MTR in Sunday Herald Sun
FOR a long time it was said the ‘‘jury was out’’ on the impact of media violence. Not any more. A special commission set up by the International Society for Research on Aggression comprising 12 international authors and endorsed by 250 of the world’s leading researchers has concluded that exposure to a range of violent media can act as triggers for aggressive thoughts and feelings, influencing behaviour. To put it simply, exposing kids to images of killing, maiming, dismembering, and sexual assault over and over again has real consequences.
You can’t expose kids to these things in the name of entertainment and expect them to be unaffected.
Australian academic Dr Wayne Warburton is one of the authors of the report, published in the journal Aggressive Behaviour. He’s also the editor (along with Danya Braunstein) of a new book Growing up Fast and Furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children.
‘‘While scientific literature demonstrating and explaining the harmful effects has skyrocketed, public opinion has not followed.’’
Exposure to violent media contributes to an increase in beliefs normalising aggressive behaviour, that you can solve conflict with aggression, desensitisation to violence and a greater willingness to tolerate more in society. As well, children see that aggression isn’t punished — it’s often rewarded by points, money, status, elevation to higher game levels. This can encourage imitation. Dr Warburton points out that in violent video games, the player strongly identifies with and usually take the role of the aggressor, who is usually portrayed as heroic.
An 18-year-old in Thailand stabbed a taxi driver to death trying to ‘‘find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game’’. In 2003 two brothers, 16 and 14, killed a man and wounded a woman shooting at cars in Tennessee. They said they were acting out Grand Theft Auto III.
Anders Behring Breivik prepped himself for his killing spree by playing Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft. They helped him with ‘‘target practice,’’ he said.
Violent gaming provides ‘‘immersive environments’’ used by US military forces for training, where acts of violence are carried out in the first person to desensitise soldiers to real-life combat. Of course, it’s not just games. The young see violence glorified and even eroticised in advertising and music. Many rap lyrics and videos depict women as subservient and enjoying aggression.
Adolescent males with high levels of music video exposure are more accepting of rape.
Researchers looked at the effect of removing MTV from a maximum security forensic hospital. The aggression levels of 222 patients dropped by almost half.
Kids are seeing more violent pornography than ever, including sadism, rape and torture porn.
With all this exposure to pornography, violence and crime content, are we surprised by newly released Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show sexual assaults and related offences committed by school-aged children have almost quadrupled in four years? They leapt from 450 to 1709.
Dr Warburton says exposure to anti-social, violent, frightening and age-inappropriate media can have a range of negative effects on young people.
A recent Australian study of 925 adolescents found that high video game use was associated with poor global health, depression and anxiety.
‘‘Violent and frightening media have been linked with anxiety, fears, sleep disturbances, PTSD, long-term phobias and avoidant behaviours, and occasionally with effects so strong they have resulted in hospitalisation,’’ Dr Warburton says.
Ninety-eight per cent of US paediatricians believe excessive exposure to violent media has a negative effect on childhood aggression.
John Murray, research fellow at the Department of Psychology, Washington College, and a researcher on children’s social development for almost 40 years, says violent media poses a ‘‘clear threat to the social and intellectual development of children and youth.’’ The research is solid. The profits that motivate vested interests to deny it are significant. But just because people want to make money out of violent and sexually degrading media products doesn’t mean we have to let them.