Research about Media Violence Effects on Children

The controversial topic about media violence and the effects that it has on children has been around since before the television was introduced to the public.  In the 1930s scientists started studying it with the Payne Fund Studies (Boduch, 2008, p. 40), in the 1950s the medical community started to get concerned, in the 1970s the US Surgeon General issued a special report on media violence, and in 2007 the Federal Communications Commission came out with a report about the media violence and stated that they were in agreement with the Surgeon General in his report that media violence adversely affected children (Council on Communications and Media, 2009). Even with the medical community and the government telling the public that there are serious issues with children watching violent media, there is still a major discussion questioning if science has actually proved that children are affected by the violence in the media.

The studies and research about the effects of media violence on children and adults started in 1930s with the Payne Fund studies, and are still continuing today.  Not only are the studies growing rapidly, but they are including other areas of media, for example, video games, radio, and the internet.  Since the 1930s there have been thousands of studies done on media violence and the outcomes have ranged from violence effecting children in a major way to it not having an effect at all.  The majority of these studies show that there is some kind of effect with media violence, even minimal, especially combined with time, and age of the child (Krahe´ et al, 2010).

The child’s age is an important factor when considering the effects of media violence because it has been shown that children are more at risk than adults to be effected by media violence.  Not only do children watch more television and use other times of media more as they get older, but children tend to accept the media as reality, especially children under eight years old, who are not able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality (Council on Communications and Media, 2009). Not only is there the problem about not being able to tell the difference between real and fantasy, but also a child’s nervous system reacts to repeated exposure, “dulling some of the response to it” (Browne-Miller, 2009, p. 132).  The media is a observational learning tool that teaches children behavior messages on how they are supposed to act in different situations, and that violence is a solution to get what they want out of life (Wallace and Roberson, 2011, p. 15, Boduch, 2008 , p. 48, The Nemours Foundation, 2011).

In a two year longitude study done by Hopf et al in 2008, it was shown that exposure to media violence increased a student’s violent actions stronger than any other risk factors that might be existent in their lives (p. 1).  Not only an increase in violent aggression is present in children when it comes to media violence, but other physical and mental health problems arise as well, include bullying, desensitization to the violence, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances, and obesity (Council on Communications and Media, 2009).  Because of these health problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics has officially stated that

The risks of infants using media outweighs the benefits and thus recommends against screen media use for children zero to two years of age and also recommends that children two years of age and older be limited to one to two hours of electronic entertainment per day (2009).

Through the decades not only has the studies on the effects of media violence increased, but also the content of the violence has changed, and increased, and the ability to access violent types of media has increased as well.  Not only do children have access to televisions on a daily basis, but they now have the internet, video games, and the radio.  According to the Federal Communications Commision,

An average American household has the television set turned on 8 hours and 11 minutes daily, and children watch on average between two and four hours of television every day.   By the time most children begin the first grade, they will have spent the equivalent of three school years in front of the television set (2007).

The violence in the media has increased drastically as well as it has turn out to be a normal part of life, and could even be said that “our society glamorizes violence” (Wallace and Roberson, 2011, p. 13).  You can see this in the different types of television shows and movies that are shown in the media now contrasted with what was shown in former years.  In 1908 in Chicago the police refused to allow the movie The James Boys in Missouri be displayed in public because of the content included actions of violent law-breaking (Nakaya, 2008, p. 92), since then viewing violent law-breaking in the media has been the standard, and in 1998 the game Grand Theft Auto came out to the public which rewarded the players for the most violent of actions, including murdering people and stealing cars. 

Grand Theft Auto is a good example of an influential violent media.  Children love video games and what has been shown is that video games are extremely effective at teaching children (Ferguson, 2010).  They allow the child to deal with their aggression, and frustration by allowing the child to feel as if they are actually in the game and in this way it enhances the experience as well as the aggressive feelings (Council on Communications and Media, 2009).  According to the Hitman Study done in 2010, Ferguson and Rueda show that video games are a good way for a child to deal with depression.  So what is shown by this study is, that they can be used for good, but need to be monitored because the outcome of the violence in the video games can be terrible.  What studies have shown is that the more realistic the violence the more likelihood it will be learned and tolerated (Council on Communications and Media, 2009). 

They have also been shown that they can teach children how to operate firearms when they have never had one in their hand (Boduch, 2008, p. 102)  This is shown in real life, when in December 1, 1997, a child in Paducah, KY, who had never fired a gun before in real life, took a .22-caliber pistol to school.  He opened fire, shot eight shots and hit eight children. According to Dave Grossman, a military man with a psychology degree, the child learned this from “training” for hours on point and shoot games and first-person shooters, and was a better shot than most trained policemen (Boduch, 2008, p. 103).  Something that shows that the government agrees with this is, that the United States Army is using first-person shooting games to train their soldiers (Nakaya, 2008, p. 41).  Studies have shown that video games can be a wonderful educational tool, but what we need to think about is what the child is learning when they are playing these violent games.

With the research findings that have been made public most scientists have come to an agreement that violence in the media has an effect on children, and people are divided on the solution to this problem.  Some people say there needs to be a restriction to the violence in the media, but others have said that this would be a violation to the First Amendment (Nakaya, 2008, p. 77).  The Federal Government decided that instead of making laws restricting the violence, they wanted to increase the public knowledge of what was on the television or other types of media.  They prepared laws making it mandatory for video game makers as well as other media to put ratings on their movies and shows.  The problem with this is that the makers of the games and the movies are who puts the ratings on the movies, and parents have stated that they think that some of the games should have higher ratings than what the games have been given (Nakaya, 2008).  Television makers are also putting V-chips (Violence Chips) on the televisions so that parents can control what can be watched.  With this three fourths of parents look at movie ratings, one half use the video game and television ratings, but only twenty percent use the V-chip (Council on Communications and Media, 2009).  The ratings and labels have shown to cause their own problems when it comes to children.  The Nemours Foundation has found that the age and violent content labels make the video games like a “forbidden fruit” for the children, making them want to play it even more (2011).  Parents need to watch and think about what their children are doing and viewing, and should be explaining to the children what is wrong and right, so that they will not be as affected by the media.  “There is a difference between learning about violence and learning to be violent” (Council on Communications and Media, 2009). 


Boduch, J. L. (Eds.).  (2008). Violence in the Media: an Opposing Viewpoints Series. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Browne-Miller, A. (2009). Raising Thinking Children & Teens: Guiding Mental and Moral Development Santa Barbara, CA. Praeger.

Council on Communications and Media. (2009) MediaViolence. Pediatrics, 124, 1495-1503. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2146

Federal Communications Commision. (2007). Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children. Retrieved from http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-07-50A1.pdf

Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Blazing Angels or Resident Evil? Can Violent Video Games Be a Force for Good? Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 68–81. DOI: 10.1037/a0018941

Ferguson, C. J, & Rueda, S. M. (2010). The Hitman Study: Violent Video Game Exposure Effects on Aggressive Behavior, Hostile Feelings, and Depression.  European Psychologist, 15(2), 99–108. DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000010

Hopf, W.H., Huber, G.L.,& Weiß, R.H.(2008). Media Violence and Youth Violence: A 2-Year Longitudinal Study. Journal of Media Psychology, 20(3), 79–96. DOI 10.1027/1864-1105.20.3.79

Krahé, B., Möller, I., Huesmann, L. R., Kirwil, L., Felber, J., & Berger, A. (2010). Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Advance online publication. DOI 10.1037/a0021711

Nakaya, A. (2008). Media Violence. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint Press.

The Nemours Foundation. (2011). How TV Effects Your Child. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html

Wallace, H. & Roberson, C. (2011).  Family Violence: Legal, Medical, and Social Perspectives (6th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

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