Constant Violence on Television Begets Real-World Violence

Article excerpt

Arnold P. Goldstein admits, "In my field of psychology, there's a lot of ambiguity. But after a while, there's enough research to say we have a fact." This, he says, is a fact: Television violence begets real-world violence.

Goldstein, director of the Center for Research on Aggression at Syracuse University, was here as the featured consultant at a two-day conference on school violence. He has made a major sideline of instructing professionals - this time members of the National Association of School Psychologists - in ways of reducing violence. His books on teaching social skills to anti-social youth - "skill streaming," he calls it - are respected across the nation.

But he believes his work would be a good deal easier if television weren't so doggedly violent.

"There's just no question of the effect of television," he tells me. "Literally hundreds of studies all point to this conclusion. The only people who seriously question the link - like the tobacco industry questioning the link between cigarette smoking and cancer - are the TV people themselves, and even many of them are coming around."

Goldstein lists three main categories of effects: the aggression effect, the victim effect and the bystander effect.

The first includes so-called copycat violence. "There are 188 separate studies, involving 244,000 viewers, showing that a substantial number of viewers will become more aggressive, more violent after watching violent TV shows. Younger children are affected more than older ones, boys more than girls. In terms of types of show, the violently erotic are the worst."

He said studies show that there is more copying of violent acts when the violence is justified and/or rewarded in the script, when it involves how-to specifics and when it is shown as relatively painless, or when victims of violence are shown quickly recovering from their injuries.

The "victim effect" principally involves an "increased level of fearfulness about the world in general," according to Goldstein.

"What troubles me most, though, is the bystander effect. You know, the Kitty Genovese syndrome. Televised violence increases the degree of callousness and indifference to actual violence. People who watch TV violence become less helping toward the victims of violence and display more tolerance for higher and higher levels of aggression. …