is nothing but praise for his actions.

The report takes sharp aim at the notion that aggression is not bad. Most studies define “aggression” as behavior intended to harm another person. So when Tiger Woods attempts to drive the green on a short par-4, that wouldn’t meet the psychological definition of aggression. Some critics of research on media and aggression suggest that research shows only “aggressive thoughts” or “aggressive beliefs,” but in fact this report takes care to refer to “aggression” only when describing actual aggressive behavior.

Critics have also attempted to downplay the research by suggesting that recent evidence is not as strong as the original studies supporting the curbing of violence in the media, or that the impact of the media is not significant. However, the authors of the report have found that the evidence has gotten stronger over the years, and that it is stronger than much recent medical research. For example, the oft-reported study showing that taking aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attack was actually a much weaker correlation than any of the evidence Anderson and his colleagues cite supporting a link between media violence and aggression.

So why do medical studies get so much more attention than psychological research? Anderson et al. argue that it is because medical studies typically extrapolate their results to the entire population—so an effect found in, say, 10 out of a population of 30,000 study participants would be extrapolated to “100,000 Americans.” Psychological research tends to take the conservative approach in reporting results, saying a factor “explains one percent of the variance” of the effect being studied. This doesn’t sound like much, until you realize that one percent of America is almost three million people! And remember that in the case of aggression, a minimum of two people are involved in every act, so results can seem understated for that reason as well.

The report goes on to cover studies examining the effects of media violence, the scale of the impact, and possible solutions. Cognitive Daily’s coverage of the report will continue tomorrow.


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    April 11, 2005

    Here is the full citation for the report:

    Craig Anderson, Iowa State University; Leonard Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Edward Donnerstein, University of Arizona; L. Rowell Huesmann, University of Michigan; James Johnson, University of North Carolina-Wilmington; Daniel Linz, University of California, Santa Barbara; Neil Malamuth, UCLA; and Ellen Wartella, University of Texas at Austin, “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2003

  2. #2 Brian
    April 12, 2005

    Is there evidence that violent/aggressive behavior is increasing? I was under the impression that violent
    crime rates (admittedly not exactly the ideal data) paralleled the economy more than anything else – people have jobs, they’re too busy/tired to beat each other up. I also wonder how much of the increased aggressiveness is simply a temporary function of increased adrenilin. I’ve found that cycling makes me (and other cyclists) more confrontational towards less than considerate drivers, for instance. Of course, this wears off as one gets tired. The article also seemed short on details. What counts as media violence? Bugs Bunny? Resevoir Dogs? ditto for games – the one example was one of which I’d never heard (dactyl something or other). And maybe adults react differently than kids – I had a coworker who found that grand theft auto made him think of crime as a lot of work; he’d made x amount of dollars but died a bunch of times. On the other hand, if you told me burnout 3 made people drive more aggressively, i don’t
    know that I’d argue.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    April 12, 2005


    I don’t think the question of whether violent behavior is increasing actually addresses the validity of the report. There are many causes of violent behavior, and media violence is just one of them. Consider an analogy: smoking could be increasing, and life expectancy could simultaneously be increasing because treatments for cancer and other diseases are improving. This doesn’t mean that if fewer people smoked, life expectancy wouldn’t increase even more.

    Some of your other questions should be addressed in future posts—stay tuned!

  4. #4 Dave Munger
    April 12, 2005

    One more thing: Brian asked about how “violent” was defined. In most of the examples cited in the report, the authors don’t go into that kind of detail. However, I suspect that in most cases “violence” is defined by the participants in the research themselves. This was the case in the Anderson and Dill study on video game violence which I posted on earlier.

  5. […] ig Anderson et al. in their report ˇ°The Influence of Media Violence on Youthˇ± (full citation). The history of research on media violence and its relationship to aggression (behavior […]

  6. #6 Gary Feng
    April 14, 2005

    Public accessible link to the Anderson et al report:

  7. […] d by Craig Anderson et al. in their report ˇ°The Influence of Media Violence on Youthˇ± (full citation). Given the fact that there is a significant correlation between media violence and aggre […]

  8. #8 Lucy Coles
    November 23, 2005

    I think that to many people are not looking at the real issues and are just finding another easy way out by blaming the media! I remember once the court blamed “video nasties” being shown on tv for the influence of a small boy being murdered. Im horrid and wonder what is to come next!

  9. #9 Christina
    December 10, 2005

    I do not know what the real web is.But people sill search the internet and enjoy the life.I wonder that I will know more someday.

  10. […] That report censored the section that the Surgeon General commissioned to report on media violence. We report on the censored section, subsequently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, in Cognitive Daily here, here, and here. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester. […]

  11. #11 bronwynn prince
    October 10, 2006

    I’m writting an essay about media violence, could some one give me a quike summery about the pros and cons of media violence

  12. #12 Terry
    October 11, 2006

    Check out:

    For links to about 35-40 scientific studies
    on the effects of violent TV (and a few on the
    effects of violent video games).

    Good luck with your essay !

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