Media violence causes aggression in children

Youth and media

Ingrid Möller

To person

Dr. phil., born 1977; Research assistant at the Department of Psychology, Department of Social Psychology, at the University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 24-25, 14476 Potsdam. [email protected]

Numerous studies show that there is a connection between the consumption of violent media and the aggressive behavior of young people. At the same time, it becomes clear that the consumption of violent media is only one of many factors.


Screen media such as television and electronic games play an important role in the everyday life of young people (especially boys), as can be seen from the results of the annual JIM study on media use by 12 to 19 year olds in Germany. [1] If you ask this age group about their content preferences, it is not uncommon for violent films (e.g. horror or action films), television series (e.g. crime or action series) or screen games whose main requirement is to destroy virtual opponents (e.g. Shooter), called. One of the most popular series of games for both boys and girls around the age of 14 has been "Grand Theft Auto" for years, the individual parts of which are released by the self-control entertainment software (USK) from 16 and 18 years of age. [2] As an example, it should be pointed out here that a significant proportion of media content is used in adolescence that is not even approved for the under 16 age group and, according to content analyzes, shows a considerable proportion of violence. [3]

This article looks at media with violent content from the point of view of social psychological aggression research and thus selects from the multitude of possible media effects those that are widely regarded as problematic. At this point, other potential effects of particularly violent depictions such as increased anxiety states [4] or a reduction in prosocial behavior are not taken into account. [5] Violence in the media is defined as the portrayal of targeted, direct harm to people (or human-like beings) by people (or human-like characters), which involves fictional depictions of violence.

When we talk about aggression, we mean intentional, purposeful behavior with which another person is supposed to be physically or psychologically harmed, whereby studies have often focused on physical forms of aggression. Severe forms of physical aggression or violence are only recorded very rarely; this mostly refers to behavior that can be observed on a daily basis, such as verbal attacks (e.g. insulting, cursing) or physical abuse (e.g. pushing, kicking, hitting). The research is less about the question of whether people who consume a lot of media violence also become violent criminals than about examining how the consumption of such content contributes to the fact that children and young people in particular gradually become more and more aggressive in everyday life Use conflict resolution strategies and view aggression as a legitimate and successful means of achieving your goals.

The risk of the aggression-promoting effect of media violence is assessed as particularly serious for children and adolescents (compared to the risk for adults). Children and adolescents are not only characterized by intensive usage behavior, but are also in a sensitive development phase with regard to norms and attitudes related to aggression. As a result, there is a particular need for longitudinal studies that track the effects of the consumption of violence over time and that can make clear statements about the course of causality. Developmental psychological studies show that between 11 and 15 years of age the aggressiveness increases in adolescents. Media usage behavior with regard to a growing preference for violent content shows a parallel course. [6] This is particularly problematic because in adolescence more and more norms of interpersonal contact are acquired, whereby the family loses influence and new models and role models in the group of peers (peer group) but are also increasingly sought and found in the media. Current German longitudinal studies with adolescents show that the consumption of violent games in adolescence over periods of up to two years can be used to predict individual differences in the development of aggression. [7] Long-term projects that relate exclusively to the consumption of violence on television [8] were able to demonstrate the effects of consumption in children and adolescents up to early and middle adulthood.

The following is an overview of the current state of psychological research on the short and long-term effects of the consumption of violent media content on the potential for aggression, whereby theoretical assumptions on mechanisms of action are linked with empirical study results. All of the research work cited is based on a multi-causal understanding of the development of aggression: Aggression in childhood and adolescence is usually a product of various mutually dependent factors. [9] The consumption of violent media content is just one of many in this complex interplay of various influences. Nevertheless, recent American and also a German study show that the influence of media violence consumption remains in the prediction of aggressive behavior despite consideration of bundles of other risk factors. [10]

According to meta-analyzes, the magnitude of the effect sizes determined for the relationship between the consumption of violence and aggression can be classified as weak to medium. [11] Although the controversy about the practical significance of the findings and the unambiguity of the data is still intense, in view of the large number of evidence, even the critics of the damage hypothesis will find it difficult to deny the negative effects of persistent use of violence completely.