- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Children who frequently watched violent TV shows were more likely to engage in highly aggressive behavior as adults, a newly released, 15-year-long study says.
The findings held for both men and women regardless of education, income, social status or family background, University of Michigan psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard D. Eron and their colleagues said in the study. It appears in this month's issue of Developmental Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.
Men who were frequent viewers of violent television programs as children were significantly more likely than other men to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, the study said. They also were more likely to respond to an insult by shoving a person and more likely to have been convicted of a crime or committed a moving traffic violation.
Women who watched a lot of violent television programs as children were more likely than other women to have thrown something at their spouses; shoved, punched, beat or choked someone who made them angry; and committed a criminal act or moving traffic violation.
Violent television shows were identified as a causal factor because it is "more plausible that exposure to TV violence increases aggression than that aggression increases TV-violence viewing," said Mr. Huesmann, who has been studying violence in the media for decades with Mr. Eron.
The University of Michigan study joins almost 50 years of studies that have found that viewing violence in movies and television programs encourages children to become more aggressive, pessimistic and desensitized.
Public health officials and cultural watchdogs repeatedly have urged parents to monitor their children's television viewing and networks to make a time for family-friendly programming. Congress also approved the V-chip technology to allow consumers to restrict violent television programs.
But not everyone is convinced that television inspires antisocial behavior.
"I think the jury is still out about whether there is a link," Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said yesterday, adding that not all studies have found a relationship between television viewing and violent behavior.
Melissa Caldwell, director of research for the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that supports a "family hour," said that the only contradictory studies she has seen "were commissioned by the entertainment industry."
"There have been upwards of a thousand studies that have drawn a connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in children. Really, the jury is not out," she said.
Bill Maier, a child psychologist with Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian-based research and lobbying group in Colorado Springs, said that what was important about the new study is the researchers' efforts to look at other causes for aggressive behavior, such as parental behavior.
In the end, they didn't find anything that was linked as strongly as the television viewing, he said. The implications do not bode well for the future, he added, because "today's television is so much more severe than anything that we saw in the 1970s."
According to Steven Isaac, who follows media issues for Focus on the Family, current TV shows that are especially graphic and violent are Fox's "24" and "Fastlane," FX's "The Shield" and the "CSI" shows on CBS.
"Anything airing during prime time hours is fair game for criticism because of all the different hours families keep. Kids don't go to bed at 8:30 like they did decades ago," Mr. Isaac said.
The University of Michigan study is based on interviews with 329 persons who were part of a study that began in 1977, when they were ages 6 to 10. Spouses and friends were interviewed, and criminal records were checked.
Researchers found that children who were most aggressive were the ones who most identified with a violent character, especially when the character "is rewarded for the violence and in which children perceive the scene as telling about life like it really is."
"Thus, a violent act by someone like [Clint Eastwood's movie character] Dirty Harry that results in a criminal being eliminated and brings glory to Harry is of more concern than a bloodier murder by a despicable criminal who is brought to justice," researchers concluded.
Some shows rated as very violent in the 1970s were "Starsky & Hutch," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Bionic Woman," "Charlie's Angels" and the "Roadrunner" cartoons.
The authors praised efforts by parents to watch television with their children and comment on characters' behaviors and the realism of the shows.
V-chip technology is a step in the right direction, the authors said, "but only if a content-based rating system is used that would actually allow parents to make judgments on the basis of violent content instead of the age guideline rating system used for many programs."

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