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Childhood viewing of TV violence affects women as well as men

Both girls and boys who watch a lot of violence on television are more likely to behave violently as young adults, according to a 15-year study by social psychologist L. Rowell Huesmann and colleagues at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). The study appears in the current issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.
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Males between the ages of 6 and 9 who were heavy viewers of violent TV shows were twice as likely as other males to push, grab or shove their spouses, and three times as likely to be convicted of criminal behavior by the time they were in their early 20s, the long-term study of 329 people found. Females who were high-volume viewers of violent shows as young children were more than twice as likely as other young women to have thrown something at their spouses, and more than four times as likely as other young women to have punched, beaten or choked another adult. The analysis was supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health.

"Both girls and boys with a high exposure to TV violence in first through fourth grades were more aggressive as adults, even when we statistically controlled for their childhood aggressiveness, social class, intelligence and many other factors," said Huesmann. "We also found that greater identification with same-sex aggressive characters, and a stronger belief that violent shows 'tell it like it is,' predicted violent adult behavior."

Earlier studies of the long-term impact of TV violence, including a classic 1960 study by Huesmann and ISR psychologist Leonard Eron, found harmful effects only for boys.

"It's possible that the feminist movement of the late 60s and 70s has made females less inhibited about expressing aggression," Huesmann said. "Also, there has been an increase in aggressive female role models on TV and in the movies."

For the current study, Huesmann and colleagues first interviewed children in 1977. They also interviewed the children's parents and classmates, and collected information about them from school records. Fifteen years later, they tracked down as many as they could find, re-interviewing the subjects, now in their early 20s, and a spouse, parent or sibling whenever possible. The researchers also used public archival information, including driver's license and criminal justice records. Using statistical analyses to sort out the effects of a range of factors, the researchers found that childhood exposure to TV violence predicted an increase in adult aggression, regardless of the initial aggressiveness of the child, the child's intellectual ability, the parents' educational background and status, and various parenting practices, including the use of corporal punishment.

According to Huesmann, the findings emphasize the importance of controlling childhood exposure to media violence. He hopes that the results will help to inform both policy-makers and parents that a high and steady diet of TV violence in early childhood increases the risk that both females and males from all social backgrounds will become violent, aggressive adults. "Media violence can affect any child from any family, not just children who are already violence-prone," Huesmann said.

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