Deadly Affairs, Deadly Women, Beauty Queen Murders, Southern Fried Homicide, and Wives with Knives. These are all names of popular television shows that are readily available, day or night, for young adults, children, and families to view. Whatever happened to wholesome shows like I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, and The Andy Griffith Show? The answer is simple. They were slowly replaced by more “politically correct”, “modern”, and financially profitable shows.
According to the BLS American Time Use Survey, the average American will spend nine years of their lifetime watching television. That means that the average person and family will see incomprehensible amounts of media violence and sexually explicit material due to the quality and quantity of our entertainment options. In the family unit, children and young adults suffer the most due to prolonged exposure to violent and/or sexually explicit media. In a study done by Brown and L’Engle, examining 1,200 public middle school students in the Southeastern United States, it was found that there is a strong positive correlation between viewing “sexually explicit media” and negative psychosexual development. This negative psychosexual development in adolescents could lead to an increase in antisocial behaviors such as sexual harassment, severe aggression, and the abuse of others before they even reach adulthood.
Malamuth and Briere were concerned about the rising trend of popular media depicting women being sexually assaulted and the connection to antisocial behaviors against women. They determined that cognitions toward future sexual aggression begin both directly and indirectly. Direct cognitions, following contact with erotic media, allow for a person to have a very “specific reaction to the specific event”. However, in more of an indirect manner, seeing sexually aggressive media may not manifest into personal actions against women for years and then vary from the sexually violent stimulus they originally encountered. This means that if an adolescent sees sexual erotica they may immediately act on what they have seen or act on their impulses many years later.
Malamuth hypothesized that mass media “primes” viewers to find arousal or satisfaction with sexual deviance over time.
From their research, they found that viewing suggestive material over extended periods of time could actually change the way one processes thoughts and could eventually “desensitize” or “numb” entirely. With visual stimulation so easily accessible to children and young adults, the amount of harm that could be done to them over the years and possible harm they could inflict on others is staggering.
Why is producing violent/sexually violent or explicit media so profitable? It has become profitable because we have allowed it into our homes and become, as Malamuth and Briere hypothesized, “primed” and “desensitized” with a need to consume more violence and sex.
I, too, have not been immune to the pervasiveness of violent media and media with sexually explicit tones. Some of my favorite shows are Dexter, a show centered on a lovable serial killer, and The Vampire Diaries, a popular young adult show with brilliant characters and settings but long, detailed depictions of sexual violence and gore. I haven’t always found an interest in this type of media. It was a slow process. I started watching small acts of violence with my family in popular movies but then, like any growing addiction, needed a bit more in order to stay satisfied. With so many venues of violent media to choose from, it’s easy to become swept into the popular new shows, movies, videogames, songs, and eventually ideologies of/on “constructive” violence – violence that is done in the name of “nobility” and “justice”.
Does it impact our ability to care about others?
In a study done by Bushman and Anderson, they asserted that the viewing of violent media makes people extremely less likely to help others or be altruistic. This means that the many forms of violent media that claim to demonstrate “altruistic violence” are really just demonstrating violent act after violent act and we, as a society, are just taking it all in.
In Bushman and Anderson’s study of 320 college students who played either a violent or nonviolent video game, the act of helping at all and the time elapsed before helping someone in need were both significantly different for both groups. Nonviolent game players tended to quickly come to aid and made the decision to help considerably faster than violent game players. Many violent game players, in fact, commented that they felt that the seriousness of the person’s condition wasn’t so bad and so they didn’t feel that they were needed.
This study, although small, demonstrates the “desensitization procedure” modeled by Bushman and Anderson’s work mentioned previously. The “procedure” begins by, first, exposure to the stimuli, second, the desensitization effect or loss of physiological reactions to the stimulus, third, cognitive outcomes such as “decreased sympathy for victims”, and then finally behavioral outcomes such as not intervening and increased aggression. As a society, decreased sensitivity to the suffering of others or threats to our own personal safety make us extremely more vulnerable to antisocial behaviors and threatens our humanity.
Along with the increased probability of antisocial behaviors, a study done in 2002 by Gentile and Walsh found that watching too much television (namely non-educational programs) is positively correlated with lower school performance, increased obesity, and increased aggression. It was also discovered that “high levels of Internet is associated with lowered time spent with other human beings, lower communication, and increased depression and loneliness”. Obesity, poor grades, less communication with others, depression, and loneliness are not the characteristics of a thriving, intellectual society. Gentile and Wash, however, didn’t just find the negative effects of entertainment and the media.
If used in the correct way, entertainment and the media were found to also be a source of renewal for our society and personal social groups. They actually found that “the amount of reading (reading volume) contributes significantly to vocabulary, general knowledge, spelling, and verbal fluency, even controlling for differences in intelligence and reading ability”. Also found was the fact that “Educational television has been shown to teach prosocial attitudes (e.g., nonsexist and nonracist attitudes), skills (e.g., reading, math, science, media literacy skills, etc.), emotion recognition, and empathy”.
So who does violent media hurt? It hurts us all in some way or another. However, it doesn’t have to become a parasite that eats away at the essence of our humanity. We have the power to simply change the type of entertainment and media that we crave. For many of us, a change is in order.
Cameron Conyers is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University Idaho and in her senior year. She is majoring in psychology with a minor in marriage and family studies. She is very interested in family advocacy and the role that the family plays in the structure of society.
Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with u.s. early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36(1), 129-151. doi: 10.1177/0093650208326465
Gentile, D. A., & Walsh, D. A. (2002). A normative study of family media habits. Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 157–178. Retrieved from http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/~dgentile/Gentile_Walsh_2002.pdfa
Malamuth, N. M., & Briere, J. (1986). Sexual violence in the media: Indirect effects on aggression against women. Journal of Social Issues, 42(3), 75–92.