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
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
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
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