Lawrence Rubin Ph.D, ABPP, LMHC, RPT-S

Popular Culture Meets Psychology

Have It Your Way, Jackass!

Young people will immitate the violence they see on television.

Posted Sep 26, 2010

Young people who are predisposed to violence, who cognitively frame problems and problematic relationships in violent terms, and who are more easily physiologically aroused, are more likely to act violently following exposure to violent media (televison, film, video games). The National Television Violence Study, the work of Jerome and Dorothy Singer as well as of the American Psychological Association are testament to this. Further, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's statement entitled, Children and TV Violence, suggests that children and teens, particularly those with emotional and impulse control problems, become immune to television violence and may identify with certain characters in violent programming.

What about dangerous and violent risk-taking behavior? Might the same relationship exist? Is it possible that certain young people, who are predisoposed to impulsive and dangerous risk-taking behavior, might engage  in similar behavior after watching television commercials.  

An extensive study by the Univiersity of Michigan Health System,  concluded that young people will immitate the violence they see on television, and by extension, it makes sense that if a person has difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy (in this case,advertising due to the ubiquity and real-life nature of television commercials), and is already prone to impulsivity and poor decision making, that these little slices-of-violence may be far more influential in a negative way than we have even imagined. Certainly, there is a wealth of scientific literature suggesting that violence in television commericals is prevalent and influential. There is also research linking sensation seeking to arousing television commercials.

I would like to propose The Jackass Effect, borrowed from the spate of movies and television shows that capitalize on people doing dangerous and potentiaslly self-destructive things for laughs, 15 minutes of Youtube fame, and in more recent years, television and movie ratings. And they are not always kids, but young and not-so-young adults.

I guess that I, like most consumers of television violence have become immune, or perhaps innured to the violence, aggression and unconscionable destructiveness in television advertising. Look at Burger King, and before you say, "oh, it's only fast food, think again.  I imagine that BK spends unimaginable sums on advertising.  It's hard being second in a world that rewards only first place. Like Avis, who tries harder, BK has gone off the rails in hot pursuit of McDonalds in using sex, violence and suicidal-like risk taking behavior in ads for their products. A few examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cJVkID8Yqw       jumping out of window
http://www.thelocal.se/24536/20100122/                  head butting
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHd04pAjMRA    face slap
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9LgxP7-bJAb     hungry guy rams cars
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQz3pv6aMtA     air horn

and, there is another BK commerical that shows a guy rolling down a mountain in a tire wheel, but I can no longer find it!

Lest you think I am ranting and raving, my message is simple. While fast food may be harmful in its own right, that harm pales in comparison to the mindless and gratuitous violence perpetrated in the name of advertising. My suggestions...

Stricter regulatory, parental and moral control over this type of advertising.  It's not a laughing matter, nor is it sufficient to write off this kind of thing to people simply acting like jackasses. Tell your kids (and perhaps, yourselves), that you don't have to be a jackass to 'have it your way' in life.