Media influences on pro- and anti-social behaviour

Media influences on pro- and anti-social behaviour

Much emphasis has been placed on the role of the media (particularly television and film) in influencing anti-social behaviour. At the time of writing this Learn-it, a Yeovil man was imprisoned for threats of bombings - the film 'Speed' was cited as a possible influence by the investigating officer. Research studies, however, provide inconclusive evidence.

A positive correlation between hours of television watched and frequency of aggressive behaviours has been found (Robinson & Bachman, 1972) but this finding does not show that television causes aggression.

Bandura has shown that modelling can lead to the imitation of aggressive behaviours. It has been shown that violent programmes results in an increase in aggression in children (Liebert & Baron, 1972) but laboratory experiments may be too artificial.

Field experiments have higher ecological validity than lab experiments. Parke et al. (1977) showed that aggression in delinquent boys rises if they watch violent films at home. No change in aggressive behaviour is observed if they view non-violent films.

Natural experiments show that the introduction of televisions to a town increases the aggressive behaviour of the inhabitants (Joy et al., 1986). However, it is not possible to be sure that the change in behaviour was a result of violence on television.

Television is thought to exert its effects in four ways:

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The evidence that media violence increases antisocial behaviour has been disputed. Some researchers suggest that the media have no effect on aggression. One analysis of 300 studies lead to the conclusion that television violence does not influence children's behaviour (Howitt & Cumberbatch, 1974).

According to some researchers, media violence may have a positive effect on behaviour:

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The cathartic effect of television violence may only be true for certain personality types, particularly imaginative and fantasy-prone people (Singer, 1989).

Evidence exists that prosocial behaviours can be learned from observing positive role models on television, especially if the models are rewarded for their behaviour. In fact, it seems that the influence of television on prosocial behaviour is stronger than antisocial behaviour (Hearold, 1986). This may be because programme makers try to get across prosocial messages, which is not the case for anti-social behaviours.