Watching violent TV or Video Games may promote more Aggressive Behavior in Teens
Research shows that exposure to aggressive media results in a blunting of emotional responses, and may increase the likelihood that aggression is seen as acceptable behavior.
Akinso: Watching violent movies or TV shows, or playing violent video games, desensitizes teenagers and may promote aggressive behavior. Dr. Jordan Grafman, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains that research he led shows that in boys exposed to more violent videos over time, their activation in brain regions concerned with emotional reactivity decreased.
Grafman: Those areas of the brain in essence became desensitized to the aggressive video clips we showed people.
Akinso: For a NINDS study, Dr. Grafman and colleagues recruited 22 boys between the ages of 14-17 to see if watching violent TV or playing violent video games could cause aggressive behavior. The boys watched short, four-second clips of violent scenes from 60 videos, arranged randomly. The degree of violence and aggression in each scene was low, mild or moderate; there were no extreme scenes. The boys were asked to press one of two buttons after viewing each clip to say whether they thought each video was more or less aggressive than the previous video. The boys' brain function was monitored using a MRI scanner and emotional responses measured with electrodes on their skin. Dr. Grafman says there were individual differences within responses, which partly depended on the boys’ experience and their exposure with violence outside of the laboratory situation.
Grafman: So those teenage boys who experienced more aggression or violence say in their neighborhoods, at home, watch more movies, play more video games that involve violence, they’re the ones that showed the most desensitization.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman adds that the important new finding is that exposure to the most violent videos inhibits emotional reactions to similar aggressive videos over time and implies that normal adolescents will feel fewer emotions over time as they are exposed to similar videos.
Grafman: The implications are that people who show more rapid desensitization to violent pictures are going to be more accepting of violence. There's going to be more toleration of it, not only as they observe others—friends, family members, acquaintances—but also in their society at large and potentially in their own behavior. And that is dangerous for the integration and the wellbeing of their local community. And it also may potentially put them into dangerous situations if they’re willing to be more aggressive without having the emotional breaks we all use and the cognitive breaks we all use to stop our aggressive and violent behavior.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman says this study has implications for parents dealing with a child who watches violent TV or plays violent video games.
Grafman: I think the important issue here is limiting the frequency and the intensity of their exposure to aggression. And that ranges everything from using computers and devices to making sure if they live in a community where there is a lot of aggression that they have alternative activities to participate in. You want to break up their exposure or experience to violent activities. So you want to control it and be an active parent and know where your kids are and what they are doing. And that should help.
Akinso: Dr. Grafman's research has been published online in the Oxford Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. For more information on his research, visit www.ninds.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.