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Social effects of media

February 6, 2011

Conservative Christians have been known for their historic opposition to TV in general, and to violent media in particular, on the basis of Biblical statements identified as relevant to the subject.[1] [2] [3] Numerous studies confirm that such opposition is well founded.

Typical media content has been identified as having a negative impact on the behavior of impressionable minors,[4] [5] with a particularly strong correlation between violent media and violent behavior.[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Studies indicate evidence for TV’s negative influence, even unrelated to actual content.[11] [12]

Numerous studies demonstrate that the actual medium of TV itself has a negative impact, regardless of the content being viewed,[13] vindicating cautions about the negative impact of TV viewing on children’s physical development which are over 40 years old.[14] [15]

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit their children’s exposure to TV significantly, and to encourage traditional forms of play,[16] strikingly similar to what conservative Christian parents have recommended for literally decades.

Studies have indicated the same dangers for computer use. [17] Violent content has been identified as a specific concern,[18] [19] [20] while there is little to demonstrate that home computer use contributes significantly to positive academic performance.[21]


[1] Psalm 119: 37 Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!

[2] Proverbs 4: 23 Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. 24 Remove perverse speech from your mouth; keep devious talk far from your lips.

[3] Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

[4] ‘During this period of heightened concerns about attractiveness and sensitivity to cultural norms, children are bombarded with media messages that often promote, although usually indirectly, high-risk behavior. Studies of smoking and alcohol use in youth suggest that media do affect behavior (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Oei & Baldwin, 1992). Smoking, alcohol consumption, sex, and violence are prominent in television and even in computer games and comic books. Media messages related to children’s developing sexuality usually promote rather than discourage sexual activity.’, Stipek, de la Sota, & Weishaupt, ‘Life Lessons: An Embedded Classroom Approach to Preventing High-Risk Behaviours among Preadolescents’, The Elementary School Journal (99.5.435), 1999.

[5] ‘The importance of media is evident in findings that young adolescents who develop eating disorders are relatively more exposed to media (especially reading magazines and watching television soap operas; Harrison, 1997; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996).’, ibid., p. 435.

[6] ‘Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center have shown that watching violent programs can cause parts of your brain that suppress aggressive behaviors to become less active.’, Craig, ‘This is your brain on violent media’, Columbia University Medical Center, December 2007.

[7] ‘A secondary finding was that after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active. This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain’s ability to inhibit behavior-related processing.’, ibid.

[8] ‘Considering our regression analyses (i.e., step 2a in Table 2), it can be seen that violent media exposure does relate meaningfully and significantly to engagement in violence and aggression even after controlling the substantial effects of sex and age.’, Boxer et al., ‘The Role of Violent Media Preference in Cumulative Developmental Risk for Violence and General Aggression’, J Youth Adolescence (38.425), 2009.

[9] ‘Furthermore, even for those lowest in other risk factors, a preference for violent media was predictive of violent behavior and general aggression. This finding is consistent with earlier research showing that even low-aggressive individuals are affected by media violence (Eron et al. 1972).’, ibid., p. 425.

[10] ‘Even if we consider only those studies that have most thoroughly met the standards of critics, (3) the pattern of results still supports the conclusion that television violence leads to increased aggression. As a result, there is widespread agreement among credible authorities that television violence does increase children’s aggression and fears. Reports supporting the conclusion have been circulated by the United States Surgeon General, (4) the Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, (5) the American National Institute of Mental Health, (6) UNESCO, (7) the American Psychological Association, (8) the CRTC, (9) and the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture. (10)’, Josephson, ‘Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages’, report for the Department of Canadian Heritage, February 1995.

[11] ‘Early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. Efforts to limit television viewing in early childhood may be warranted, and additional research is needed.’, Christakis et al., ‘A. Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children’, Pediatrics (113.4.708), 2004.

[12]‘We found that early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems. This finding was present even while controlling for a number of potential confounding factors, including prenatal substance use and gestational age, measures of maternal psychopathology, and socioeconomic status. The magnitude of the risk associated with television viewing, expressed in our analysis in terms of hours per day of television viewed, is clinically significant when one considers the full range of hours of television viewed in our sample (0–16). A 1-SD increase in the number of hours of television watched at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age 7. This result is robust and stable over time—a similar effect size is obtained for the number of hours of television watched at age 3. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to test the hypothesis of very early television viewing on subsequent inattention using a nationally representative longitudinal sample.’, ibid., p. 710; the study noted a number of caveats, such as the need for further study and the fact that a direct causal link was not established, though the correlation is clinically significant.

[13]‘In 1980, Boys Town published an exhaustive review of nearly 3,000 studies of television’s impact on children conducted over the previous 25 years, concluding that television can exert a powerful influence independent of the particular content portrayed on the screen. The simple availability of television was associated with delayed development in a child’s verbal skills and in the amount of effort applied to academic tasks.’, Wartella & Jennings, ‘Children and Computers: New Technology. Old Concerns’, The Future of Children (10.2.34), 2000.

[14] ‘Excessive viewing may encourage passivity and may limit play experiences with other children or alone.’, Appell, ‘Television Viewing and the Preschool Child’,  Marriage And Family Living, (25.3.315), 1963.

[15]These are principally unintended, noncontent, or unnoticed effects of television. For example, the child who spends four hours a day between the ages of three and eighteen watching television, as millions do, has spent some 22,000 hours in passive inactivity as opposed to exercising (to develop his physical fitness), or relating to his parents (to prevent a “generation gap”) and so on. What he watches doesn’t alter these effects materially.’, Skornia, ‘What TV Is Doing to America: Some Unexpected Consequences’, Journal of Aesthetic Education (3.3.29-30), 1969.

[16] ‘To minimize the increased risk of obesity, as well as several other harmful effects of extensive media exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit children’s time spent with computers, video games, and other media to perhaps no more than one to two hours a day, and to emphasize alternative activities such as imaginative play and sports.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[17] ‘Excessive, unmonitored use of computers, especially when combined with use of other screen technologies, such as television, can place children at risk for harmful effects on their physical, social, and psychological development. Children need physical activity, social interaction, and the love and guidance of caring adults to be healthy, happy, and productive.14 Too much time in front of a screen can deprive children of time for organized sports and other social activities that are beneficial to child development.15 In addition, children may be exposed to violent, sexual, or commercial content beyond their years, with long-term negative effects.16 To ensure healthy and appropriate use of computers both at school and at home, children’s computer time must be limited and their exposure to different types of content must be supervised.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[18] ‘In addition, however, just as research has documented that watching violent films and television programming can lead to increased hostility and aggression in children,36 some research also suggests an association between playing violent computer games and increased aggression. 37 Although the causal direction of the association is unclear, the critical variable linked to subsequent aggressive behavior appears to be the child’s preference for playing such games.’, ibid., p. 8.

[19] ‘Of most concern are the findings that playing violent computer games may increase aggressiveness and desensitize a child to suffering, and that the use of computers may blur a child’s ability to distinguish real life from simulation.’, Subrahmanyam et al., ‘The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development’, The Future of Children (10.2.123), 2000.

[20]The strongest evidence examining how home computer use affects children builds on the studies of television concerning physical effects and violent content. The evidence on physical effects links the sedentary nature of computer use to an increased risk of obesity. Children should limit their time with media and should be taught to use computers safely to avoid the types of eye, back, and wrist injuries that have plagued adult computer users. In addition, the evidence on violent content links exposure to violent computer games to increased aggressive behavior.’, ibid., p. 139.

[21] ‘While use of a home computer is widely assumed to have a positive impact on children’s learning, little research exists to confirm this assumption. The limited evidence available suggests that home computer use is linked to slightly better academic performance, but these studies failed to control for other factors. Thus, it is difficult to know whether a child’s academic performance reflects use of a home computer or a greater level of family income and education-factors that are highly correlated with both home computer ownership and better academic performance.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.9), 2000.

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