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Violence in media bigger threat than smoking

4 December, 2007:

Here is yet another finding indicting violence in mass media: Violence in movies, television programs, and video games helps increase violence in the real world.

Dr L Rowell Huesmann, of the University of Michigan, the United States, came to this conclusion after reviewing 41 studies on media violence conducted since 1963.

According to Huesmann, the evidence is compelling. He explains, “Media violence increases the risk significantly that the viewer or game player will behave more violently both in the short and long run.”

Dr Huesmann’s review appears in a special supplement to the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Citing his own earlier work, Rowell Huesmann said the threat to public health from media violence was nearly as important as the threat posed by cigarette smoking, and more of a threat than the sexually transmitted disease HIV, exposure to lead in childhood, or exposure to asbestos.

Dr Huesmann is director of the Aggression Research Program in the Research Centre for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan and editor of the journal Aggressive Behavior.

He was also lead author of an earlier study titled Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior.

According to Dr Huesmann, a large body of research shows that media violence has two major effects: one, it raises the chance that viewers will immediately commit violent acts; two, it increases the likelihood that they will react violently later in life.

The best two meta-analyses of the subject, says Dr Huesmann, show the long-term size of the effect of exposure to media violence and subsequent aggressive or violent behavior “is about equivalent to a correlation 0.20 to 0.30. Though some might argue that this explains only 4% to 9% of the individual variation in aggressive behavior, percent variance explained is not a good statistic to use when predicting low-probability events with high social costs.”

For instance, a correlation of 0.3 with aggression translates into a change in the odds of aggression from 50/50 to 65/35. “This is not a trivial change when one is dealing with life-threatening behavior,” argues Dr Huesmann.

In his opinion, mass media have not created new types of threats for children and adolescents, but rather they have brought familiar threats to a much broader population.

Dr Huesmann elaborates, “It is now not just kids in bad neighborhoods or with ‘bad’ friends who are likely to be exposed to bad things when they go out on the street. A ‘virtual’ bad street is easily available to most youth now.”

The “virtual bad street” is media portrayals of violence and is particularly troublesome when it is shown as justified or unpunished.

In an accompanying commentary to Dr Huesmann’s review, Maria R Worthen, of the United States Department of Education, recommended that schools should do more to teach children how to use electronic media safely.

“Television,” she added, “is a constant presence in most youths’ lives and not just outside of school. Most schools use television or video programming as an instructional tool, and therefore have a responsibility to guide students in the thoughtful consumption of electronic media. Schools should promote media literacy so that youth can view the unavoidable presence of violence in the media with a critical eye.”





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