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1 February 11, 2003 Imitation and the Effects of Observing Media Violence on Behavior L. Rowell Huesmann University of Michigan Abstract On the surface, to anyone who studies imitation, it would seem that exposure to violence in the real world or the media world would have obvious potential for stimulating violent behavior in the viewer. In fact, as reviewed in this chapter, the empirical data are quite compelling that exposing children to media violence does increase their probability of behaving aggressively in the short run and, when exposure is lasting, throughout the life course. A review of the psychological processes underlying these effects suggests that while priming of already existing aggressive scripts may be a more important contributor to the short term effect, the acquisition of scripts, beliefs, and schemas about the world through imitation and inference is the most important contributor to the long term effect. It is suggested that a broader understanding by the public of the universality of imitation in humans and its neurophysiological basis may overcome the reluctance of many with political concerns about free speech issues or vested economic interests in media violence to accept the truth that media violence can increase the risk for violent behavior in the viewing audience. To appear in S. Hurley and N. Chatter (Eds., 2004). Perspectives on Imitation: From Cognitive Neuroscience to Social Science . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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2 Anyone who attempts to make sense out of the 50 or more years of writings about the effects of media violence is faced with a daunting task. It is a topic on which much has been written with passion, on which much nonsense has been written, on which many outrageous claims have been made, on which otherwise intelligent people seem to fall victim to the worst kinds of wishful thinking, and yet on which an enormous body of scientific research has accumulated. In other essays in the volume some of the key issues and controversies surrounding the potential effects of media violence are outlined and discussed. However, it is important that such a delineation of key issues be coupled with a review of the actual scientific evidence that has been collected on the effects of media violence, the psychological processes that have been identified as causing its effects, and the exact role that imitation plays in the process. When this is done, it becomes apparent that the recent research and thinking on imitation reflected in the essays in this book increases one's confidence in the conclusion that media violence is stimulating violent behavior. Processes Accounting for Effects of Media Violence To begin with one must realize that different processes explain short term effects and long term effects . Short term effects are due to 1) priming processes, 2) excitation processes, and 3) the immediate imitation of specific behaviors. (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Huesmann, 1988; 1998). Long term effects will be discussed shortly. Briefly priming is the process through which spreading activation in the brain's neural network
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This note was uploaded on 03/22/2011 for the course SOC 302 taught by Professor Haghshenas during the Spring '11 term at University of Texas-Tyler.

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