Shootout At The Not-So-Ok Corral

New research confirms that television violence is more than a nuisance. It’s becoming a public-health problem.

In 1957 my family purchased a television set, and my father laid down the law. No gunplay. I could watch anything I wanted until the shooting started.

Under my father’s wary eye, I switched on “Gun-smoke.” And before the title sequence was completed, Marshal Dillon had beat a bad guy to the draw and Sheriff Dad had turned off the set.

What my father, like many parents, knew instinctively is now recognized as scientific fact: watching TV violence not only stimulates aggressive behavior in children, it contributes enormously to societal violence. And journals as diverse as TV Guide and the Journal of the American Medical Association are labeling TV violence a “public health problem.”

Earlier this year the Journal of the AMA published a report by Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington. Until recently, he wrote, television violence had been studied only in laboratory settings or in short-term field studies. But in the past decade, some 20 long-term field studies have been published, and their results are clear: Each showed a positive correlation between viewing TV violence and acting out violent or aggressive behavior.

One study chronicled physical aggression in 45 first-and second-grade students in a remote Canadian town (called “Notel” by the researchers) that did not get television until 1973. Students’ behavior was compared with that of children in two towns that already had television. Over a two-year period, the rate of physical aggression among the control group did not change significantly. But the “Notel” children’s rate of physical aggression increased by 160 percent.

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