The term media violence research refers to studies or clinical experiments that attempt to define how greatly people’s actions are influenced by exposure to violent media like films, television, and video games. There are studies designed to prove that this effect is minimal, and many research efforts that claim to show connections between violent media and violent or more aggressive behavior. These oppositional purposes create strong arguments for and against the position that people exhibit more aggression if they’re exposed to more violent images. There is no consensus, despite studies dating back at least 50 years, as to the connection between exposure to violent images and acts. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that this area is notoriously difficult to study and information derived in research or analysis may conflict.
One challenge of conducting media violence research is that it isn’t pure. Landmark studies in this area have used groups of children and shown them cartoon images that are violent, and then studied their behavior in play settings afterwards to see if they were more aggressive. The children shown violent images are more aggressive, though such studies don’t usually account for how long aggressive behavior lasts. Those arguing against this type of study assert that some of these children may have been more aggressive to begin with, might come from families with more stressful social dynamics, and are highly unlikely to have first viewed a violent image in the study. Since humans being evaluated come to these studies with diverse backgrounds, it’s hard to say whether aggressive behavior has a direct causal relationship with violent images.
To counter this criticism, some media violence research that asserts connections between witnessed and performed aggression may study increases in violent images in media, and match this up with corresponding inclines in cultural violence.
Some see greater violence in the population, and others find less. Again, the argument exists that it’s difficult to know exactly how much violence the average person sees and whether this causes them to be more or less violent. Additionally, studies exist that may show positive benefits to activities like video game playing; a research study in 2010 concluded that gaming may help alleviate depression in teens.
The purity of media violence research takes another hit from critics on both sides because violence or aggression aren’t well-defined, and most studies examine a relatively short period of time. If evaluating a direct connection between violent images and subsequent violent behavior, researchers have to define what such behavior would include. Sometimes, the definition of aggression is extremely wide, and other times very narrow. These differing definitions make it difficult to determine exactly how much “aggressive” images and behavior are joined and how serious that link is.
Ultimately, media violence research tries to answer questions about the correlation between violent media exposure and violent human behavior. Though a preponderance of these studies exists, they don’t necessarily prove cause or lack thereof. Humans can’t be studied in a vacuum, and it’s hard to perform research on people who already may have diverse experiences in their past that may make them more or less aggressive. Moreover, defining aggression or violence remains a challenge and creates problems for any research in this area.