Concern about possible antisocial influences of television far outweighs the consideration given to any other area of children's involvement with television. How far is the perception of the box in the corner as a 'one-eyed monster' justified? The possibilities that television's examples of bad behaviour provide models to be copied by susceptible young viewers cannot be treated lightly. But the assumption, which commonly seems to prevail, that television has been demonstrably proved to have a bad influence, oversimplifies both what 'the box' brings into the home and how children get involved with it.
Television programmes contain many examples of good behaviour, of people acting kindly and with generosity. It is equally logical to assume that these portrayals provide models for children to copy, too. In this chapter, therefore, we turn to the question of whether television encourages good behaviour among children. Although not as extensive as the work on television violence, an important body of research exists which indicates a variety of ways in which television can or might, under certain circumstances, have soundly beneficial and desirable effects on children.
One pro-social possibility, which runs counter to much established thinking on the subject, is that watching violence on television serves to provide an outlet for pent-up aggressive drives. According to the catharsis hypothesis, originally proposed by Aristotle, accumulated aggressive urges are supposedly drained after watching violence, with the result that the individual behaves less aggressively. In its strongest form, the hypothesis holds that anyone can purge their aggressive impulses through vicarious cathartic experiences. This form of the catharsis hypothesis is currently in general disfavour, after passing through successive periods of uncritical acceptance and controversy. As we shall see, however, a weaker form of the hypothesis has been proposed and some evidence has emerged which