More than just violent television programs

Oct 07, 08 More than just violent television programs

More than just violent television programs
by Rice, J. M.

A review of:
Feshbach, Seymour, & Tangney, June. (2008). Television viewing and aggression: Some alternative perspectives. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 387-389.

Despite the extensive amount of research devoted to the effects of exposure to violence on television, studies examining additional significant variables have been minimal. Social policy makers are concerned with television that is obviously aggressive, but as Feshbach & Tangney note, it is also important to also include any additional parameters that might contribute to television violence. Feshbach & Tangney identified influential factors as being the kind of violence that is portrayed, its dramatic context, its outcome, or attributes of the central character, and observer variables such as affective state, personality, and social class. Additional factors include the social and historical context in which the program is being viewed.

Feshbach & Tangney pinpoint program context, and state that TV programs have different levels of violence, and their portrayal will determine the program’s likelihood of cultivating aggression. They state the difference is that programs containing internal conflict and concern, where violence is secondary, may actually be cathartic and reduce aggression. They pose that the viewing of these programs may serve as a way of eradicating emotions.

In the current study it is hypothesized that the more a dramatic presentation portraying violence focuses on internal conflict and feelings of the central character, the less likely it will augment aggression. In addition, the more a program focuses on aggressive and violent behaviors, the more likely it is to increase aggression. It is noted that their hypothesis is not to defy current research, but to illustrate that research on the effects of viewing dramatic presentations including violence, and the parameters influencing these effects, is limited.

The current study suggests cultural factors associated with race or ethnicity may also influence the effects of TV programs on viewers. Past research has been limited to television viewing behavior, and has not included any correlation between television viewing and aggressive behavior with race and ethnicity being a moderating factor.

The findings of this study indicate the importance of distinguishing between racial groups when establishing the relationship between TV viewing behavior and aggression. The study assessed TV viewing, intelligence and adjustment to 4th, 5th and 6th grade of children, using a combined cross sectional, longitudinal study. Additionally, measures of the child’s adjustment were completed by teachers and mothers. IQ was assessed using the Otis-Scoring Mental Ability Test (Otis, 1965), and children’s self concept with Piers-Harris scale (Piers & Harris, 1969). A global rating by teachers was used to determine academic performance, a modified School Behavior Checklist, Form A2 (Miller, 1977) was used to measure aggression, and parent report measures from subscales of the Achenbach Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1978; Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1979) were used to identify delinquency and cruelty.

Television viewing behavior was assessed by providing children with a TV Guide including a list of all television programs of the areas eight major commercial and two cable stations from the last seven days, and asking them to check which programs they actually watched for each half hour interval. Frequency was recorded for each hour of TV watched within the previous week.

The study defined a violent program as one in which violence was the central theme, or demonstrated more violence than one would normally encounter in daily life. Inter-rater reliability was over 90%. Violent TV score was obtained through the sum of violent TV program hours watched during the week.

It was found that, overall the amount of violent programs viewed was linked to negative personality traits for White males, and both White and African American females. Results indicated a negative correlation between violent TV viewing and academic performance. They concluded that African-American males view more violent programs, and have lower academic performance ratings than White males. It is suggested that television viewing may serve a different function for each racial and gender group.

The findings were not anticipated and further replication and interpretation of data is necessary. Feshbach & Tangney pose that factors overriding the aggression effects of violent television programs may be more prominent for African American males. Possible factors may be TV drama causing positive feelings, inhibition of aggressive behavior by viewing aggressive behaviors that lead to punishment, and the idea that the more time spend watching violent television the less time spent on the streets.

With the conclusion of this study comes the need for a more general conceptualization of the effects of television violence, including the influence of personality, ethnicity, social context, dramatic context, and other significant factors.

To cite this review, please use this reference:
Rice, J. M. (2008). More than just violent television programs. Psychology Alert (1).