Magazine article Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology

Violence, Games & Art (Part 2)

Magazine article Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology

Violence, Games & Art (Part 2)

Article excerpt

My Lunch with Annie Lang: Children, Violence, Imitation (and a darned good house salad)

"`Then, shall we simply allow our children to listen to any stories that anyone happens to make up, and so receive into their minds ideas often the very opposite of those we shall think they ought to have when they grow up?'" * Socrates in Plato's The Republic (translation by D. Lee, 2nd ed., Penguin, London, 1987)

In Part One of this column on violence and media [see TQ 9:1], I interviewed folks, most of whom were in attendance at the most recent Computer Game Developer's Conference in San Jose, California, and who are involved with the design of computer games. I asked them a variety of questions, such as: whether they thought computer games could cause someone to harm another person; when the use of violence in a computer game is appropriate; and, do they or would they use violence in any games they designed. I think this was a reasonable starting point for thinking about violence in media, but the obvious area lacking in my interviews was a Q&A with anyone who actually studies and researches how messages are received and how they might actually influence behavior, either immediately or over a period of time due to exposure.

I teach in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, so I am surrounded by faculty members who do study the process and effects of media communications. The department regularly offers a course on media and children, one of which has very high enrollment. The primary teacher of this course is Annie Lang, who studies how people in general process mediated messages. Her work focuses on how structural aspects of television--such as cuts, edits, zooms, videographics, pacing, and audio/video redundancy--affect involuntary attention processes such as orienting and capacity allocation, and how these responses alter how information is encoded and stored. Annie is interested in how the viewers' emotional responses to message content mediate this process. She is also the mother of two young children, an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, so her interest in children and media is more than merely academic.

I invited Annie to lunch at a local restaurant, plied her with sparkling cider and mineral water, turned on my tape recorder, and asked her to share her thoughts on media, violence, and children. To the best of my ability I have transcribed our conversation--but some parts were difficult to understand on tape due to normal barroom fights and a waiter who persisted in trying to clear Annie's plate before she was finished eating. Annie is a very mellow person, but she will not give up the house salad without a fight. Luckily it didn't come to that. She finished her salad, and I got an exceptionally interesting interview--one which, I think, puts Part One of this column in perspective.


Do you know of any research that looks at how children respond to pro-social messages, as opposed to how they respond to antisocial messages?

Yes, I do. When you really look at the research on children and media, you see that the age of the child is very important because their response differs enormously. The brains of little children do not work like adults'; their brains work differently. So, young children are going to get a very different message and do very different things with a message than older children will.

It's hard for me to answer your question about kids without considering them as groups, such as 2- to 4-year olds, 5- to 7-year olds, 8- to 11-year olds, and 13- to 17-year olds. Once we get to the 13- to 17-year olds, we actually don't know anything about how they process messages, and in fact, about 17-year olds, we are almost totally ignorant.

In terms of pro-social research, it is theoretically very similar to anti-social research. It uses the same theories: theories of imitation, theories of repetition, theories of response reinforcement, positive and negative reinforcement; and it finds pretty much the same effects. …

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