Is Aggressive Behavior Linked to Television Violence?
According the Centerwall (1992), the average child aged 2-5 in 1990 watched 27 hours of
television per day, or almost 4 hours per day. When much of what is on television, including
cartoons and television shows targeted at children, contains violence, it becomes important to
know whether watching televised violence can lead to or increase aggressive behavior. Social
learning theory tells us that children model their behavior after those they see. It is reasonable,
then, to infer that watching violence on television will lead to behaving violently, due to the
modeling effect. The present study reviews some relevant prior research, and then investigates
the hypothesis that children who view violent television behave more aggressively than children
who view less violent television do.
Centerwall (1992) performed an intriguing study that strongly suggests a positive
correlation with television viewing and aggressive, violent behavior. This study looks at the effect
that the introduction of television had on the populations of three countries: the United States,
Canada, and South Africa. Centerwall compared the homicide rates in these three countries
during the years of 1945, 1974, and 1987. In 1945, the US and Canada were blessed with
television, so the homicide statistics from 1945 were the last statistics that did not have the
influence of television. South Africa, in contrast, did not receive television until 1975. Before
1975, South Africa had introduced other media radio and cinema for example so these
statistics isolate the effect of television as a cause of increased homicide rates. Centerwall
included statistics from Canada to provide an additional control for the effects of the Civil Rights
Movement and the Vietnam War on the US statistics between 1945 and 1975.
Centerwall found that in between 1945 and 1975, the homicide rate in the US increased by
93%, while in Canada, the homicide rate increased by 92% after the introduction of television. In
South Africa, however, the homicide rate decreased by 7%. In case we might think that South
Africa is just a less violent country than the US or Canada, Centerwall included the homicide rates
for the three countries in 1987. In the US and Canada, no significant changes were noted,
Homicides per 100,000
showing that the homicide rate had reached a plateau, at a rate that was nearly twice the pre-
television rate. In the fifteen years after South Africa received television, between 1975 and 1987,
the homicide rate increased by 130%. This is convincing evidence that...