The Impact of Television on Children's Antisocial Behavior in a Novice Television Community

By Gunter, Barrie; Charlton, Tony et al. | Child Study Journal, June 2000 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Television on Children's Antisocial Behavior in a Novice Television Community


Gunter, Barrie, Charlton, Tony, Coles, David, Panting, Charlie, Child Study Journal


Children on the island of St. Helena were surveyed on two occasions, in 1993 at age 3 to 4 years and again in 1998 at age 7 to 8 years, before and after the introduction of broadcast television in 1995. Pre-TV measures of social behavior were provided by teachers using the Preschool Behavior Checklist (in the first survey) and post-TV social behavior was measured using the Rutter Behavior Questionnaire for the second survey wave. During the second survey wave, the children also provided viewing data via a three-day TV diary. For those same three days, the content of all broadcast television output was analyzed for the appearance of violence in programs. The television content analysis data were merged with children's TV viewing data to yield measures of exposure to televised violence. Just over half (55%) the children who kept viewing dairies watched any television during the three days of viewing measurement. These children watched an average of 3 hours and 10 minutes of television. These children were foun d to have seen an average of 95 violent acts or 7.28 minutes of violence across this same period. Boys (10.23 minutes) watched more violence than girls (5.43 minutes). Viewers did not differ significantly from non-viewers on either their pre-TV or post-TV antisocial behavior scores. Boys displayed significantly more antisocial behavior than girls in wave two following the introduction of broadcast television, whereas the two sexes had exhibited no inter-gender difference in antisocial tendencies prior to broadcast television. Overall TV viewing was not correlated with antisocial behavior scores at any point. Cartoon viewing was significantly correlated to post-TV antisocial scores over all children, but within the sexes for girls only, and this relationship survived statistical controls for pre-TV antisocial behavior. Total number of violent acts seen was correlated with post-TV antisocial behavior scores for girls only, while number of male-perpetrated violent acts was correlated with antisocial behavior amo ng boys and girls. All these relationships disappeared when pre-TV antisocial behavior scores were controlled. Cartoon viewing was significantly related to pre-TV antisocial behavior and post-TV neuroticism levels even after the effect of number of violent acts seen was controlled, suggesting that nonviolent ingredients in these programs appealed to already unruly children and that cartoon viewing was linked to lower anxiety among children.

One of the most controversial topics of debate about the impact of television has focused on the effects that televised depictions of violence might have on children. For many years, the debate remained open with disputes about the validity and conclusiveness of the scientific evidence being widespread. In the United States, major commissions of inquiry into the causes of social violence initially were equivocal in their conclusions about the role of television in this context (National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, 1969; Surgeon General, 1972), while later reviews of the evidence concluded that most of the research does suggest a link between violence on television and aggressiveness in children and teenagers (Huesmann & Eron, 1986; Pearl, Bouthilet, & Lazar, 1982). Major studies funded by the American television networks during the 1970s produced conflicting conclusions about the effects of television-mediated violence or antisocial conduct on the antisocial and delinquent tendencies of viewers (Belson, 1978; Milavsky, Kessler, Stipp, & Rubens, 1982; Milgram & Shotland, 1973).

Cause-effect analyses conducted in laboratory experiments have been viewed by some critics as lacking sufficient ecological or external validity to be of any use (Barker & Petley, 1997; Cook, Kendzierski, & Thomas, 1983; Cumberbatch & Howitt, 1989; Gauntlett, 1995; Stipp & Milavsky, 1988). Critiques of surveybased evidence have found the scientific evidence problematic for methodological reasons associated again with the strength of the measures used to establish television viewing and personal aggressiveness or because of inappropriate interpretation of statistical relationships between these variables (Freedman, 1984, 1986). …

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