Not that an expert study ever resolved anything, but a new and comprehensive study of the effects of television violence on children suggests that it does, indeed, produce adults more easily given to aggression. The report's conclusions will no doubt be hotly debated, but they are worth attention.
The study, which appears in the journal Developmental Psychology published by the American Psychological Association, followed 329 adults who had been surveyed as children in the late 1970s. It found that for boys and girls alike, children who were most exposed to violence in such programs as "Starsky and Hutch" and "Roadrunner" cartoons are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as adults.
In particular, men who scored in the top 20 percent on childhood exposure were about twice as likely as other men to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their wives during an argument in the year preceding the interview. Women in the same scoring group were about twice as likely to have thrown something at their husbands.
While there certainly seems room for other factors to influence such behavior, the researchers believe they have identified a direct link between high ratings on any of three childhood measures and higher overall aggression in adulthood. The amount of childhood aggression, for example, did not change that result, they say.
This cannot be entirely startling. In a country whose economic system is built on the premise that advertising works, it seems obvious that continuous exposure to violent behavior is liable to have some influence on some children, whose understanding of the way adults behave is still being shaped. This study suggests that influence shows up years later in bruises, broken pots and, inevitably, worse.
Realistically, no one should expect the Roadrunner to stop leading Wile E. Coyote over the cliff, thence to hang a moment suspended in the air and finally to plunge to earth. Perhaps it says something unflattering about the human condition that so many people like watching it, but the truth is, it's funny.
But this study should warn parents that their supervisory duties don't end when the kids flop in front of the TV set. They may be stationary, more or less, but that doesn't mean they are not, bit by incremental bit, getting into trouble.
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