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Media violence 'unchained': Multiple studies show kids are adversely affected by violence in entertainment, news

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12 2013 4:20 p.m. MST

Christoph Waltz stars as Schultz and Jamie Foxx stars as Django in director Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," which is rated R.

Andrew Cooper Smpsp, Associated Press

Barbara Osborn had finally had enough.

A journalist and media-literacy teacher, Osborn had seen plenty of on-screen violence in her time. But sitting in the darkness of a Los Angeles cineplex in the early 1990s, watching a movie from an up-and-coming filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino, Osborn knew she had reached her breaking point.

An editor at the Center for Media Literacy's Media & Values journal at the time, Osborn understood what writers and directors aim to accomplish when they insert violent scenes into movies.

But she found no humor in what she calls the "artsy, ironic violence" Tarantino is now infamous for.

When Osborn realized everyone else in the theater that day was guffawing at violent content she found appalling, she made a decision: no more going to movie theaters.

Osborn still adheres to that strategy today, which is one reason she missed out on the top two movies of the first weekend of 2013 at the domestic box office: "Texas Chainsaw 3D" and Tarantino's latest, "Django Unchained." Both films depict gory, gratuitous violence. The success of "Django" has extended beyond the box office: it was nominated last week for five Oscars, including best picture and best original screenplay.

What the success of these films says about America in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is a subject of debate, but there's little argument that it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid depictions of on-screen violence.

In fact, over the holidays, ads for "Texas Chainsaw 3D" ran in heavy rotation during prime time on Disney-owned ESPN, especially during college bowl games.

The days when television programmers considered football games and evening sitcoms a safe zone are over. A Parents Television Council analysis found that on-screen violence is on the rise for every time slot of over-the-air prime-time programming. "TV violence has become a paradox of sorts," the study concluded. "Medical and social science have proven conclusively that children are adversely affected by exposure to it — yet millions of parents think nothing of letting their children watch … violent programs."

Violence science

The prevailing belief among academics is that on-screen violence can negatively impact viewers — but it's virtually impossible to know in advance which viewers will be affected and what the impact will be. Austrian scholars Markus Appel and Susanne Jodbauer found that most studies that look at the impact of media violence have focused on aggressive thoughts and behavior, according to their 2011 article "The Effects of Media Violence."

"A consensus about the interpretation of the scientific evidence is shared by a majority of academic researchers," Appel and Jodbauer wrote. "This consensus has two parts: (a) Media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior among the audience, short-term and long-term. The magnitude of the effect depends on person, product and situation characteristics. (b) Media violence is not the only, and likely not the most important, factor contributing to aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior."

As a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and the director of residency training for child and adolescent psychiatry at two major Massachusetts hospitals, Eugene Beresin is well-versed in the academic literature regarding how media violence can adversely impact children and adolescents.

"There are over 3,000 studies that link violence in movies (and) television with an impact on kids and adolescents," Beresin said in a recent interview. "But I think it's unclear from the literature that violence on television or movies will have a detrimental impact on every child. … We don't know which kids are vulnerable."

Other media violence

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