The impact of television and film on people has been well researched and documented by sociologist and psychologists. The most extensive studies were carried out by Gerbner, who analysed samples of American television for each year after 1967. In his research violence was defined as the threat or use of physical force, in which physical harm or death occurred. Over eighty percent of television dramas contained violence, with 7. 5 violent occurrences per hour. Higher levels of violence were recorded in children’s programmes, and cartoons contained the highest number of violent acts of any type of programme recorded.
Research to establish the impact of television and film is usually carried out in one of three ways, laboratory experiments, field experiments, and correlational surveys. Bandura carried out one of the most famous Laboratory experiments in which he showed a selection of nursery school children a film in which an inflatable plastic doll was violently abused. His study concluded that the children that had viewed the film showed greater aggressive behaviour than those that had not.
Laboratory experiments tent to support the view that violence is readily imitated and that aggression may be ‘aroused’ by viewing certain types of violence. However there have been many criticism of this type of work, including, that responses are not carried out in a normal, ‘real life’ environment, and that sample sizes and make up are not representative of the population. Field experiments examine behaviour patterns in natural surroundings. A study carried out by Feshbach and Suger in 1971 looked at the affects of violent television on adolescent boys.
A sample of boys aged between 8-18 were given set television programmes to watch over a six week period. They were randomly selected into two groups, with some watching ‘aggressive’ programmes and the others not. The results concluded that the boys that had watched the aggressive programmes showed signs of reduced or limited aggressive tendencies. Many methodological criticisms have been levelled at this work, including the fact that only those observing or recording the experiment knew which programmes the boys had watched.
There have been many large scale social surveys including one by McLoed, which surveyed 624 thirteen to sixteen year olds, looking at the connections between the frequency of viewing violent television programmes and their aggressive behaviour. Although the results confirmed that those that watched more violent programmes were more aggressive the survey did not take into account variables such as gender, age, and ethnic origin and when these were inserted into the survey the correlation disappeared.