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Violence Doesn't Make TV Shows More Enjoyable for Kids

FRIDAY May 27, 2011 -- Contrary to the belief of some television producers, spiking cartoons with a dose of violence doesn't make kids enjoy them more, a new study reveals.

Although an estimated 70 percent of children's TV shows now contain some degree of violent content, Indiana University researchers found that young children watching animated shows identified more with non-violent characters.

"Violence isn't the attractive component in these cartoons, which producers seem to think it is," study co-author Andrew J. Weaver, an assistant professor of telecommunications in Indiana University's College of Arts and Sciences, said in a university news release.

"You don't have to cram violence into these cartoons to get kids to like them. They'll like them without the violence, just as much if not more," he added.

Weaver and his team reported their findings in the current issue of Media Psychology.

For the study, the researchers sought the opinions of 128 youngsters following exposure to a series of animated programs. The participants were between the ages of 5 and 11 (from kindergarten through fourth grade), and included as many boys as girls.

The children viewed one of four different edits of short animated pieces that ran for about five minutes and were designed specifically for the study. All were slapstick in nature, but the versions differed in terms of the degree of violence included. Afterwards, the researchers led the children through questionnaires about the different episodes.

The investigators found that violent content was actually a turn off for boys, depending on how they connected with the characters involved. In fact, the less violent the characters, the more boys identified with them and enjoyed the program at hand.

"That was a little surprising," said Weaver, who has two young sons. "There is a lot of talk about boys being more violent and more aggressive, for whatever reason, social or biological, and yet we found that they identified with the characters more when they were non-violent," he added. "They liked the characters more and they enjoyed the overall cartoon more."

Girls did not have the same reaction, however, feeling no more attached to those characters that were less aggressive. The team suggested that this may be because slapstick content generally appeals more to boys than girls.

Nevertheless, girls did not actually prefer the more violent content any more than the boys did, the study found.

"This is good news," said Weaver. "If producers are willing to work on making cartoons that aren't violent so much as action packed, they can still capture their target audience better . . . and without the harmful consequences."

He suggested that alternatives could include "things related to speed -- characters going fast, moving quickly. It was one way that we manipulated action in this study. If you can increase action without increasing violence -- which clearly is possible as we did it in this study -- then you can increase the enjoyment without the potential harmful effects that violence can bring," Weaver concluded.

More information

To learn more about children and TV violence, visit the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Posted: May 2011


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