Desensitization and Media Violence

Last Updated: 10 Jan 2022
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Discuss the relationship between violence in the media violence in the society. Does violence in the media make people more tolerant of violence in the society? Also, does violence in the media cause people to behave violently? The impact of violence in the media relating to the society is an intense topic discussed in this century. Gerbner defined violence as “a threat or use of physical force, directed against the self or others in which physical harm or death is involved” (cited in Giddens, 2006, p. 610).

The media includes different means of communication, such as television, radio, newspapers, video games; internet etc. People make use of media as a source of information, entertainment and leisure activity (Brown, 2005, p. 161). According to O’Donnell (2005), the two main roles of the media are to make profit in terms of money and promote particular ideology. The information that people see, hear or read has great influence on people’s identities, values and interests. It also affects the way people think and act regarding particular issues based on the “provided” evidence (Brown, 2005,p. 62). However, people have ability to evaluate and decide what they hear, see or read based on their social experiences, ethnic origin, social class and gender (Brown, 2005, p. 185). Now, the questions arise as, what is the relationship between media violence and the violence in the society? Whether media violence cause people to behave violently or it desensitizes people? Throughout this century, sociologists and researchers have examined these issues and have attempted to explain or disprove it using different theories and researches.

In the first place, the media plays great role in shaping values, attitudes and behaviour through norm setting agenda. It reinforces conformity to social norms and discourages non-conformist behaviour (Brown, 2005, p. 169). It also provides other information that the society feels important like weather and health. However, conflict approach declares that the media controls ideas and thoughts of the society through agenda setting and gate keeping (Brown, 2005, p. 169). In addition to that, the media used to enlarge the news of crime and violence to keep people occupied with these issues.

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For example, attacks older people, stabbing, raping and gang fights get over reported (Brown, 2005,p. 182). Thompson’s theory of audience models stated that interaction between media and people is “mediated quasi-interaction” which means there is no face to face or direct connection. So, it leaves the viewers in a discussion of unanswered questions. This promotes ideology and influence of what media wants on people (Giddens, 2006, p. 604). The gratification model audience uses the media for what they want and ignore the rest.

Instead, hypodermic model audience what they hear, see or read without thinking about it (Giddens, 2006, p. 608&609). So, physically or emotionally “excited” viewers become easily stimulated by violence (Anderson & Wartell, 2003, p. 85). According to Brown (2005), “estimates suggest young viewers will see around 13000 murders on television”. Osofsky & Eisenberg (1995&2000) stated that exposure to violence undermine the development of emotion regulation skills. This leads to aggressive behaviour, attitudes and loss of problem solving strategies (cited in Funk et. al. , 2004, p. 24).

It also effects moral evaluation, as a result the viewer fails to perceive or respond to signs (Eron, 2001, cited in Funk et. al. , 2004, p. 26). Researchers and sociologists refer these effects as “desensitization”. Desensitization occurs due to repeated exposure to real life violence (Ceballo et al. , 2001, cited in Funk et. al. , 2004, p. 26). Likewise, fictional violence like movies and video games also contribute to the violence behaviour (Funk et. al. , 2004, p. 26). The media produces "a powerful desensitization intervention on a global level” (Science Daily, 2006). Furthermore, desensitization is divided into two categories.

When, the viewer show numbing or blunting of emotional reaction to violent events is called emotional desensitization. When people start reacting that violence is nothing extraordinary, it is kind of daily routine is called cognitive desensitization (Funk et al. , 2004, p. 26). A study was conducted to examine desensitization by Drabman & Thomas (1974). In this study, the children who viewed violent movie needed adult help to avoid the aggressive thinking towards the scenes. The amount of time that people spend on watching violent media leads to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Schechter, 2010). Aggression is largely based on the activation and application of aggression-related knowledge structures stored in memory” (Bushman & Anderson, 2002). Later, Molitor & Hirsch (1994) confirmed that “viewing violence increases tolerance of violence” (cited in Funk et al. , 2004, p. 26). It is believed that fictional violence desensitizes people to real life violence by letting the viewer engaging in violent actions (Funk et al, 2004, p. 27). A research by Funk (2004) revealed that exposure to video game violence was associated with low empathy and stronger pro violence attitudes.

The social cognitive theory suggests that due to repeated exposure to media violence the person undergoes psychological desensitization. This theory explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns, while also providing the basis for intervention strategies (Bandura, 1997). According to Bushman & Anderson (2001), scientific evidence was sufficient to claim that media violence exposure was positively linked to significant violent behaviors and that even short-term exposure was sufficient to cause increases in aggressive behavior (cited in Bushman & Anderson, 2002).

The basis for future social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development is laid during early childhood. They can be manipulated and victimized by the media violence. “Concerns about child exposure to violent media have increased as television and video games have shown more violence” (Schechter, 2010). One of the main theories is the Bandura’s social learning theory. This theory mainly outlines that children learn violent acts after seeing them. One of the main problems faced by children, who heavily watch television, is decrease in consciousness of pain and sufferings of others.

Furthermore, they tend to be more apprehensive and alert of their surroundings. In addition to this, they resort to choose more aggressive and harmful choices towards others. Psychologists have uncovered that high exposure of violent video games can be linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and brutal criminal actions (Anderson & Bushman, 2007). The severity of violent acts from other types of media such as computer games and movies has also increased rapidly. The most recent type of media violence is the violent video games (Bushman & Anderson, (2002). Violent films and programs that probably have the most deleterious effects on children are not always the ones that adults and critics believe are the most violent” (APA, 2003). Researchers have developed several theories proving that society is affected by the influence of the media. A number of children were shown a video in which a person beats a Bobo doll. Then they were put into a room with a Bobo doll to check whether the child imitates the behavior. After it was implied, this theory proved that children imitated media violence. In addition to that, childhood ith aggression, later in life erupts criminal behaviours like spouse abuse and homicide (Anderson et al, Wartell, 2003, p. 81). Another research conducted by the psychologists, revealed that “children who watch violent movies, games and TV programs had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men” when they grow up (APA, 2003). Children get immune to the media violence they starts to imitate it (AACAP, 2011). Repeated exposure to violent media grows wide array of aggressive and violent behaviours and later it reforms as aggressive and criminal behaviour (Bushman & Anderson, 2002).

The General Aggression model by Bushman & Anderson (2002) has proven their theory on the relationship between violence in media cause people to behave violently. When an environmental situation appears ambiguous, an individual may rely on what they have seen, heard or read to interpret that situation as hostile, warranting aggressive action (Ferguson et al. , 2008). Moreover, Peterson & Pfost (1989) discovered that exposure to non-erotic violent music videos led adversarial sexual beliefs and negative effects on men.

Similarly, another research proved that sexually subordinate images of women leads to teen dating violence in real life situations (Johnson et al. Reed, 1995, cited in Anderson et al. , 2003, p. 89). The media also play a remarkable role in “contagion of violence”. It is believed that “well known person’s suicide increase the likelihood that other people will also take their own lives” (Phillips, 1979 & Simon 1979, cited in Anderson et al, p. 89). A specific reason for the reason of violence in the society has not been discovered.

One of the main causes of this is not being able to employ a standardized measure of aggression and media violence. Measuring violent criminal behavior in laboratory studies would clearly be unethical (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). Furthermore scholars tend to not report negative findings in their researches. Despite all the research, there has been very little reliable evidence that media violence causes aggressive behavior. Media violence studies cannot be completely relied upon as they fail to account for third variables.

Researchers acknowledge that other variables may play a role in aggression and that aggression is due to a confluence of variables (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). These variables include genetics, personality and exposure to family violence. They explain why some people show violent behavior. However, the catalyst model approach reveled that these factors interact with each other (Ferguson et al. , 2008, p. 314). All things considered, that there are several angles that show the violence in the media has a correlation with the society.

It also could associates with desensitization of the people. We cry at sad movies, laugh at outrageous comedies and pump our fist whenever something explodes. What we see in films and video games invokes a physical response. If it can influence to our physical response, there is a high chance that it could influence out mental and behaviour as well. References Brown, K. , (2005), An introduction to sociology, Third edition O’Donnel, G. , (2005), Mastering Sociology, Palgrave Master Series, Fourth edition Giddens, A. , (2006), Sociology, Fifth edition Funk, J. B. et al.

Baumgardner, (2004), Violence exposure in real life, video games, television, movies and the internet: is there desensitization? , Academic Press,Toledo USA Anderson, C. A. et al. (2003), The influence of media violence on youth, American Physiological Society Schechter, D. S. et al. (2009), Is Maternal PTSD Associated with Greater Exposure of Very Young Children to Violent Media? , National Institute of Health American Physiological Association (APA), (2003), Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study, Available from: file:///S:/media-violence. spx. htm American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, (2011),Children And TV Violence, Available from: file:///S:/children_and_tv_violence. htm Ferguson, C. J. et al (2008), VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES AND AGGRESSION: Causal Relationship or Byproduct of Family Violence and Intrinsic Violence Motivation? , Texas A&M International University Bushman, B. J & Anderson, C. A. (2001) Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control Huesmann L R. 2007) The impact of electronic media violence: Scientific theory and research. Bushman, B. J & Anderson, C. A. (2002)Violent Video Games and Hostile Expectations:A Test of the General Aggression Model, Iowa State University Science Daily (2006), Psychologists Produce First Study On Violence Desensitization From Video Games, Available From: http://www. sciencedaily. com/releases/2006/07/060727162108. htm Stickland, J. (Does violence in movies and video games desensitize us to the real thing? Available from: http://electronics. howstuffworks. com/violence-desensitize. htm

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