KIDS
June 6, 2011

Kids Love Action, Not Violence

Contrary to popular belief, kids do not enjoy violent cartoons any more than nonviolent ones. So why do producers make them?

Researchers are learning more and more about how TV and video game violence affects people’s behavior, particularly how they react to violence later on. In most cases screen violence has been shown to desensitize people’s reactions to violent images, which is not seen as a good thing.

Now a new study shows that children don’t even enjoy violent cartoons any more than non-violent ones — it may actually be a turn-off. And a second study shows that screen violence does indeed desensitize people to violent images, and this happens at the level of the brain itself.

Boys actually identified with the characters less when the cartoons were violent than when they were non-violent, leading the researchers to say that there seems to be an indirect link between violence and the boys’ enjoyment of the cartoons.

One research team had kids aged 5-11 watch one of four different five-minute cartoon clips, which had been specially designed for the study. The clips varied in violence (it was either present or absent) and in action (high or low). After watching them, the kids rated how much they enjoyed the cartoons, how much they comprehended them, and how much they identified with (wanted to be like or perform actions similar to) the characters, a variable which is termed "wishful identification."

The researchers found that boys actually identified with the characters less when the cartoons were violent than when they were non-violent, leading the researchers to say that there seems to be an indirect link between violence and the boys’ enjoyment of the cartoons. No link between violence and identification with the characters was found for girls.

Action, however, directly increased boy’s enjoyment of the cartoons (the more action-packed they were, the more boys enjoyed them). On the other hand, action had only an indirect effect on girls, since it tended to decrease their comprehension of the cartoons.

A second study, by different authors, showed that college-aged people become desensitized to violent images after playing violent video games. Even their brain responses were reduced when later looking at the violent images, compared to people who had played non-violent games. Though this phenomenon has been shown in earlier research, the authors say that their study is the first study to show cause-and-effect.

Even more striking was the finding that the participants who played violent video games in their everyday lives had a reduced brain response to violent images regardless of whether they had been assigned to play violent or non-violent games in the study.

'If producers are willing to work on making cartoons that aren't violent so much as action packed, they can still capture their target audience better . . . and without the harmful consequences.'

Lead author of the first study, Andrew J. Weaver pointed out in a news release that "[v]iolence isn't the attractive component in these cartoons, which producers seem to think it is…. It's possible to have those other components, such as action specifically, in non-violent ways." He added that "[i]f producers are willing to work on making cartoons that aren't violent so much as action packed, they can still capture their target audience better... and without the harmful consequences."

Hopefully producers and video game developers will pay attention to the findings of the many studies that are showing both the indifference kid seem to feel towards violent characters, as well as the detrimental effects that screen violence can have. But time will tell.

The first study was carried out at Indiana University, and published the first quarter 2011 issue of Social Media. The second study was by University of Missouri researchers, and published in the April 5, 2011 online issue of the Journal of Social Experimental Psychology.

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