The stream of murderous blood-letting that courses through the television tube leaves no viewer unaffected. But a study that gives a whole new meaning to "vicious cycle" reveals that those most badly scarred may be the second generation of viewers.
TV violence makes children more aggressive, and these more aggressive kids turn to watching more TV to justify their own behavior, reports Leonard Eron, Ph.D., who chairs the American Psychological Association's Commission on Violence and Youth. "Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, both genders, and all socioeconomic levels and levels of intelligence," he found in a study that spans 32 years. And the effect is not limited to those who are already disposed to being aggressive.
In 1960, Eron was looking at 875 boys and girls in the third grade of a semi-rural New York State grammar school to see how different childrearing practices affect behavior. But he made an unexpected finding: For the boys, there was a direct relationship between the violence of the programs they selected and their aggressiveness in school.
Ten years later, when Eron looked again, the link between Tv violence seen at age eight and later violent behavior was even stronger. Those boys who had low levels of aggressive behavior during the original study but who watched large amounts of violent television were now significantly more aggressive--even more so than those boys who were originally highly aggressive but did not watch violent programs.
When the original subjects were 30 years old and had children of their own Eron looked at them yet again, along with arrest records. Those who had more frequently viewed violent programs as boys had gone on to be convicted of more serious crimes and were more aggressive under the influence of alcohol. Most striking, they more often used violence to punish their children--and the children, in turn, more often preferred violent programming.
Concludes Eron: "What one learns about life from the television screen seems to be transmitted even to the next generation." The steady viewing of violent programs by the men as youngsters taught them ways of solving interpersonal problems that stuck over the years.