This article is written by Rachit Garg from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. The aim of the article is to discuss various modes of media and their impact on crime rate and aggressive behaviour.
Table of Contents
The visual media, since its inception, brought a revolution to the entertainment industry, widely spreading all over the world. However, there has been various research by scholars around the world that suggest exposure to violence in movies, television, video games and the internet increases the risk of violent behaviour of the viewer. The same can be compared to someone’s change in violent behaviour who grew up in a violent environment. Some studies have shown that there exists a direct relationship between the violence portrayed in the media and violent behaviour, some have concluded to have no association between them.
Media violence can be defined as physical aggression by one human character against another. No reputed researcher has suggested that media violence is the reason for violent behaviour. It is important to understand that the relationship between the depiction of violence in media and violent behaviour is difficult to establish as there are various deciding factors which determine who will be affected, by which material and in what way.
The effects of the violence are determined by the ability of the individual to differentiate between the reality and the fantasy, determining what is just and unjust, and the capacity to evaluate the violence within the framework of morality and socially accepted norms.
Social Learning Theory
Much of the work done by the researchers is based on the social learning theory formulated by Albert Bandura. The theory suggests that one of the ways by which human beings learn is by the process of modelling or mirroring other’s actions. In this case, Bandura suggested that children learn aggression from viewing others. He concluded that by the Bobo Doll experiment he conducted in 1961. He made a set of children watch a model behave aggressively towards a toy (Bobo Doll). The model kicked it, punched it, tossed it in the air and even hit it with a hammer. Then they put the children along with the doll in a room to observe if they imitate the behaviour of the model. They found that the children modelled the behaviour onto the doll because of which they concluded that the children may intimate the aggressive behaviour portrayed in the media.
However, the research of Bandura has been criticised on various grounds. Firstly, a generalisation of violence towards the bobo doll and to person-to-person is difficult. Secondly, there is a high possibility that the children viewed the videos as instructions rather than an incentive to feel more aggressive. Thirdly, he conducted another study in 1965 in which he added a condition. The model was later punished for hitting the bobo doll. The model was pushed down by the experimenter and was hit with a newspaper. Due to person-to-person violence, it was noticed that that aggressive act towards the doll by the children decreased. This indicates that children do consider the context of aggression and don’t automatically imitate aggression.
Social Cognitive Theory
This theory was built upon the foundation of the social learning theory. The behaviour of the people is guided by the cognitive scripts which are learned through experience and observation of other people’s behaviour. These scripts are stored in our memory and act as a guide for our behaviour and solving problems. Hence, according to this theory, aggression can be activated by priming aggressive scripts. Moreover, the concepts of desensitization and excitation/arousal (because of media violence) have been included in the latter social cognitive theory. Desensitization refers to a psychological state or emotional adjustment in which the person’s initial level of disgust and anxiety weakens or diminishes because of repetitive exposure to media violence.
In 2016, a study was conducted in which a group of college students were asked to play either a violent or a non-violent game for 20 minutes which was followed by a 10 minutes real-life video portraying violence. It was noticed that the students who played the violent game were significantly less affected by the video compared to the students who played the non-violent game. However, recent scholars have suggested that this theory is outdated and should be retired.
This theory was formulated by Ferguson and aims to explain the aetiology (cause) of violence. However, being a new theory, it has not been tested extensively. According to the catalyst model, violence is the result of a combination of genetic and early social influences, for example, family and peer groups. This model considers media violence weak causal influence for aggressive acts and instead believes that aggression is catalysed (caused) by being in a stressful environment. Recent studies done on inmates suggest in favour of the catalyst model theory. As suggested by this theory, the perpetrators of crime may include the stylistic elements they saw in the media, however, the motivation for the same does not come from the viewing of violence in the media.
This theory has been criticised on the grounds that it is difficult to measure the genetic and social risk factors that contribute to increased aggressive behaviour among people.
Media elements that impact the Crime Rate
Movies and T.V Shows
Evidence and claims
For humans, watching violence has been a popular source of entertainment. Just like the Romans enjoyed the gladiators, we certainly don’t want to miss out on a fight scene. However, it has been a question of various legislators, parents, teachers and mental health professionals about the impact of the violent content on viewers, especially on the mind of young children.
Prominent Studies Conducted
Studies have been conducted for the same which focused more on television violence. These studies have concluded that there do exist some negative effects of watching violence on TV but they do not necessarily establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship with one another and instead, suggest that there is a possibility of subsequent aggressive behaviour by the viewers of violence depicted on media.
Studies in favour of the claims and evidence
- Joy (1986) conducted a study by examining the change of aggressive behaviour of children when television was introduced for the first time in isolated Canadian towns in the 1970s. The towns were compared to two others that already had a television. The research was divided into two phases with a gap of two years.
It was found that the verbal and physical aggression increased on all the three towns. However, a significantly greater increase was noticed in the town where the television was introduced during the study. It was also found that some of the results were not in consistency with the television introduction effect. In the first phase of the study, it was found that the children in the town without television were just as aggressive to the children in town with television. Without television, they should have been less aggressive.
Moreover, in the second phase when all the towns had television, it was found that the children in the one in which the television was recently introduced became more aggressive than the other two. However, at this point, the findings of all three towns should have been similar. To accept these results, one needs to assume that children in town without television had more aggressive children compared to the ones in the other two towns, but that assumption is cancelled out based on the results of the first phase. Thus, that assumption implies that there were other differences between the communities making the findings of the study doubtful.
- In 1987, Josephson conducted a study by combining the effects of exposure to violent media and retrieval cues (stimuli that assist in memory retrieval). The field experiment was done on second and third-grade boys. The boys were either made to watch a non-violent movie or a violent movie, in which a walkie-talkie was used. Later, they were interviewed either with a microphone or a walkie talkie (retrieval cue) after which they played a game of field hockey and their aggressive behaviour was recorded. Prediction was made that the boy who will watch a violent movie and interviewed with a walkie-talkie will be more aggressive in the game as the walkie-talkie would make them retrieve scripts associated with the violent film.
The prediction turned out to be accurate for the boys who were according to the teacher’s ratings, aggressive. However, on the other hand, the boys who were identified as non-aggressive and were exposed to violent movies and walkie-talkie inhibited their aggression. According to Josephson, in the case of the non-aggressive boys, the aggression could be associated with guilt and fear, which, when primed, may inhibit aggression. If we are to accept this interpretation, we can conclude that media violence can increase or inhibit violent behaviour based on the initial predisposition of the viewers, that is, their tendency to act in a particular way. Moreover, such an effect is likely to be short-term and is likely to have no overall effect on the rate of violence.
Studies against the claims and evidence
However, on the other hand, there are various other researchers who criticised those who linked exposure to media violence and subsequent aggressive behaviour. For example, in 1994, Freedman examined all the studies conducted till that time, that were undertaken on this subject and believed that there is no evidence in the research that can suggest watching violent TV can cause aggression. His argument was based on the fact that many intervening variables (factors) were not taken into consideration or cannot be controlled, questioning the experimental method and research methods used.
M Felson came up with the Routine Activity Approach, which describes the possibility of offenders to commit a crime based on their daily routine. So according to the theory, when the opportunity of contact between the potential offender and victim reduces, the crime should be less frequent. If those who are prone to violence are separated by any activity from potential victims, there should be a decrease in the incidence of violence.
Using the above-mentioned approach, Messner argued that watching television can reduce the incidence of violence in society. When people spend time watching television at home, the possibility of violence, at least with the people outside the family, probably reduces. Moreover, chances of domestic violence could also reduce because of less interaction since family members watch TV. Moreover, he also found out that cities with high levels of television viewing reported lower rates of violent and non-violent crimes. However, the study cannot analyze the specific viewing habits of the offender or the victim of criminal violence.
The arrival of video games has raised the worries for the potential impact of violence since a video game player is an active participant in the game rather than merely a viewer. Ninety-seven percent of the adolescents who are between the age of 12-17 play video games on a console such as Playstation, Xbox, Wii, on a computer, or on a portable device like smartphones, Gameboys, tablets.
Most of the games played by them, such as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty”, have violent content in them. Players often engage in battles, fighting with the other characters, injuring or killing them in order to proceed to the next level. Moreover, some of these games have sexual themes. Concern has been raised about the level of interactivity involved as players are actively participating in the violence.
Evidence and claims
In August 2019, following two mass shootings in the USA (Dayton and El Paso), which killed around 31 people, President Donald Trump over a briefing from White House blamed violent video games for the same. He said “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately”.
Prominent Studies Conducted
This is not the first time such claims have been made. Similar to the studies done for the violence in movies and TV shows, some do establish a positive link between violent games and aggression. However, they have been criticized for their methodology and on the other hand, some refuse to establish any relation between them.
Studies in favour of the claims and evidence
In 2007, Craig Anderson conducted a study of violent video games. The study involved querying children along with teachers on aggressive behaviour and violent media consumption twice during a school year. It was found those boys and girls who played more violent games became more aggressive. According to him, excessive exposure to violent games can lead to changes in brain functions which involves lowering the emotional response of the player to the violence and decrease in certain executive control. On the other hand, there is some evidence that suggests that the same type of violent games can improve a player’s spatial-visual skills and ability to extract information from the computer screen. However, Anderson does not fail to accept the fact that media violence is only one of the risk factors for violent and aggressive behaviour. It is not possible for violent behaviour to occur with only one factor present.
Studies against the claims and evidence
In 2011, an economist from the University of Texas at Arlington, Michael Ward, along with his two colleagues conducted a study in which they examined the data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System and compared the weekly instances of violent crimes to the retail sale of fifty top-selling video games.
They found that with the increase in the sale of violent games, there was a slight drop in the crime rate. However, the same was not noticed for the non-violent games. Moreover, in the separate study it was found that for every one percent increase in the number of video game retail stores in a given US county, the crime rate was noticed to have fallen by a tenth of a percentage point.
Brown v. Entertainment Merchant Association
As per the case, in October 2005, the California legislature banned the sale of or rental of violent video games to the minor. Moreover, it made it mandatory to label “18” on the packaging of such games. A fine of $1,000 was declared for any violation. The act was passed with two goals:
- Prevent aggressive, violent and antisocial behaviour, and
- Prevent neurological and psychological harm to the minors playing violent games.
However, a group of video game producers sued the state for the same, claiming the Act violates the Speech Clause of the First Amendment and also claimed it to be vague. The District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. However, in 2009, the State petitioned to the Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court was in favour of the decision of the District Court, agreed with the plaintiffs and ruled the Act unconstitutional. The opinion of the court was written by Justice Scalia. He opined that the state failed to show a link between violent video games to harm the minors and that it makes them aggressive.
In ancient India, the concept of eroticism was well studied as shown by the Kamasutra, which was written by Mallunga Vatsyayana and was considered an integral part of adult education during that time. However, major changes occurred after the British came to India, followed by advancement in information and technology which has further shaped the sex culture in India.
Pornography industry involved in the production and distribution of sexual implicit material which includes literature, audio, animation, photos, toys, movies and etc. The most popular mode of access is the magazines, compact discs and the internet. The global porn industry’s annual revenue is estimated to be around $90 billion.
Evidence and claims
In 2013, Kamlesh Vaswani, a lawyer, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, seeking for a nationwide ban on the access of pornographic websites claiming it leads to sexual and aggressive behaviour. However, his demands were rejected by the Court and the then-Supreme Court Chief Justice HL Dattu stated that adults in India have the right to pursue pornographic material as long as they are within the four walls of their home. Such a ban would violate Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees a person the right to personal liberty.
Just like the other two forms of media above, the studies conducted for establishing a relationship between pornography and sexual offences have contradicting results.
Most recent studies do suggest that viewing pornographic material increases male’s acceptance of sexual and different other types of aggression towards females. It has been concluded that the male who views such material is more likely to believe the myth that women like being sexually empowered or raped. Pornography does not depict perpetrators and sexual aggressors negatively or show being punished for their sexual aggression.
However, on the other hand, a study conducted by Danish Criminologist Berl Kutchinsky in 1998 shows that after the pornography was legalised in Denmark, there was no sign of an increase in sex crimes. Similar results were found in Japan in a study conducted by Milton Diamond. The findings suggest that after the ban on sexual implicit material was lifted, there was a drop in reported child sex abuse cases.
The effect of media on crime rate and aggressive behaviour is a debatable subject and studies conducted have a contradictory point of view. However, it can be said that the media can act as one of the variables that lead to aggressive behaviour, accompanied by other variables. Moreover, if we were to relate the media impact with death because of homicide, a decrease in the global rate has been noticed for the same according to the reports.
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