Martins and Wilson from the Universities of Indiana and Illinois (USA)
conducted a survey on students that demonstrated a close link between
exposure to “social aggression” on television and an increase in socially
aggressive behavior at school. By “social aggression” the authors refer to
“moral violence”, that is non-physical aggression that damages self-esteem
or consideration for others, such as gossip, judgments, etc.
This is the first study that provides evidence for the relationship between
seeing social aggression on television and an increased tendency,
among primary school students, to imitate the same behaviors toward their
peers at school.
Social Aggression on Television and Its Relationship to Children´s
Aggression in the Classroom
in Human Communication Research 1 [(2012), pp. 48-71] also
underscores the large volume of research on physical aggression in
comparison to the scarce attention given to more subtle and relational
aggressive behavior, for which few studies regarding children have been
One of the hypotheses posed by Martins and Wilson predicts the existence of
a relationship between children visualizing programs with a high level of
social aggression and their use of social aggression. The research data
reveal that a group of demographic variables greatly contribute to the
increase of social aggression in children. A low socioeconomic status, poor
academic performance, alienation, and higher exposure to television can
predispose children to social aggression.
Another hypothesis was that this relationship between exposure to social
aggression on television and social aggression in children could be
stronger in girls than in boys. The authors discovered that the correlation
between sex and exposure to social aggression was statistically significant
in the case of girls, but not for boys.
The results of this study are discussed in terms of social cognitivity and
information processing. According to the theory of social cognitivity,
children can learn by observing the environments in which they are
surrounded and the characters they see on television, particularly those
who look like them and are attractive models to follow. It is more likely
that children imitate the observed behaviors when their behaviors are
rewarded rather than punished. The authors conclude that watching programs
with a great deal of social aggression, perpetuated by attractive
characters, cause a great amount of that same kind of aggression in the
classrooms of girls, who are imitating and learning it from their socially
aggressive role models in their favorite television shows.
The theory of information processing records the effects of media exposure
to violence over time, focusing on the acquisition and reinforcement of
aggressive sequences or mental processes of familiar events stored in the
memory. From testing this theory, the authors conclude that regular viewers
of programs with a high level of social aggressive content mentally acquire
and store scripts that promote gossip and insults in the classroom.
The survey was conducted on a sample of 527 children from ages 5 through
12, approximately split between girls and boys. Two schools were chosen
from Vermillion County (Illinois) based on the socioeconomic diversity. The
studies were carried out during school hours. The statistical treatment was
suitable and relevant moderating variables were analyzed. The authors
themselves note the inherent limitations to their correlational study, and
therefore the need for longitudinal investigation to verify if the
correlation lasts over a long period of time.
The study makes an important contribution to the analysis of socially
aggressive behaviors in the classroom and their relationship to violent
television content. The results are of special interest for parents and
educators. They provide further proof that the consumption of violent media
content has direct effects on children, who can become victims of rejection
from their peers and experience loneliness, depression, and a diminished
self-esteem. All of these consequences are derived from learned and
imitated behaviors of aggressors on the television screen.