Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

07-31-06

Contacts:

Douglas Gentile, Psychology, (515) 294-1472, dgentile@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

Darin Broton, National Institute on Media and the Family, (651) 221-1999, D.Broton@new-school.com

ISU study connects violent TV/video games with elementary school aggression

AMES, Iowa -- A study led by Iowa State University researchers of 1,370 elementary school children found that those who consume high amounts of both television violence and violent video games are nearly twice as likely to engage in physically aggressive behavior as those children who consume little or no violent media content.

Douglas Gentile, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and director of research for the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family, joined with ISU Associate Professor of Health and Human Performance

Joe Eisenmann, along with Institute researchers David Walsh and Randi Callahan on the research. They presented a study titled "Violent TV and video game exposure as risk factors for aggressive behavior among elementary school children," which they presented at last week's XVII Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression in Minneapolis.

"This is significant for two reasons -- first, these real-life aggressive behaviors are being witnessed by teachers in the classroom, and are therefore in a context that is critical for children's long-term outcomes," said Gentile. "Second, we find that both violent TV and video games are independent risk factors for aggressive behavior. In a broader context, children who have multiple risk factors for being aggressive (such as media violence or having been in fights previously), and fewer protective factors (such as parental monitoring of children's media), are in fact at a much higher likelihood to exhibit aggressive behaviors in the classroom."

The methodology

The study included 435 third-, 448 fourth-, and 427 fifth-grade children, their parents and teachers. Families were recruited from two school districts in Minnesota (772) and Iowa (590) respectively. Approximately an equal number of male (641) and female (727) children participated, with an average mean age of 9.6 years.

Researchers had children complete a self-report of media consumption habits measuring violence exposure on TV and video games; screen time with TV, video games, and computer; adult involvement in media; and participation in physical fights. Parents completed a survey measuring their involvement in media; and their child's media habits, grades, diet and activity. Family demographic information was also gathered from parents, including their income and education levels. The children's teachers completed a survey measuring children's physical aggression, relational aggression, pro-social behavior, victimization, attention problems, and grades.

"Teachers reported on two types of aggressive behaviors," said Gentile. "One was physical aggression, which is any attempt to cause harm through physical means -- so hitting, kicking, or the threat of physical harm. The other was relational aggression, which is the intent to cause harm by threatening or damaging the relationships a person has. So for example, saying 'I'm having a party and you can't come,' or excluding people, or spreading rumors about them so other people don't like them as well."

"We also looked at pro-social behavior -- helping behavior, caring about other people's feelings -- and we found that overall media violence exposure reduces that," he said.

Aggression probability on the rise

Analyses found that children who consume high amounts of both violent TV and video games had a 32 percent probability of exhibiting physically aggressive behavior, compared to 18 percent for children who consumed low amounts. The probability increases by combining risk factors -- going from 25 and 27 percent for exclusive high consumption of either violent TV or video games respectively, to 32 percent for high consumption of both. If parents are also uninvolved in children's media habits, the physical aggression probability increases to 42 percent. That percentage jumps dramatically for children who have even more risk factors.

"Theoretically, the kid who is most likely to exhibit aggressive behavior would be a boy, who has reported being in fights, who consumes lots of violent video games and lots of violent television, and whose parents do not monitor what he watches," said Gentile. "If I look at a kid with that profile, I can tell you that he's 60 percent likely to be a highly physically aggressive kid, which is a 10 times increase over the kids with the opposite profile."

"We are not saying that media violence is the only risk factor for aggression, or even the most important one, only that it is a significant one. The difference between media violence and almost all the other risk factors for aggression is that it is the risk factor that is easily controlled. And our study shows that having parents monitor the amount and content of media their children consume is a powerful protective factor for children."

The researchers plan to author a paper for a professional journal about their findings.

Gentile also joined with Iowa State Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson and graduate student Katherine Buckley to co-author a forthcoming Oxford University press book titled "Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents."

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Douglas Gentile

Douglas Gentile

Quote

"This is significant for two reasons -- first, these real-life aggressive behaviors are being witnessed by teachers in the classroom, and are therefore in a context that is critical for children's long-term outcomes. Second, we find that both violent TV and video games are independent risk factors for aggressive behavior. In a broader context, children who have multiple risk factors for being aggressive (such as media violence or having been in fights previously), and fewer protective factors (such as parental monitoring of children's media), are in fact at a much higher likelihood to exhibit aggressive behaviors in the classroom."

Douglas Gentile