Friday, November 24, 2006

Debunking Media Effects Debates

One of the major criticisms of media effects research, particularly in regards to the linkage between viewing/playing violent content and actual violent behaviour, is that the studies showing causality/correlations aren't longitudinal, and therefore lack in validity or generalizability. This was certainly brought up in the Amici Curiae brief used to challenge evidence presented during early court cases around video game violence. As it turns out, however, that's not exactly true. In 2003, Huesmann et al. published findings from a 15-year longitudinal study into the impact of children's exposure to television violence on their behaviour and attitudes as adults. Here's a link to the press release on apa.org, and here's a copy of the abstract:
Although the relation between TV-violence viewing and aggression in childhood has been clearly demonstrated, only a few studies have examined this relation from childhood to adulthood, and these studies of children growing up in the 1960s reported significant relations only for boys. The current study examines the longitudinal relations between TV-violence viewing at ages 6 to 10 and adult aggressive behavior about 15 years later for a sample growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Follow-up archival data and interview data reveal that childhood exposure to media violence predicts young adult aggressive behavior for both males and females. Identification with aggressive TV characters and perceived realism of TV violence also predict later aggression. These relations persist even when the effects of socioeconomic status, intellectual ability, and a variety of parenting factors are controlled.

This certainly seems to debunk the argument that there is no conclusive evidence that media affects behaviour and challenges the reliance of media effects critics on the supposed lack of longitudinal studies. I'm surprised, however, that this study has not come up before now in my research into the debates and court cases around video game violence (though included in lit reviews and the APA's meta-analysis). The initial reliance on Anderson's early studies has certainly hindered the quality and accuracy of the discourse around these issues.

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