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Your Brain On Violent Media

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Violence is a frequent occurrence in television shows and movies, but can watching it make you behave differently?

The yellow area of the brain is the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, or right ltOFC, which has been previously associated with decreased control over a variety of behaviors, including reactive aggression. The graph illustrates that as the number of violent movies watched increased (stimulus number along bottom of graph), the right ltOFC activity diminished. (Credit: Image courtesy of Columbia University Medical Center)

Although research has shown some correlation between exposure to media violence and real-life violent behavior, there has been little direct neuroscientific support for this theory until now.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center have shown that watching violent programs can cause parts of your brain that suppress aggressive behaviors to become less active.

Columbia scientists show that a brain network responsible for suppressing behaviors like inappropriate or unwarranted aggression (including the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, or right ltOFC, and the amygdala) became less active after study subjects watched several short clips from popular movies depicting acts of violence. These changes could render people less able to control their own aggressive behavior. Indeed the authors found that, even among their own subjects, less activation in this network was characteristic of people reporting an above average tendency to behave aggressively. This characteristic was measured through a personality test.

A secondary finding was that after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active. This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain’s ability to inhibit behavior-related processing.

None of these changes in brain activity occurred when subjects watched non-violent but equally engaging movies depicting scenes of horror or physical activity.

“These changes in the brain’s behavioral control circuits were specific to the repeated exposure to the violent clips,” said Joy Hirsch, Ph.D., professor of Functional Neuroradiology, Psychology, and Neuroscience and Director of the Center for fMRI at CUMC, and the PLoS ONE paper’s senior author. “Even when the level of action in the control movies was comparable, we just did not observe the same changes in brain response that we did when the subjects viewed the violent clips.”

“Depictions of violent acts have become very common in the popular media,” said Christopher Kelly, the first author on the paper and a current CUMC medical student. “Our findings demonstrate for the first time that watching media depictions of violence does influence processing in parts of the brain that control behaviors like aggression. This is an important finding, and further research should examine very closely how these changes affect real-life behavior.”

PLoS ONE 2(12): e1268 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001268

Repeated Exposure to Media Violence Is Associated with Diminished Response in an Inhibitory Frontolimbic Network.

Kelly CR, Grinband J, Hirsch J (2007)
Abstract
Background

Media depictions of violence, although often claimed to induce viewer aggression, have not been shown to affect the cortical networks that regulate behavior.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that repeated exposure to violent media, but not to other equally arousing media, led to both diminished response in right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (right ltOFC) and a decrease in right ltOFC-amygdala interaction. Reduced function in this network has been previously associated with decreased control over a variety of behaviors, including reactive aggression. Indeed, we found reduced right ltOFC responses to be characteristic of those subjects that reported greater tendencies toward reactive aggression. Furthermore, the violence-induced reduction in right ltOFC response coincided with increased throughput to behavior planning regions.

Conclusions

These novel findings establish that even short-term exposure to violent media can result in diminished responsiveness of a network associated with behaviors such as reactive aggression.

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Violent TV, Games Pack A Powerful Public Health Threat

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Watching media violence significantly increases the risk that a viewer or video game player will behave aggressively in both the short and long term, according to a University of Michigan study published today in a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study, by L. Rowell Huesmann, reviews more than half a century of research on the impact of exposure to violence in television, movies, video games and on the Internet.

“The research clearly shows that exposure to virtual violence increases the risk that both children and adults will behave aggressively,” said Huesmann, the Amos N. Tversky Collegiate Professor of Communication Studies and Psychology, and a senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

https://i2.wp.com/www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizations/ccfc/images/manhunt%20axe.jpg

In his article, Huesmann points out that U.S. children spend an average of three to four hours a day watching television. “More than 60 percent of television programs contain some violence,” he said, “and about 40 percent of those contain heavy violence.

“Children are also spending an increasingly large amount of time playing video games, most of which contain violence. Video game units are now present in 83 percent of homes with children,” he said.

According to research conducted by Huesmann and ISR colleague Brad Bushman, media violence significantly increases the risk that both children and adults will behave aggressively.

How significantly?

“Exposure to violent electronic media has a larger effect than all but one other well-known threat to public health. The only effect slightly larger than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking on lung cancer,” Huesmann said.

“Our lives are saturated by the mass media, and for better or worse, violent media are having a particularly detrimental effect on the well-being of children,” he said.

“As with many other public health threats, not every child who is exposed to this threat will acquire the affliction of violent behavior. But that does not diminish the need to address the threat — as a society and as parents by trying to control children’s exposure to violent media to the extent that we can.” The reading is clearly indebted to the author’s piagetian concepts about psychosocial development. But even in the light of a Vygotskian “zone of proximal development”, narrative constructivism or REBT, the social consequences of these findings would not be any less concerning.

Dev Psychol. 2007 Jul;43(4):1038-44.

I wish I were a warrior: the role of wishful identification in the effects of violent video games on aggression in adolescent boys.

Konijn EA, Bijvank MN, Bushman BJ.

Department of Communication Science, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands. ea.konijn@fsw.vu.nl

This study tested the hypothesis that violent video games are especially likely to increase aggression when players identify with violent game characters. Dutch adolescent boys with low education ability (N=112) were randomly assigned to play a realistic or fantasy violent or nonviolent video game. Next, they competed with an ostensible partner on a reaction time task in which the winner could blast the loser with loud noise through headphones (the aggression measure). Participants were told that high noise levels could cause permanent hearing damage. Habitual video game exposure, trait aggressiveness, and sensation seeking were controlled for. As expected, the most aggressive participants were those who played a violent game and wished they were like a violent character in the game. These participants used noise levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage to their partners, even though their partners had not provoked them. These results show that identifying with violent video game characters makes players more aggressive. Players were especially likely to identify with violent characters in realistic games and with games they felt immersed in. Copyright 2007 APA.

see also:

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006 Apr;160(4):348-52.

Short-term and long-term effects of violent media on aggression in children and adults.

Bushman BJ, Huesmann LR.

Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. bbushman@umich.edu

OBJECTIVES: To test whether the results of the accumulated studies on media violence and aggressive behavior are consistent with the theories that have evolved to explain the effects. We tested for the existence of both short-term and long-term effects for aggressive behavior. We also tested the theory-driven hypothesis that short-term effects should be greater for adults and long-term effects should be greater for children. DESIGN: Meta-analysis. PARTICIPANTS: Children younger than 18 years and adults. MAIN EXPOSURES: Violent media, including TV, movies, video games, music, and comic books. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Measures of aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (eg, heart rate, blood pressure), and helping behavior. RESULTS: Effect size estimates were combined using meta-analytic procedures. As expected, the short-term effects of violent media were greater for adults than for children whereas the long-term effects were greater for children than for adults. The results also showed that there were overall modest but significant effect sizes for exposure to media violence on aggressive behaviors, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, arousal levels, and helping behavior. CONCLUSIONS: The results are consistent with the theory that short-term effects are mostly due to the priming of existing well-encoded scripts, schemas, or beliefs, which adults have had more time to encode. In contrast, long-term effects require the learning (encoding) of scripts, schemas, or beliefs. Children can encode new scripts, schemas, and beliefs via observational learning with less interference and effort than adults.

This one is interesting too and explains a good part of actual Bush administration’s foreign politics:

Psychol Sci. 2007 Mar;18(3):204-7.

When god sanctions killing: effect of scriptural violence on aggression.

Bushman BJ, Ridge RD, Das E, Key CW, Busath GL.

Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson St., Ann Arbor, MI 48106, USA. bbushman@umich.edu

Violent people often claim that God sanctions their actions. In two studies, participants read a violent passage said to come from either the Bible or an ancient scroll. For half the participants, the passage said that God sanctioned the violence. Next, participants competed with an ostensible partner on a task in which the winner could blast the loser with loud noise through headphones (the aggression measure). Study 1 involved Brigham Young University students; 99% believed in God and in the Bible. Study 2 involved Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam students; 50% believed in God, and 27% believed in the Bible. In Study 1, aggression increased when the passage was from the Bible or mentioned God. In Study 2, aggression increased when the passage mentioned God, especially among participants who believed in God and in the Bible. These results suggest that scriptural violence sanctioned by God can increase aggression, especially in believers.

Written by huehueteotl

November 30, 2007 at 1:04 pm