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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
juveniles who believed that the media and close friends particularly influenced their behavior also reported copycat behaviors.
Media coverage of terrorist events is believed to motivate copycat terrorist acts (Poland, 1988). An extensive review of the relationship between terrorism and the media concludes that while other factors are probably at least equally important, media coverage is sufficient to lead to acts of imitative behavior (Schmid and DeGraaf, 1982). According to one researcher, media coverage has two effects (Surette, 1990). First, anecdotal evidence indicates that coverage encourages false threats and pseudo-copycat reactions. For example, a May 1981 bombing at New York’s Kennedy Airport was followed by over 600 threats the following week. Second, real copycat events follow in significant numbers in a process called “contagion” in the terrorist literature.
Much anecdotal evidence is available that such events as hostage bank robberies, hijackings, and airline bomb plantings occur in clusters (Schmid and DeGraaf, 1982; Livingstone, 1982). Claims of contagion have also been made about larger-scale incidents of violence, including racial disturbances (Spilerman, 1970), disorders in schools (Ritterband and Silberstein, 1973), political violence (Hamblin et al., 1973), and military coups (Li and Thompson, 1975; Midlarksy, 1970). One study shows that successful hijackings in the United States generated additional hijacking attempts (Holden, 1986). There were no contagion effects of unsuccessful hijacking attempts in the United States or any effects on U.S. hijacking attempts outside the country.
In general, the effect of the media on crime seems to be more qualitative (affecting criminal behavior) than quantitative (affecting the number of criminals) (Huesmann, 1982; Comstock, 1980; Donnerstein and Linz, 1995). Offenders seldom cite the media as a motivating influence. While there are positive correlations between watching violent media and aggressive behavior, people do not become aggressive or violent solely from watching television or violent movies (Philips, 1982a, 1982b; Garofalo, 1982; National Institute of Mental Health, 1982). One study reported that only 12 percent of inmates in their study cite the media as a cause in their criminality, ranking it second to last behind all other possible factors except for “too much junk food” (Pease and Love, 1984). However, the media were endorsed by 21 percent of inmates as a source of information about crime techniques; the media ranked fourth in developing techniques, behind “myself,” friends, and fellow inmates. These researchers also conclude that except for isolated cases of mentally ill individuals, copycat offenders possess a criminal intent to commit a particular crime before they copy a particular technique.
Another study suggests that the media can encourage and instruct criminal behavior through priming processes (media-portrayed behav