Mounting Evidence Links TV Viewing to Violence ; A New Scientific Report Released Today Says Television Can Affect Violent Behavior - Even among Adults

Article excerpt

For much of the past half century, the link between watching violence on television and violent behavior in everyday life has seemed an open question - embraced by one study, rejected by another, and largely left unanswered by years of congressional inquiries.

That, however, is rapidly changing. To a growing number of scientists and psychiatrists, the correlation between the two is no longer a point of debate, it is an established fact.

A study released today in the journal Science adds to a large body of work that suggests some sort of connection. Already, six major pediatric, psychiatric, and medical associations have said that the evidence of a link is overwhelming, citing more than 1,000 studies in the past 30 years.

As a result, the debate is increasingly splintering into a fight that echoes the recent antitobacco or global-warming campaigns, as a preponderance of scientists square off against a besieged industry and a smattering of contrarian colleagues.

Many Americans are not yet convinced. On average, children still watch three hours of television a day, and calls to regulate the industry have resulted only in minor tweaks like the current ratings system. But with the scientific community presenting a more unified front - and casting the issue as one of public health, not taste - the pressure for more change is gaining momentum.

"Clearly, with more exposure [to media violence, children] do become desensitized, they do copy what they see, and their values are shaped by it," says Susan Villani, a Baltimore, Md., psychiatrist who has reviewed the past 10 years of study on the subject.

Not even the most ardent critic of TV violence argues that images of gunplay and kung fu are the sole causes of youth violence. Yet they can be significant.

One study last year found a 25 percent decrease in violence in a San Jose, Calif., grade school where kids received classroom lessons in media awareness and were asked to watch only seven hours of TV a week for several months. Another in North Carolina showed that teenage boys who regularly watched professional wrestling were 18 percent more likely to get into a physical confrontation with a date.

TV's effect on adult behavior

Today's study, experts say, is particularly interesting for several reasons. It is the first survey of its scope to provide evidence that violent behavior is associated with television viewing beyond childhood - well into adolescence and adulthood. In addition, it claims a connection even when other factors such as childhood neglect and low family income are taken into account.

"What this study serves to do is remove some of these variables," says Michael Brody of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. …