Monday, September 24, 2012

Quasi-Ramblings on Film+Violence Studies

The reading for Thursday - Berkowitz & co.'s "Film Violence and Subsequent Aggressive Tendencies"  - was definitely an interesting one. First of all, quick recap of the reading: the authors carried out an experiment on university college males which involved showing them violent movie clips and then surveying them to see if watching violent films affected their own propensity for violence. One group was deliberately provoked (by a deliberately rude and insulting experimenter) so that their emotional state in watching the film would be angry, while the other group experienced neutral treatment at the hands of the experimenter. Within each group there were three smaller groups, as follows: one-third of subjects in both angered and non-angered groups were shown a neutral film about canal boats; another third was shown a violent film clip whose protagonist they were told was a good guy who did not deserve the violence inflicted upon him; the final group was shown the same violent film clip, but was told that the protagonist did deserve the violent treatment.

The results showed that those who watched violent films in an angered condition and who were told that the character did not "deserve" the violent treatment were the most likely to incline toward aggressive tendencies immediately afterwards. Their explanation for this? That they had been provoked but since the film they had watched apparently presented a guy who did not deserve to be beaten up - i.e. the violence was not justified - they were not able to experience a vicarious release of their anger through violence.

So, interesting study with some interesting results. Some thoughts I had while reading it though: 1. I agree with the post made below which talked about the limitations/biases of the study, which included only college age males. It would have been interesting to see the results had it included females and younger/older people as well, as well as people of varying educational backgrounds. 2. The bigger question I had - how much can we really apply this to "real life"? Life outside of the experimenting room, life in which most people don't go to watch movies with their friends when they're feeling angry, life in which most people do not necessarily learn (consciously or unconsciously) life lessons from films. And this is my main issue with the study, which does make sure to include the disclaimer that these effects only applied to people immediately after the film: how direct of a link can we really draw between the way people think and behave and the films/TV shows they watch? I think it's safe to say that most people didn't watch the film Pretty Woman and decide prostitution was a respectable/laudable occupation to go into (extreme, I know, but I'm trying to make a point). I think people are able to be more detached from the media they consume than this kind of study/article gives them credit for. And the article even makes the point itself in the conclusion that these effects applied "at least during the time immediately following the movie," not claiming that they really have any longer-lasting impact. So for the moment, people coming out of a violent film might have slight inclinations to be more tolerant/condoning of violence themselves, but I don't think that we need to be as worried as some people might have us believe.

Having said all of that, I still wouldn't let my future children play violent video games. At least not while they're still innocent and impressionable young kids/middle schoolers. But that's another discussion.

1 comment:

  1. Yurie, a useful summary and contestation. I think the priming effect reading actually needs to be considered in light of the "information gap" readings that followed, in that yes, for some audiences, there is probably greater awareness of the discrepancy between media representation and effect. But for other audiences, perhaps less educated, perhaps young and impressionable, that may be different. However, we'll talk tomorrow about the case of Grand Theft Auto, and findings from "My Four-Year-Old Son Plays Grand Theft Auto" to the work of anthropologist Mimi Ito.