Especially in the business world, the term “aggressive” is often used as a way to describe someone working hard, showing initiative, or assertively making their point. So when scientists argue that watching violent TV or playing a violent video game increases aggression,it kind of sounds like a good thing. But in reality, when these researchers use the term aggression they are specifically using it to mean a willingness to harm others. “The report takes sharp aim at the notion that aggression is not bad. Most studies define “aggression” as behavior intended to harm another person. So when Tiger Woods attempts to drive the green on a short par-4, that wouldn’t meet the psychological definition of aggression.”
Some of the studies linking increased aggression with exposure to violent media have been correlational. These correlational studies found that the more violent media someone has watched, the more likely they are to commit an aggressive act. The question then becomes, did watching violent media cause them to become more aggressive, or did being aggressive cause them to watch more violent media, or was it a bit of both?
“The research shows that even when other factors are considered, such as academic skills, encounters with community violence, or emotional problems, “childhood and adolescent violent media preferences contributed significantly to the prediction of violence and general aggression” in the study subjects.”
And some studies linking increased aggression with exposure to violent media have been done in the laboratory, looking specifically at causation.
“In one study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (1999, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 145-165), people were exposed to gratuitously violent or nonviolent feature films over four consecutive days. One the fifth day, approximately 24 hours after viewing to the last film, research participants took part in another project that was not ostensibly a part of the film study. Weaver and Zillmann found that, when treated either neutrally or abusively by a research assistant and then put in a position to harm this assistant, both provocation and exposure to violent films markedly increased the expression of hostile behavior toward the research assistant. The study showed that prolonged exposure to gratuitously violent films is capable of escalating hostile behavior in both men and women and of instigating such behavior in unprovoked research participants.”
Over the years, scientists have done hundreds of studies looking at the links between violent media and increased aggression. And the results are in, exposure to violent media does indeed increase aggression. The greater the exposure, the greater the increase in aggression.
“Report Shows ‘Unequivocal Evidence’ That Media Violence Has Significant Negative Impact on Children”
“For much of the past half century, the link between watching violence on television and violent behavior in everyday life has seemed an open question – embraced by one study, rejected by another, and largely left unanswered by years of congressional inquiries. That, however, is rapidly changing. To a growing number of scientists and psychiatrists, the correlation between the two is no longer a point of debate, it is an established fact. A study released today in the journal Science adds to a large body of work that suggests some sort of connection. Already, six major pediatric, psychiatric, and medical associations have said that the evidence of a link is overwhelming, citing more than 1,000 studies in the past 30 years.”