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Media Influences of Aggression

Trigger warning: shooting, violence

The question of whether media violence may be possible to influence aggression has been a subject of intense research in the last 50 years or so. Hence, in every country where television exists, generates the common and social concern of whether a link between excessive game play and violent behaviour exists or, perhaps the automatic shift of blame to media influence for the potential aggressive behaviour in adolescents.

The perpetrator of the Naval Yard shooting – Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people in September in 2013, was revealed to have been obsessed and played up to 16 hours a day of violent video games such as Call of Duty.

Note: a 2002 report by the US Secret Service and the US Department of Education, which examined 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks from 1974 to 2000 in the country, revealed that “over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence through movies, video games, books and other media”.

However, is there a link between violent video games and aggressive behaviour or Alexis’ obsession with violent video games and his role in the shooting?

Longitudinal studies to observe changes in behaviour that are attributed to exposure to media such as tv or computer games

1) Bjorkqvist (1985) used and exposed 6-year-old Finnish children to either violent or non-violent films, then compared the opposing measures of physical aggression such as hitting other children. His results found and concluded that those who had watched the violent film were subsequently rated much higher on levels of aggressive behaviour.

2) Huesmann et al (2003) studied 553 children between the ages of 6-10 growing up in Chicago in 1977, then 329 15 years later in 1992. It is discovered that habitual early exposure to media violence is predictive to adult and consistent aggression later in life. This applies to both males and females.

[Note: this relationship persisted despite controlling socioeconomic status, intelligence, and parenting styles. ]

3) Greitemeyer and Mügge (2014) carried out a total of 98 meta-analysis studies since 2009 with a total of 37000 participants that determined a significant association between violent video games and prosocial video games with social outcomes. Data from the 98 independent studies revealed that while violent video games increase aggression and aggressive-related variables such as behaviours and thoughts, in comparison, prosocial video games have the opposite effects.

4) Anderson et al (2007) surveyed 430 children aged between 7 and 9 at two points during the school year; it is then confirmed that children who became more verbally and physically aggressive while being prosocial (as rated by themselves and observed by peers and teachers) were exposed to high levels of violent video games.

Then how does media violence influence aggression? Adachi and Willoughby (2013) suggest that the longitudinal link between aggression and violent nature of video games is due to the competitiveness necessary for the nature of the games. Moreover, researchers such as Przybylski et al (2014) suggest that rather than the storyline or imagination, the link of mastery and difficulty players face increase one’s level of aggressiveness because of the frustration stemmed from the temptations and attempts at completing and playing video games; however, failure and frustration during game play are actually suggested to be more likely to significantly increase and produce aggressive manners and actions much more than violent content. This means that media influences of aggression are evident in both violent and non-violent games.


1) Short term effects of exposure to media violence

· Priming -> process through spreading activation in the brain’s neural network from the locus representing an external observed stimulus excites another brain node representing a cognition, emotion, or behaviour. The external stimulus can be inherently linked to a cognition (an image or sight of a gun can be inherently linked and immediately associated with acts and concepts of violence or aggression)

· Arousal -> a subsequent stimulus that arouses an emotion (emotional response -> provocation transfer)

· Mimicry -> Human and primate young tend to have a tendency to mimic those observed, hence when children are prone to usual and consistent levels of violence or aggression, they will and tend to mimic it.

2) Long term effects of exposure to media violence

· Observational learning -> Normative beliefs about what social behaviours are are influenced in part by children’s observation of the behaviours of those around them including those observed in mass media. This is because a person’s social behaviour is controlled to a great extent by the interplay of the current situation with the one’s emotional state etc. This can be further influenced by the observation of family, peers, community and mass media over the years.

· Desensitization -> Negative emotions experienced automatically by viewers in response to violent, aggressive or gory scenes may decline after long term exposure to media violence, which results in children’s ability to think and plan proactive aggressive acts without experiencing negative effects or emotions.


Psychology A level year 2 student book


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