Media influences on anti-social behaviour

The cognitive priming explanation suggests that aggressive ideas shown in the media (particularly films) can ‘spark off other aggressive thoughts in memory pathways as proposed by Berkowitz (1984). After a violent film, the viewer is ‘primed’ to respond aggressively because the memory network involving aggression is activated. Criticism:  Evidence to support the cognitive priming explanation was shown in the Hockey game study by Josephism (1987) who’s boys who had been ‘primed’ to be aggression through viewing an aggressive film acted more aggressively in a subsequent hockey game where relevant behavioural cues were present.

Arousal: The arousal explanation suggests that arousal increases the dominant behaviour in any situation. If the feeling of arousal is attributed to anger, then aggression is likely to result. Research has shown that the arousal produces by (violent) pornography facilitates aggressive behaviour as shown by Zillman (1978) Criticism: If arousal is attributed to factors other than anger, then arousal will not necessarily result in aggression?

Cultivation effect: The cultivation effect by Gerbner and Gross (1976) suggests that the medium of television creates (or cultivates a distrust or unrealistic fear in viewers. This causes viewers to misperceive (or exaggerate) threats in real life and react in a more violent way. This is also referred to as the ‘mean world’ effect. Criticisms: The main problem with the cultivation effect explanation is that people who are particularly fearful are likely to avoid any threatening situations in the first place. Thus increasing the level of fear might actually help to reduce the level of violence.

Desensitisation: Desensitisation suggests that repeated exposure to violence in the media reduces the impact of the violence. People become desensitised to the violence and it has less impact on the (habituation). They become less anxious about violence per se and may therefore engage in more violent behaviour. Criticisms: The desensitisation argument suffers because it could be argued that desensitised individual might be less aroused by violence and therefore not be so easily provoked by real life violence. Similarly, desensitised individuals may become indifferent to the violent message.

Research relating to anti social behaviour Copy cat effect: A01: Bandura He suggested that people are aversely affected by the media in that television can shape behaviour through imitative learning. Watching role models perform violently may increase violent behaviour in those viewers already motivated to aggress. Television may also teach viewers the negative or positive consequences of their violence. Paik and Comstock (1994) did find that the effect on anti-social behaviour was greater if the actor was rewarded for their action.

Criticisms: 1) there is a lot of experimental evidence to support the social learning theory explanation. Bandura et al (1963) study into the imitation of film – mediated aggressive models showed that children who observe a model behaving aggressively towards a Bobo doll subsequently behave more aggressively than those who see the model punished for their actions. This well controlled experiment and the identification of specific learned responses provides good evidence for imitative leaning.  2) The sample characteristics were unrepresentable (only children from a university nursery) and the study has been criticised for lacking ecological validity.

The study did not really measure real aggression (a Bobo doll is designed to be hit) and only short term effects of the media was assessed. However Hicks (1965) found that 40% of models acts were reproduced up to eight months after one showing of a 10 minute film.  4) The study has also been criticised for its ethical stance, where children were encouraged to be aggressive.

Violent programme study: Liebert and Baron (1972) Procedures: 2 groups of children were randomly assigned to either a: – Violent condition: watched a violent episode of a detective show or a; – Non violent condition: where they watched and equally arousing sports Findings: Afterwards, during periods of play, the violent group was assessed as behaving more aggressively than the non- violent group. However, not all the violent condition children acted aggressively and aggression levels were measured quantatively (amount), not qualitively (type).

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