The debate about whether or not viewing physical violence in the media causes increases in aggression in both children and adults has been going on for decades. There have been research findings to support both sides of the argument. Douglas Gentile , who is a psychology professor at Iowa State University, has found that onscreen relation aggression, which includes social exclusion, gossip, and emotional bullying, may prime the brain for aggression.
“Frenemies. Fraitors, and Mean-em-aitors’: Priming effects of viewing physical and relational aggression in the media on women,” had three additional co-authors: Sarah Coyne and David Nelson of Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, and Jennifer Ruh Linder, a psychology professor at Linfield College in Oregon.
The study focused on 250 college women; it also found that mean screens might lead to the activation of the neural networks that are responsible for guiding behavior. Gentile said that shows that relational aggression can cause a change in the way you think. This is significant because how you think can alter your behavior.
Three fictional video clips were show to the participants. The researchers evaluated the cognitive patterns of the women after they watched each video clip. The first clip demonstrated physical aggression; it included a gun and knife fight, which resulted in murder. The second video showed relational aggression; there were girls stealing boyfriends, spreading malicious gossip, and kicking someone out of their social circle. Finally, the third video was a scary scene meant to raise the women’s heartbeat.
Researchers looked at the physiological arousal that the women experienced while watching each of the three videos and concluded that all three videos produced comparable levels of excitement. It was not specified how this was assessed. Reaction times to aggressive and neutral words flashing on a screen were measured as well.
The interesting finding was that participants who watched either aggressive clip made a stronger connection and gave more meaning to the words that were associated with aggression.
Linder said “Past research has shown that viewing physical violence on TV activates aggressive scripts in the brain, but our findings suggest that watching both onscreen physical or relational aggression activates those cognitive scripts.” This means that the viewers do not simply imitate television characters or choose to be more aggressive with their behavior. Their aggressive reactions are of a more automatic nature and less conscious than you would expect.
This is relevant because in today’s society relational aggression has become more acceptable. This is evident in television where it is portrayed as funny and normal behavior between friends. It is problematic because studies are beginning to show that relational aggression can have negative, harmful, long-term effects.
Gentile says cyberbullying is an example of these effects because it is a classic case of relational aggression. He explains that cyberbullying is being treated as if it is something different and new. It is relational aggression because it does all the same things that relational aggression does.
More research is necessary to determine if the results of this study can also be applied to men and to test whether this script activation can indeed change behavior.
- The Brain Primed For Aggression By Physical Violence In The Media (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Study shows mean screens prime the brain for aggression (eurekalert.org)
- Watching Mean People On TV Might Turn You Into One (newsfeed.time.com)
- Did You Get Your Relational Aggression Vaccination This Year? (jparadisirn.com)
- Nasty people in the media prime the brain for aggression (sciencedaily.com)
- Bad to the Bone: Are Humans Naturally Aggressive? (my.psychologytoday.com)