An American study of young people in seven countries suggests that the violence they are exposed to via media content like TV shows and videogames can be a risk factor for aggressive behaviour, irrespective of the culture they grow up in.
Researchers at Iowa State University surveyed 2,154 young people (38% of whom were male, with an average age of 21) in Australia, China, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Romania and the United States, about the level of violence encountered in TV shows and movies that they watched and videogames that they played. They also collected data on aggressive behaviour and empathy.
The findings, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, established that violent media content was positively and significantly related to aggressive behaviour in all countries. Exposure to media violence was also related to heightened aggressive thinking and lowered empathy.
Moreover, media violence came in second place (23%) among the six risk factors examined by the researchers, behind peer delinquency (28%), but ahead of peer victimisation (17%), gender (12%), neighbourhood crime (11%) and abusive parenting (9%).
"The findings strongly suggest that media violence is similar to other known risk factors for aggression," said Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State professor of psychology and one of the co-authors.
"That's not to say media violence deserves special attention, but that it should be considered as seriously as other risk factors such as coming from a broken home. What matters most, however, is not any single risk factor, but how they can combine to increase the risk of aggression."
The researchers pointed out that although processes leading to aggressive behaviour from media violence exposure appeared to be cross-cultural, extreme local social and cultural conditions may influence these processes, notably in war-torn societies where children are exposed to violence daily.