Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Children's Perceptions of Aggressive and Gender-Specific Content in Toy Commercials

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Children's Perceptions of Aggressive and Gender-Specific Content in Toy Commercials

Article excerpt

While extensive research has been conducted to determine what relationships exist between media violence and aggressive behavior in students, little research exists on the impact of toy commercials. In this study, 103 elementary school children rated videotapes of toy commercials or slides of toys on perceived aggressiveness, stereotypic sex-role behavior, gender-based appropriateness and imagined play with the toys depicted. Girls rated imagined play with boytoys as being more aggressive than did boys, and boys rated girl-toys more appropriate for girls than did girls. All commercials were rated as demonstrating stereotypic sex-role behavior. Male-focused commercials and imagined toy play with the boy-toys depicted were rated more aggressive than were female-focused and neutral commercials, and their respective toys. At the same time, boy-toys were rated by both girls and boys as more desirable than girl-toys. The results suggest that boys are particular targets of aggressive content in marketing and are more desensitized to aggressive content than are girls. Though girls perceived more aggressiveness than did boys, the aggressive toys remained highly desirable. Thus, aggressive content in toy commercials appears attractive, especially to boys, but also to girls. Since children's programming is saturated with toy commercials, young viewers are at best reinforced by stereotypic sex-role behavior, and at worst, inundated with violent content.

Violence, especially among American youth, has become a prominent public health concern. The American Psychological Association (APA, 1993) reported that many factors contribute to a child's "risk profile" for becoming violent. In addition to dispositional factors such as temperament and intelligence, environmental factors - the home, parenting style, school, and neighborhood - influence childhood aggression (Singer, Singer & Rapaczynski, 1984). One area of concern has been the impact of television, specifically television violence, on children's behavior (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963); Huesmann, 1986; Sanson & diMuccio, 1993). Today 98% of American households own at least one television, and children spend more time watching television than in any other activity except sleep (Myers, 1996; Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988).

Three major national studies - the Surgeon General's Commission Report on the Impact of Television Violence (1972), the National Institute of Mental Health's Ten-Year Follow-up (1982), and the Report of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Television in Society (1993) - have concluded that heavy exposure to violence on television is a significant contributor of violence in society. According to the National Television Violence Study, 58% of television programs contain violence; 73% of programs with violence had no remorse, criticism, or penalty for the violence, and 40%; of the violent acts on television were initiated by characters portrayed as heroes or attractive role models for children (Kunkel, Wilson, Donnerstein & Blumenthal, 1995). Gerbner and Signorielli (as cited in Hughes & Hasbrouck, 1996) reported that children observe 20-25 acts of violence per hour on Saturday morning shows.

While more than 2,800 studies have been conducted by scholars during the past 30 years to determine what relationship exists between media violence and aggressive behavior in children (Rothberg, 1983), very little research has investigated the impact of commercials. Deregulation by the Federal Communications Commission in the 1980s removed all requirements for limits on advertising time, and for clear separation between advertisements and programming during children's television shows (Kunkel & Roberts, 1991). In 1984, U.S. children were estimated to have seen over 100 television commercials a day, accumulating to 7.5 hours of commercials, many repetitive, each week (Himmelstein, 1984). By 1988, 67% of all toy advertisements were for toys related to children's programming (Condry, Bence & Scheibe, 1988). …

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