By Alan Mozes
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:00 AM
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Children and young teens with only minimal exposure to violent entertainment in the media are far less likely to engage in aggressive behavior, a new survey suggests.
"We're looking at a slice in time, so I can't tell you that the media exposure is causing violent behavior, or in the reverse that violent kids are looking for violent media," noted study author Michele Ybarra, president and research director of Internet Solutions for Kids -- a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Ana, Calif.
"But what we can tell you is that kids reporting that none or little of the media they are exposed to depicts violence are significantly less likely to be violent or aggressive than kids exposed to some or a lot of violent media."
Ybarra and her colleagues were expected to present the findings Wednesday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting, in San Diego.
Earlier this year, researchers out of Dartmouth Medical School drew attention to the scale of exposure to violence among youth when they released results from a poll indicating that almost 13 percent of the nation's 22 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 routinely witness graphic violence while watching films, TV and/or DVDs.
The current work analyzes data collected by the national "Growing Up With Media" survey, which focused on almost 1,600 American boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 15.
The poll asked the children to rank the amount of violence they were exposed to via five key media outlets: TV and movies; music; computer games; Web sites depicting cartoon imagery; and Web sites involving real people.
Violence was defined as visual and/or verbal depictions of physical fighting, hurting, shooting or killing.
After reviewing the responses, the research team characterized exposure to such media violence as "none or almost none" among 6 percent of the kids. This minimally exposed group tended to include more girls, younger kids and white children.
A little more than 43 percent had "some" exposure, while just over 49 percent witnessed "more" violence than the rest.
Household income and marital status of the parents appeared to have no affect on violent media exposure levels, the authors noted.
Among those youth who had "none" or "some" exposure to media violence, the study authors found that 85 percent and 50 percent of each group, respectively, said they were less likely engage in seriously violent behavior, bullying or fighting -- as compared with children who had "more" exposure to violent media.
Ybarra and her colleagues pointed out, however, that other variables also play a role in influencing youthful violent behavior. A history of substance abuse, bearing witness to violence in the neighborhood, having difficult familial relations, being predisposed toward angry behavior, and having delinquent friends were all highlighted as influential factors.
They nonetheless concluded that a reduction in exposure to violent media could help decrease bullying, fighting and generally violent behavior among children and adolescents.
"The good news is that even moving kids from a lot of exposure to violent media down to just some exposure can have a protective influence," said Ybarra. "It doesn't have to go to zero to have some positive impact. And knowing this could make the aim of reducing violent behavior more of an achievable and obtainable goal."
David S. Bickham, a research scientist with the Center on Media and Child Health at the Children's Hospital of Boston, said the findings "are in line with what we know about media effects."
"But I am a little bit concerned when I hear that kids are asked to determine their own exposure to violence, which is a little hard for them to do," he added. "But certainly the 'less meaning less' approach --which suggests that if we reduce violent media exposure we can reduce aggressive behavior -- is interesting, in that it lends itself well to future intervention. And that is encouraging."
For more on violent media and children, visit the National Institute on Media and the Family.
SOURCES: Michele Ybarra, M.P.H., Ph.D., president and research director, Internet Solutions for Kids Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.; David S. Bickham, Ph.D., research scientist, Center on Media and Child Health, Children's Hospital of Boston; Oct. 29, 2008, presentation, American Public Health Association annual meeting, San Diego