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As with other moderator effects though it is

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Unformatted text preview: in a violent film, the effects of viewing the film are enhanced, perhaps because of the viewers’ relatively greater psychological involvement (Leyens & Picus, 1973). In longitudinal research, Huesmann and his colleagues (1986, 2003) found that children who thought that violent shows they watched were telling about life "just like it really is" or who identified with aggressive TV characters had relatively high average scores on a measure of physical and verbal aggression 1 year later and scored higher on a composite measure of aggressiveness (physical, verbal and indirect or relational) 15 years later. In both of these longitudinal analyses, those most at risk to behave aggressively were children who both watched violence and identified with the violent characters. As with other moderator effects, though, it is important to note that the occasional finding of increased risk when perceptions of realism and identification are high does not mean that there are no deleterious effects when levels of realism or identification are low. For instance, numerous studies have found significant effects of media violence on aggression even when the media violence is clearly fictional and unrealistic (e.g., virtually all experiments using cartoonish mediaviolence stimuli and college-student participants). Media Content Characteristics Not all violent portrayals pose the same risk to viewers (Wilson et al., 1997). A variety of studies—primarily laboratory investigations involving children and young adults—indicate that how violence or aggression is presented can alter its meaning for the audience and may moderate viewers' behavioral, cognitive, and emotional reactions. We have already noted that the effect of Anderson, Berkowitz, Donnerstein, Huesmann, Johnson, Linz, Malamuth, & Wartella 52 media violence is sometimes enhanced when the violence seems like "real life" and is committed by characters with whom the viewer can identify. However, some other characteristics of the content also seem to be important. Characteristics of the Aggressive Perpetrator Given that identification with the perpetrator may increase the effects of his or her behavior on viewers, it is important to consider what characteristics of a perpetrator might be conducive to identification. There is evidence suggesting that viewers are particularly likely to identify with and be influenced by an aggressive character portrayed as similar to themselves (e.g., in age, gender, and race; Bandura, 1986, 1994). However, the overall attractiveness, power, and charisma of the perpetrator may be more important than any of these personal attributes by themselves. For example, in the early 1970s, African American children imitated the behavior of White male actors more than African American actors (Neely, Hechel, & Leichtman, 1973). Portrayed Justification and Consequences of the Aggression According to observational-learning theory, when violence is portrayed as justified, viewers are likely to come to believe that their own aggressive responses to a perceived offense are also appropriate, so they therefore are more apt to behave aggressively. Supporting this contention, findings from experiments that varied the extent to which the observed violence was justified demonstrated that seemingly warranted media violence increased the likelihood that angered participants would assault people who had provoked them earlier (Berkowitz, 1965; Berkowitz & Geen, 1967; Berkowitz & Powers, 1979; Geen & Stonner, 1973). Theoretically, rewarding perpetrators for their aggression should also raise the likelihood that viewers will model the aggressive act, and indeed, media portrayals in which violence is rewarded have been shown to increase the risk that viewers will behave aggressively (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963a, 1963b, 1963c; Lando & Donnerstein, 1978). However, violence does not need to be explicitly rewarded to increase the risk of a harmful effect; seeing unpunished media violence may also Media Violence 53 enhance learning of aggressive thoughts and behaviors (Bandura, 1965; Walters & Parke, 1964). Another important question concerns the effects of showing the negative consequences to the victim of portrayed aggression. Seeing the harm and pain resulting from violence might serve as a vicarious punishment for the viewer who identifies with the aggressor, reducing the vicarious value of any rewards associated with the aggressive act, and thereby reducing the usual media-violence effect on aggressive behavior. However, little research has been conducted to test this speculation. Goranson (1970) summarized two unpublished experiments on this topic. He reported that after being angered and then viewing a filmed aggressive boxing match, participants who were subsequently informed that the losing boxer had died behaved less aggressively toward their earlier antagonist than those not informed of the victim’s death. Malamuth and Check (1985) obtained similar results. Participants...
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