In the early 2000s the spike in adolescence playing video games grew exponentially. A few different games that came out during this time were Grand Theft Auto, Night Trap and Call of Duty. Each of these games displayed virtual violence and crime as they alluded to justifying this behavior that was accepted digitally yet rebuked in society (Bates & Swan, 2018). In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to pass a law from selling “extremely violent video games” to minors. After consideration, this law was deemed as “unconstitutional” because it violated the 1st amendment and individual’s freedom of speech (Brown, 2011). Although this was against freedom of speech, I believe politicians had a great reasoning behind violent video games and the effect it had on children as they mature. Call of Duty was one of the games that Adam Lanza played frequently before committing the heinous crime in December of 2012.
“Numerous studies have shown that exposure to media violence increases aggression, though the mechanisms of this effect has remained elusive” (Bartholow et al., 2006). Bruce Bartholow, Brad Bushman and Marc Sestir (2006) analyze this idea with repeated exposure to violence in video games as this is reflected through different areas in the brain that are highlighted during the time of engagement. One of the main traits that Bartholow et al., focuses on is the aggressiveness in which is exhibited as an individual engages with violent material electronically. An amplitude known as the P300 is activated within the motivational sector of the brain when an individual interacts with the violent video games. This theoretical explanation tries to explain the depth in which chronic exposure to violence in gaming systems leads to negative behavioral reactions. Also noted, is the idea behind an inverse relationship between “P300 amplitude elicited by violent stimuli and indices of aggressive behavior” because “desensitization theoretically weakens the aversive motivation system pertaining to violence” (Bartholow et al., 2006). Simply, when the psychological response induces specific behaviors within a person due to the media, they’re exposed to the continual exposure potentially could have detrimental chronic effects on an individual.
Participants that volunteered for this study were thirty-nine male undergraduates with an average age of about 19.5 years old. This measure included video game violence exposure, trait aggressiveness, aggressive behavior, electrophysiological recording and picture viewing task. One of Bartholow and colleagues’ main predictions was that there would be a smaller physiological response within the brain from users who engaged with violent videos games consistently versus users who engaged with nonviolent video games (Bartholow et al., 2006). This would determine if the stimuli these individuals were exposed to led to them to be more aggressive. Bartholow and colleagues second prediction was that in the competitive reaction time task there would be a significant incline in aggressive behavior when violent images were exposed. However, a “regression analysis” concluded that the “smaller P300 amplitudes to violent images during the picture viewing task were significantly associated with higher levels of aggression” (Bartholow et al., 2006). Bartholow et al., also tested this hypothesis with the nonviolent video images, and in a separate regression analysis controlled for aggression as a mediating variable and concluded a strong linear relationship. Finally, Bartholow and his colleagues concluded that “chronic exposure to violent video games specifically… has lasting effects on brain function and behavior” (Bartholow et al., 2006).
As discussed in the previous study, brain functioning and the altercation of violent behaviors that juveniles engage in can partially be attributed to the act of engaging in violent video games. Executive cognitive functioning is critical for adolescents to attain in order to process different mental capacities, gain new understandings and enhance their knowledge skills. However, chronic exposure to violent video games creates an abnormality in the frontal lobe of the brain while an individual is engaging in executive functioning tasks. Developmental psychologists even discuss how overstimulation or under stimulation from infancy through middle childhood and adolescents can have detrimental effects on a child as they grow up, let alone stimulation from negative media. Christakis, Ramirez and Ramirez (2012) did an experiment on infant mice and how overstimulation has negative effects even on animals with very low executive cognitive functioning (Fales, 2019a). They defined excessive stimulation in this study as noise in the background at 70 decibels at a normative rate and rhythm for 6 hours a day and 42 days straight. Christakis et al., found that excessive stimulation in mice had increased risk-taking, decreased caution, poorer short-term memory and impaired learning. These findings were similar to correlational studies with children. If juveniles report having excessive stimulation in general could this be a factor in why they act out?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) suggests that children between the ages of 2-5 should only be watching high quality programming along with parental engagement for up to 60 minutes per day (Fales, 2019a). Exposure to brutality in the media across different cultures show significant lower rates in crime than their U.S. agemates. U.S. juveniles commit far greater and more violent crimes than their opposing agemates in the cultures of Japan, Europe and Canada (Mosher, 2019a). Is there a correlation between violent media viewing and juvenile crime in the U.S., or are these differences accounted for in other areas outside of the media? The impact that early social media use can leave on children manifest themselves in three different ways: learning, sleep and obesity. First, learning affects children exposed to excessive media because there are deficits in their cognitive functioning skills, as mentioned in the Bartholow study, as well as language deficits. There are also deficits within parent and child interactions as well as poor family functioning. This idea can relate back to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and when adolescents don’t have a positive mentor or parent-like figure in their life. Studies have shown that these individuals get caught up in crime as parental figures are rare or non-existent (Mosher, 2019b). Next, sleep is crucial for children, especially in the early childhood years. Yet, excessive media including violent media use could deprive these children from sleep. The casualties of children not obtaining enough sleep, as well as waking up or being disrupted while sleeping increases the level of cortisol released, a stress hormone that accumulates in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Developmental Psychologists have found that increased cortisol secretion is linked in longitudinal studies to deviancy (Fales, 2019b). Lastly, the impact of early social media use in linked to obesity is small yet significant. Through a biological perspective, obesity and lack of self-control can overlap and could be an underlying explanation of juvenile delinquency however it is inconclusive.
Gabriel Tarde studied the area of behavior and social learning theory to understand why individuals act violently. He focused on the social processes behind why individuals act the way they do in a group setting versus as an individual (Mosher, 2019a). The central component of his theory is the Law of Imitation regarding three sections: the law of close contact, the law of imitation of superiors by inferiors and the law of insertion(Mosher, 2019a).The law of close contact centralizes it’s ideas behind that people like to imitate individuals they surround themselves by. More importantly, adolescents especially want to imitate others to fit in with peers to avoid the ridicule of being rejected. This is also emphasized as someone whom individuals admire (Mosher, 2019a). The law of imitation of superiors by inferiors analyzes why people follow individuals who are presented as leaders or models instead of those who are not admired by society at large (Mosher, 2019a). This could look like, watching a homeless person steal some food from a fruit stand versus watching someone who is dressed in a suit steal fruit. The majority of individuals would justify the reasoning behind why a homeless person may steal fruit but would think it’s absolutely obscure for a professional dressed ‘up’ to do the same. Lastly, Tarde focused on the law of insertion meaning that there is “power in newness and novelty” (Mosher, 2019a). The newest trend has become the most popular way of how social processes are passed from individual to individual. If these three laws culminated together are powerful indicators of why violence occurs within criminals because they help others understand who or what they saw to validate their actions.
Albert Bandura a social psychologist studied the behaviors of criminals and dedicated a portion of his work in arguing that “people are not born with the ability to act violently but learn to be aggressive through their life experiences” (Mosher, 2019a). Bandura bases his theory on modeling from three main areas in an individual’s life: parents, environmental experiences and mass media. A criminal who fits into the description in which Albert Bandura talks about aggression and violence through media viewing along with environmental factors and parental figures is Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy was a serial killer and was convicted in March of 1976 of kidnapping a young woman from Salt Lake City. This one incident led law enforcement down a path of multiple violent crimes that Bundy was involved in for years. Later, prior to execution Bundy admitted to over 30 murders. An article written by Stav Dimitropoulos (2016) discusses the childhood of Ted Bundy and what he was exposed to along with how he was raised to explain the reasons behind why a man would commit such heinous crimes. Stated in the article, Dimitropoulos discusses how Bundy was lonely as a child, had divorced parents, dysfunction emotionally and had been exposed to erotic media from a young age (Dimitropoulos, 2016). With viewing violence in the media, a potential thought is that Ted Bundy saw this as acceptable behavior, to engage in regardless of how it would make the other individuals feel. The genesis of his obsession began in middle childhood to his early adolescent years creating an irreversible habit. When police interviewed Bundy, remorse was nonexistent in his body language and responses.
To say that the crimes Ted Bundy committed has a causal relationship to media violence is impossible yet realistic. However, there are other psychologists and criminologists who hold a different view than Bandura. Jonathan Freedman assessed the relationship between media and violence by reviewing 200 studies on this topic (Mosher, 2019a). The evidence he found illustrated that, “only 37% supported the hypothesis… 22% had mixed results… [and] 41% did not support the hypothesis” (Mosher, 2019a). From the 37% of studies which did support the hypothesis behind a relationship between media and violence, the findings concluded that the aggression originated from the arousal or demand characteristics provided from the study (Mosher, 2019a). Conversely to Bandura’s theory of media and violence, Freedman proposed that the actions implemented by criminals is instead due to arousal and anticipation instead of imitation.
The hypothesis of a link between exposure to media violence and behavioral issues may have a more significant relationship than media violence and aggression or heinous actions. Christakis and Zimmerman (2007) conducted two studies where they assessed first how antisocial behavior in preschool was related to violent television viewing and secondly how early media exposure is associated with attentional problems. Christakis and Zimmerman (2007) defined violence for both of these studies as, “hostile language, threatening behavior, and cartoon violence”. Parents were to watch their children and rate them on scale if the child’s behavior was either, “not true (1), true (2) or often true (3)” (Christakis & Zimmerman, 2007). All of the behaviors resulting in antisocial or attentional problems were to be rated based off of this scale and submitted as part of the experiment. First, Christakis and Zimmerman (2007) explored how the association with violent television was linked to antisocial behavior in girls and boys ages seven to ten. They found that, there was no significant correlation with girls and antisocial behavior, however there was with boys. This statistic was greater if the child viewed violent television between the ages of two to four and attributed these characteristics as they got older (Christakis & Zimmerman, 2007). After doing the second study, Christakis and Zimmerman (2007) found that children who watched violent entertainment under the age of three years old for an hour a day or more that there was an “association [with] attentional problems five years later”.
All in all, extensive studies have illustrated that there is a connection between exposure to media violence the act of committing crimes. Media violence doesn’t originate from one core electronic device but varies with music, video games, TV, movies and advertisements. By looking at different scenarios such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the horrible violent crimes Ted Bundy committed we can see the relation as mass amounts of violent media could have been a factor in their decision. Bartholow and his colleagues, Anderson and Dill and lastly, Ferguson each conducted different studies to understand the link between media violence and violent criminal actions. Gabriel Tarde and Albert Bandura look at the reasons behind why individuals commit crimes through a social learning theory perspective while Zimmerman and Christakis looked at reverse causality of individuals with attentional problems and exposing themselves to violent media. Developmental psychologists have also done extensive research to prove this idea of media exposure in general from a young age can have damaging and longitudinal effects, regardless of whether it is violent or not.
Bartholow, B. D., Bushman, B. J., & Sestir, M. A. (2006). Chronic violent video game exposure and desensitization to violence: Behavioral and event-related brain potential data. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42(4), 532–539. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2005.08.006
Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. 131 S. Ct. 2279.11 (2011)
Dimitropoulos, S. (2018, April 16). What Happened in Ted Bundy’s Childhood That May Have Led to Him Becoming a Serial Killer? Retrieved from https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/ted-bundy-childhood-turned-into-serial-killer.
Christakis, D. A., & Zimmerman, F. J. (2007). Violent Television Viewing During Preschool Is Associated With Antisocial Behavior During School Age. Pediatrics, 120(5), 993–999. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-3244
Mosher, C (2019a). Media and Delinquency [Lecture]. Juvenile Delinquency. Retrieved from Washington State University Blackboard http://www.wsu.edu/blackboard
Mosher, C (2019b). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) [Lecture]. Criminology.
Fales, J (2019a). Physical Development Infancy. [Lecture]. Developmental Psychology.
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