Television and aggression

In the early 1960s, Bandura was just publishing the results of his Bobo doll experiments. At about the same time, television was in the midst of a great boom. In 1945, there were probably fewer than 10,000 TV sets in the entire United States. By 1960, that figure had soared to almost 60 million. Along with TV's explosive growth in popularity, there was also an increase in criticism of the programs that were offered. Critics accused the TV networks of promoting antisocial and aggressive behavior by bringing a steady stream of violence into American homes.

As public debate began to heat up, researchers started to look for links between televised violence and the real thing. Bandura's research on modeling and aggression in children dovetailed nicely with this trend. As with other behaviors, Bandura stressed that merely observing violence and aggression on TV did not necessarily translate into copying it. Yet sometimes it did, occasionally with tragic consequences. As Bandura told Evans,

I draw the important distinction between the power of the media to produce learning and its power to affect action. The learning effects are rather uniform. If children watch one hundred ways of killing people hundreds of times they will learn one hundred ways to kill people. But the effects on action are variable. We need to explain the conditions under which people are going to act on what they have learned.

A number of researchers have taken up this challenge. It has been estimated that more than 3,000 studies have now attempted to look for the links between televised and real-life violence. Nevertheless, it is still unclear exactly how TV exerts its effects on vulnerable individuals. In general, though, research has shown that children who are exposed to TV violence are more likely to behave aggressively. In addition, they may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and they may be more fearful of the outside world.

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