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Unformatted text preview: e psychological processes underlying these effects. Although the underlying
tenets of the current theories of media-violence effects were formulated even before that early
Surgeon General's report (see Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963a, 1963b, 1963c; Bandura, 1973;
Berkowitz, 1962; Eron, Walder, & Lefkowitz, 1971), researchers from a variety of disciplines,
primarily psychology, communication, and sociology, have developed, tested, and refined everbetter theoretical models accounting for the consequences of exposure to media violence. The
generally accepted theories that have evolved not only explain why exposure to media violence
increases aggressive and violent behavior, but also suggest numerous factors that might exacerbate
or mitigate the effect. These models generally fall under the rubric of social-cognitive, information
processing models. Such models focus on how people perceive, think, learn, and come to behave in
particular ways as a result of interactions with their social world, a world which includes
observation of and participation in real social interactions (e.g., with parents, peers) as well as
fictional social interactions (e.g., various forms of media). Reviews of several such formulations
are available (Anderson & Bushman, 2002b; Anderson & Huesmann, 2003; Berkowitz, 1984,
1993; Huesmann, 1997, 1998).
Within the framework of these theories, it is important to distinguish between relatively
immediate (or short-term) and delayed (or long-term) effects. It is now generally agreed that
although some processes contribute to both kinds of effects, others contribute primarily to one or Media Violence 41 the other. In particular, short-term effects are thought to be due to observational learning and
imitation, arousal and excitation, and priming, whereas long-term effects are thought to be due to
observational learning, automatization of aggressive schematic processing, and desensitization or
emotional habituation. We discuss each of these processes in turn.
Observational Learning and Imitation
Humans begin imitating other humans at a very early age, and the observation of others'
behaviors is the likely source of many of a young child's motor and social skills (Bandura, 1977;
Meltzoff & Moore, 1977). Humans and chimpanzees are now known to have specific neurological
systems designed for imitation (Rizzolati, Fadiga, Gallese, & Fogassi, 1996), and these systems
make it easy for very young primates to acquire rudimentary social behaviors. Social interactions
hone these behaviors that children first acquire through observation of others, but observational
learning remains a powerful mechanism for the acquisition of new social behaviors throughout
childhood and maturity. As a child grows older, the behaviors and the circumstances in which they
are seen as appropriate or useful become more abstract, and beliefs and attitudes are developed
from inferences made about observed social behaviors (Guerra, Huesmann, & Spindler, in press).
Theoretically, children can be expected to learn from whomever they observe—parents, siblings,
peers, or media characters—and many researchers now agree that such observational learning can
contribute to both the short- and the long-term effects of media violence on aggressive behavior.
Much of this learning takes place without an intention to learn and without an awareness that
learning has occurred.
According to observational-learning theory, the likelihood that an individual will acquire an
observed behavior is increased when the model performing the behavior is similar to or attractive to
the viewer, the viewer identifies with the model, the context is realistic, and the viewed behavior is
followed by rewarding consequences (Bandura, 1977).2 A child's immediate imitation of observed
behaviors would probably be the simplest example of observational learning though some scholars Anderson, Berkowitz, Donnerstein, Huesmann, Johnson, Linz, Malamuth, & Wartella 42 would suggest that there should be a lag before the imitation occurs for it to be called "learning."
Observational learning can help to explain some of the short-term effects of exposure to violent
media, but what happens in the longer term? The reinforcements a person receives when imitating a
behavior are largely responsible for whether the behavior persists. For example, youngsters might
be rewarded or punished by people in their social environment (parents, teachers, peers) for the
actions they exhibit, or they might vicariously experience the rewards or punishments other persons
obtain when these others imitate the portrayed behavior. Through imitation and reinforcement,
children develop habitual modes of behavior (e.g., Bandura, 1977, 1986; Huesmann, 1997).
Whether observational learning leads to long-term effects of media violence depends in part on the
consequences the imitated behaviors bring.
It is theorized that children not only learn specific behaviors from models; but can also learn
more generalized, complex social scripts (sets o...
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