How strong is the link between violent media imagery and aggressive behavior? L. Rowell Huesmann, a University of Michigan psychologist who has spent more than 40 years studying the subject, puts it this way: It is only slightly less strong than the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
In a new study published in a special December 2007 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Huesmann and colleague Brad Bushman review 41 studies of media violence, going as far back as 1963. "The research clearly shows that exposure to virtual violence increases the risk that both children and adults will behave aggressively," he concluded in a release from the University of Michigan.
Huesmann, a professor of communications studies and psychology and a senior research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, reported that exposure to media violence increases the likelihood that a person will act aggressively both in the short term and later in life.
In effect, he said, the mass media has brought the sort of "bad influences" parents have always feared right into the home.
"It is now not just kids in bad neighborhoods or with ‘bad' friends who are likely to be exposed to bad things when they go out into the street," he was quoted by the Web site MedPage Today. "A ‘virtual' bad street is easily available to most youth now."
The report summarizes the conclusions of a conference on media violence convened by the federal Centers for Disease Control in 2006.
"As with many public health threats, not every child who is exposed to this threat will acquire the affliction of violent behavior," Huesmann said. "But that does not diminish the need to address the threat — as a society and as parents, by trying to control children's exposure to violent media to the extent that we can."