to media violence and aggressive behavior in some individuals. Although the evidence is not solid, some studies indicate that the impact of continued exposure to violence can desensitize individuals to violence and lead to the belief that the world is unsafe. Violence in television programming or in cartoons models violent behavior for viewers. It can also lead to the belief that physical aggression is the way to resolve conflict.
Speaker Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona said that there is consensus in the literature that media violence risks harmful effects on children and that greater exposure increases the risk. He cited a number of institutions that are part of this consensus, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Kunkel sees violence in the media as a risk factor for aggressive behavior—not the only and not the most powerful factor, but one that is “consistent and meaningful.” He explained that contextual factors can increase the risk of later violent behavior. There is less research on the impact of violent video games than there is on the effect of violent TV, but there is enough to say there is a correlation between aggression and playing violent video games. A recently published meta-analysis of the effects of video games found that when the games are violent, exposure to them can increase aggression and decrease empathic behaviors. Dr. Viswanath also discussed cyberbullying through social media and its connection to violence. He said there is now evidence that text-based harassment is increasing, while harassment through other Internet media is neither increasing nor decreasing.
Dr. Kunkel brought up policy steps that could reduce children’s exposure to media violence. One such step would be to reduce the violent media content production and its distribution. The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, limits what can be done in restricting production and distribution of media that contain violence. Another policy direction would be to “facilitate” industry self-regulation, which would avoid the issue of First Amendment rights. Formal government restrictions could, for example, regulate the hours during which such media could be shown, as has been done in the United Kingdom. The United States uses this strategy to regulate indecency but not violence, because there is less public concern in the United States about violence than there is about sex. Dr. Viswanath speculated that there is probably much more organized opposition to portrayals of sex than there is to violence in the United States, despite the fact that most likely there is more programming with violence than with sexual content. Dr. Kunkel cited a study showing that children are more attracted to high action and that violent media generally has lots of action. The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF’s) office of research, Innocenti, published a report in December 2011 titled Child Safety Online: Global