Cognitive Daily

Yesterday we reported on the general reactions to studies on the impact of media violence. Today we’ll get into the specifics of those studies, as reported by Craig Anderson et al. in their report “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.”

The history of research on media violence and its relationship to aggression (behavior intended to cause harm to others) is now more than 50 years long. The earliest studies focused on television and film, but now extensive research has also been conducted on music/music videos, news media, and video games. Nearly all the data from hundreds of studies points to a strong correlation between exposure to media violence and aggression.

Most of the experimental studies on film and television violence involve simply showing violent programming to children or young adults and then observing their behavior for a short time afterwards. For example, one Belgian study split boys in a home for delinquents into two cottages. One cottage was shown violent films every night for 5 days, while the other cottage ran nonviolent films. The “frequency of hitting, choking, slapping, and kicking their cottage-mates” was significantly higher in the violent movie cottage than in the nonviolent cottage. Even in another study of children in ordinary schools, exposure to violent films led to an increase in physical attacks in a game of floor hockey afterward.

The largest meta-analysis of experiments on media violence was conducted by Haejung Paik and George Comstock in 1994, and combined the data from 217 studies. Of these, 71 addressed physical aggression, and a significant overall correlation (r score) of .32 was found. (See this article for an explanation of correlation, and yesterday’s post for an explanation of why these results are significant). In addition, a smaller, but still significant r score of .13 was found for the 32 studies showing a relationship between media violence and criminal violence. In the same analysis, Paik and Comstock also found a correlation of .20 for the 200 cross-sectional surveys which compared violent TV viewing and aggressive behavior.

In addition to experiments and surveys covering short time periods, there have also been dozens of studies examining the relationship between exposure to violent TV and film in childhood and aggression in young adulthood. The largest study, conducted by L. Rowan Huesmann and his colleagues, found that when children were exposed to violent TV at a young age, they were significantly more likely to be aggressive as adults. For example, 42 percent of men who watched a lot of violent TV as children reported pushing, grabbing, or shoving their spouses, compared to only 22 percent of those who watched less violent TV.

The evidence for music lyrics and music videos is less convincing. There are some studies showing a limited impact of music videos on agressive thoughts and attitudes, but not behavior. The studies on violent songs are less conclusive still, but do demonstrate some trends toward aggressive or adversarial thoughts correlated with violent music lyrics.

Video games, on the other hand, have attracted considerable attention in recent years due to the increasingly realistic and violent content of many games. The Anderson and Dill study reported previously in Cognitive Daily is a good example of the type of results these studies have found. In 2004, Anderson led a group of authors in a meta-analysis of video game violence research, and found that as the methodology of the studies improved, so did the magnitude of the correlation between violent video game playing and undesirable outcomes. This graph provides a dramatic illustration of the results:


The only negative correlation they found was with “helping behavior”!

Overall, the research on media violence, whether it was experimental or correlational, has shown a significant correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior. Though the correlations are sometimes small, Anderson and his colleagues point out that they are at least as significant as other behaviors considered to be very risky, such as exposure to asbestos and smoking cigarettes.

Cognitive Daily’s coverage of the report will continue tomorrow.


  1. #1 Brian
    April 13, 2005

    How easy is it to distinguish agressive behavior from less controlled, less nuanced, more extreme behavior? Because that is what 30 minutes or so of a first person shooter does to me; it makes me jumpy and ruins my fine motor control. It also wouldn’t surprise me if my nonvisual senses were dulled as well. This is one of the reasons I have never been able to play a FPS for more than about 30-45 minutes; I can’t play effectively when I can’t move the mouse subtly. Basically, I’m wondering if the more aggressive subjects are deliberately hitting harder/buzzing louder or are just oblivious to how they’re acting. Think four year old after a 4 liter bottle of mountain dew.
    In any case, what always worries me about these sorts of studies is that they seem to ignore the positives, at least as far as video games go. They can be a social activity (especially with online play and clans), tweaking of computer hardware is fun/good/educational, the mental puzzle solving aspect is helpful, as is getting used to dealing with arbitrary rules. I think it is the smoking/asbestos comparison that makes me jumpy, since there is no good level for either. I’d liken these sorts of games to soft drinks – fine in moderation, useful harmless motivators (keep your grades up and you can have a coke/play soul calibur), but possibly a problem in excess.

  2. #2 Brian
    April 13, 2005

    instead of agression think obesity or diabetes re:soft drinks. I think moderate soft drink consumption (12 oz per day even diet) is correlated with an increased risk of both obesity and diabetes. Like I said, I agree with the violent games have an effect on behavior, I’m just not sure agressive is the word I’d use. Less controlled, less nuanced, louder, rowdier. And especially with the absence of any feedback. If I play basketball physically, shoving and whatnot, I get shoved in return. And assuming I’m playing with people my size, I’ll get some feedback if I’m playing too rough. Eh, this might be a case where my personal definition of “aggressive” is different from the technical definition of aggressive.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    April 13, 2005


    I think the asbestos/smoking parallel might be a stretch as well: after all, the correlation we’re talking about here is contracting a deadly disease, not pushing or hitting someone.

    I’m not sure I agree with your soft drink comparison, though. Typically even “moderate” exposure to a violent video game produces aggression. The same can’t be said about moderate soft drink consumption.

    Don’t worry; we will have some positive things to say about video games in the future: you’re right in suspecting that the overall picture is more complex than simply saying “violent video games bad.”

  4. #4 Dave Munger
    April 13, 2005

    Point taken. Though even one instance of playing a violent video game can lead to aggression; the same can’t be said for one soft drink.

    With the basketball example, that’s true enough, but there are other examples of aggressive acts after viewing violent media where the behavior is clearly understood to be out of line (for example, in the home for delinquents, or violent media exposure leading to criminal violence).

  5. […] 3 Filed under: Social Dave Munger @ 1:48 pm Yesterday we reported on the results of studies on the impact of media violence. Today we’ll discuss theoretical implications and responses […]

  6. #6 DocBug
    April 17, 2005

    Link between aggression & violence in media

    I’ve always been skeptical when people said violence in TV shows or video games lead to more violent behavior in children. It’s always smacked of hysteria and panic, particularly back…

  7. […] been a great deal of reporting about the harmful impact of video games, including here at Cognitive Daily. Yet the simple act of playing a video game can require learning a great deal of information. We […]

  8. #8 Jesse the Zucchini
    November 21, 2005

    I totally agree. And this stuff comes in handy for my essay!

    Jesse the Zucchini

  9. #9 Marquis X
    April 18, 2007

    -All in all I think the pros and cons should be weighed, overall is gaming really that bad?

  10. #10 Jessie
    December 2, 2008

    I suggest you go to the nearest bookstore or library and check out the book ‘Grand Theft Childhood’. It’s researched by 2 honorable PhDs and most of the infomation was found in long term and wide-spread studies. I’ve used it in papers and it is quite interesting to just read casually.

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