John P. Murray, 785-532-1456, email@example.com
June 18, 2003
NEUROBIOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND THE IMPACT OF ENTERTAINMENT VIOLENCE IN
John P. Murray, Kansas State University professor of developmental psychology
about the impact of television violence began with the start of television
broadcasting in the United States. The first official expression of
concern about TV violence occurred in the U.S. Congress in hearings
in the Senate and House in 1952 and 1954. So, the issue of TV violence
is not new. What is new is the breadth and depth of research that has
been accumulating on the impact of TV violence and, more recently, emerging
studies of children's brain activations while watching TV violence.
we have learned from the vast body of research on children and television
- and especially the research on TV violence - is the suggestion that
viewing violence does influence the attitudes, values and behavior of
children and adults who view this material. The main types of effects
Aggression: Viewing video violence leads to increases in aggressive
behavior and changes in attitudes and values favoring the use of aggression
to solve conflicts;
Desensitization: Viewing video violence may lead to a decrease in concern
about the pain and suffering of others; lower levels of concern about
violence in society; and an increased willingness to tolerate violence;
Fear: Viewing video violence may lead to increased concern about one's
personal safety; heightened fear that one may be the victim of violence;
and decreased trust in the motives of others - a phenomenon known as
the "mean world syndrome."
effects have been identified in various studies over the past 50 years
and they represent a very worrisome set of outcomes of violence viewing.
Much less is known about how these effects play out in individuals -
how do children or adults come to understand and process the violence
that they see in entertainment media?
initial study of brain mapping and TV violence in children begins to
provide some insights into the ways in which children process video
violence. Much more research is needed before we can fully understand
the effects of video violence, but enhanced brain mapping research can
lead to significant progress in dealing with media violence.
our study, sponsored by the Mind Science Foundation and conducted at
the Research Imaging Center of the University of Texas Health Science
Center at San Antonio, we used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging,
or fMRI, to map the brains of eight children (five boys, three girls),
ages 8 to 13 years while they watched violent and nonviolent videotapes.
The youngsters who participated in this study were normal, healthy boys
and girls who were good students and had no history of problems at school
children viewed six, three-minute, video clips - two clips each of violence
(Rocky IV), nonviolence (National Geographic and Ghostwriter) and a
control for viewing activations (a white "X" on a blue video
screen). During these 18 minutes of viewing, we continuously scanned
their brains while they viewed in the MRI. We also scanned for several
minutes before and after the viewing to establish structural/anatomical
features of their brains.
designing the study, we anticipated that we would see emotional arousal
to the video violence and that this would be manifested in significant
right hemisphere activations. In particular, we anticipated seeing involvement
of an area of the brain that senses "danger" in the environment
- the amygdala - and prepares the body for 'fight or flight' and we
expected prefrontal cortex activation.
results of the scans confirmed our initial expectations and provided
some additional surprising insights. In particular, two additional areas
of the brain that were activated told us a very interesting story about
what was happening in the minds of these young viewers.
the first instance, the premotor cortex was activated while viewing
violence (not the other video clips) and this suggested that the youngsters
were 'thinking about moving' (they could not move in the MRI and had
they moved we would see motor cortex activation). Rather, what was happening
while the youngsters watched the boxing, was a possible attempt at imitation
of the boxing movements - thinking about but not able to actually imitate
the movements. This is similar to what parents have observed when they
see young children watching kickboxing actions; the young viewers are
likely to start imitating the movements on their brothers and sisters.
second surprising finding was an activation in the back of the brain
- the posterior cingulate - an area that seems to be devoted to long-term
memory storage for significant or traumatic events.
the results of our initial, and very limited study, of children's brain
activations while viewing entertainment video violence, suggest that
the violence is arousing, engaging and is treated by the brain as a
real event that is threatening and worthy of being stored for long-term
memory in an area of the brain that makes 'recall' of the events almost
is as 'scary' as it gets; even more than an "R" rated slasher
film. Here, we see normal children storing away violent images in a
manner that could be used to 'guide' future behavior. Naturally, this
is only the beginning of the story and we need to conduct much more
extensive research on neuroimaging and violence, but we have identified
the reasons why parents and politicians, people of all political persuasions,
should take action to reduce media violence.John P. Murray, a professor
of developmental psychology in the School of Family Studies and Human
Service at Kansas State University, gave this presentation at a hearing
before the United States Senate Commerce Committee, Science, Technology,
and Space Subcommittee, on Neurobiological Research and the Impact of
Media in April
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