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most closely to the acceptance and use of violence. Cohen looked at the role of com-
munity and family stability in explaining honor-based violence. Cohen hypothesized
that among more stable communities, reputations and honor would have more meaning
than in less stable communities. As a consequence, more honor-based violence was
expected in stable than in unstable communities. Homicide rates among stable and
unstable communities in the North, South, and West were compared. Cohen found a
higher honor-based homicide rate among stable southern and western communities
than among unstable southern and western communities. No such difference existed
for stable and unstable northern communities. Cohen also found that the rate of felony-
related homicides (not related to honor) was lower among stable than among unstable
communities in the South and West, but not in the North. Additionally, Cohen found
that honor-related homicides were higher among communities in the South and West
in which traditional families (i.e., intact nuclear families) were more common than less
common. The opposite was true for northern communities. Thus, the manner in which
cultures evolve, with respect to stability and adherence to traditional family structures,
relates closely to patterns of violence. In the South and West, evolution toward com-
munity stability (in which honor and reputation in the South and West are important)
and adherence to more traditional family structures give rise to higher levels of vio-
lence. Such is not the case for northerners, for whom honor and reputation appear to
be less important.
Further evidence for a unique southern culture of honor is provided in another study
by Cohen (1996). Cohen compared northern and southern (and western) states with
respect to gun-control laws, self-defense laws, treatment of violence used in defense
of oneʼs property, laws concerning corporal punishment, capital punishment laws, and
stances taken by legislators on using military responses to threats to U.S. national inter-
ests. Cohen found that compared to northern states, southern (and western) states had
more lax gun-control laws, more lenient laws concerning using violence for self-defense
and protection of property, more lenient laws for domestic violence offenders (where
disciplining oneʼs wife is used as a justi¬cation for male perpetrators of domestic vio-
lence), and a greater tolerance for the use of corporal punishment. Southern states were
more likely to execute condemned prisoners than northern or western states. Finally,
southern legislators were more likely to endorse the use of military force than north-
ern (or western) states. These ¬ndings support the conclusion that cultural differences,
embodied in regional laws, exist between the North and South (and to a lesser extent
between the West and the North). More lenient laws in the South tend to sanction and
support the use of violence.
Interestingly, the “culture of honor” may not be unique to American culture. One
study compared Polish and German young adultsʼ views concerning using aggression
to defend oneʼs reputation (Szmajke & Kubica, 2003). Szmajke and Kubica found that
Polish young adults were more favorably inclined toward using aggression in response
to a social offense and expected their children to react aggressively toward provoca-
tion from other children.
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 385


The Role of Television in Teaching Aggression
Although parents play the major role in the socialization of children and probably con-
tribute most heavily to the development of aggressive scripts, children are exposed to
other models as well. Over the years, considerable attention has focused on the role of
television in socializing aggressive behaviors. Generally, most research on this topic
suggests that there is a link (though not necessarily a causal link) between exposure to
television violence and aggressive behavior (Huesmann, 1988; Huesmann, Lagerspetz,
& Eron, 1984; Josephson, 1987). Evidence also suggests that the link between watch-
ing violent programming and aggression persists from childhood through adolescence
into adulthood (Huesmann, Moise-Titus, Podolski, & Eron, 2003).
A meta-analysis conducted by Hogben (1998) revealed the following signi¬cant
relationships:
1. Viewing “justi¬ed” televised violence leads to more aggression.
2. Viewing violence with “inaccurate” consequences leads to more violence.
3. Viewing “plausible” violence leads to more aggression.
4. The effect of televised violence is stronger for studies conducted outside the
United States than those conducted in the United States.
5. The size of the effect of television violence on aggression is small.
Hogben estimates that if violence were eliminated from television, the overall amount
of aggression we see in our culture would go down by around 10%.
We should note at this point that research in this area has traditionally focused on the
effect of violent television content and direct, physical aggression. However, research
is now showing that there may also be an effect of depictions of indirect aggression on
indirect aggressive behavior. One study conducted in England found that acts of indirect
aggression are actually more frequent than acts of physical or verbal aggression (Coyne
& Archer, 2004). This study also revealed that female characters on television were
more likely to engage in indirect aggression than male characters. Research is beginning
to show a link between viewing indirect aggression and the use of indirect aggression
(Coyne & Archer, 2005; Coyne, Archer, & Eslea, 2004). For example, a study by Coyne
and Archer (2005) found that girls who were exposed to media portrayals of indirect
aggression tended to show higher levels of that form of aggression.
Some early research in the area showed that males are more in¬‚uenced than females
by violent television (Liebert & Baron, 1972). More recent research suggests that gender
may not be important in understanding the relationship between exposure to televised
violence and aggression (Huesmann et al., 1984). The correlations between watching
television violence and aggression are about the same for male and female children.
However, one interesting gender difference exists. Children, especially males, who
identify with television characters (that is, want to be like them) are most in¬‚uenced
by television violence.
Watching television violence may also have some subtle effects. People who watch
a lot of violence on television tend to become desensitized to the suffering of others,
as we saw was the case with abused children (Rule & Ferguson, 1986). Furthermore,
children who watch a lot of violent television generally have a more favorable attitude
toward aggressive behavior than do children who watch less.
Even sanctioned aggression can increase the incidence of aggressive behavior
among those who view it on television. The impact on aggression of well-publicized
heavyweight championship ¬ghts has been documented (Phillips, 1983). Among adults,
Social Psychology
386

homicide rates were found to increase for 3 days after these boxing matches (Miller,
Heath, Molcan, & Dugoni, 1991). When a white person loses the match, homicides
of whites increase; when an African American loses the match, homicides of African
Americans increase. A similar effect can be seen with suicide rates. The number of sui-
cides increases during the month in which a suicide is reported in the media compared
to the month before the report appears (Phillips, 1986). Interestingly, the rate remains
high (again compared to the month before the report) a month after the report.
Although most studies support the general conclusion that there is a relationship
between watching media portrayals of violence and aggression, a few words of caution
are appropriate (Freedman, 1984):
1. The relationship may not be strong. Correlational studies report relatively low
correlations between watching media violence and aggression, and experimental
studies typically show weak effects.
2. Although watching violence on television is associated with increased
aggression, there is evidence that watching television is also associated with
socially appropriate behavior, such as cooperative play or helping another child
(Gadow & Sprafkin, 1987; Mares & Woodard, 2005).
3. Other variables, such as parental aggressiveness and socioeconomic status, also
correlate signi¬cantly with aggression (Huesmann et al., 1984). One 3-year
study conducted in the Netherlands found that the small correlation between
violent television viewing and aggression (r = .23 and .29 for boys and girls,
respectively) virtually disappeared when childrenʼs preexisting levels of
aggression and intelligence were taken into account (Wiegman, Kuttschreuter,
& Baarda, 1992).
4. Many studies of media violence and aggression are correlational and, as
explained in Chapter 1, cannot be used to establish a causal relationship between
these two variables. Other variables, such as parental aggressiveness, may
contribute causally to both violent television viewing and aggression in children.
Individual personality characteristics and social conditions mediate the relationship
between exposure to violent content and aggressive behavior. For example, Haridakis
(2002) found that “disinhibition” (nonconformity to social norms) and “locus of control”
(perception of the degree to which one is controlled by external events or internal
motives) were signi¬cant predictors of media-related aggression. Generally, individu-
als who are likely to conform and have an external locus of control showed the most
aggression. Children who identify with TV characters and perceive TV violence to be
realistic are most affected by TV violence (Huesmann et al., 2003). Finally, violent
media have a greater effect on adolescents who feel alienated from school and victim-
ized by their peers (Slater, Henry, Swaim, & Cardador, 2004).
With the connection between exposure to televised violence and aggressive behavior
established, researchers have turned their attention to explaining why the relationship
exists. One explanation for this relationship is that exposure to violence on television and
movies contributes to the development of aggressive scripts (see our previous discussion
on this topic). Another possible explanation is that exposure to aggressive media content
may prime aggressive thoughts, making them more accessible (Chory-Assad, 2004).
There is some evidence for this. Chory-Assad found that after watching sitcoms with high
levels of verbal aggression, participants produced high numbers of verbally aggressive
thoughts characterized by attacks on a personʼs character and competence. So, it appears
that exposure to aggressive programming increases aggressive thinking patterns.
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 387


Exposure to Violent Video Games
Video games have come a long way from the original “Pong” game (a rather crude
tennis game) to todayʼs highly realistic games. Many modern video games involve
elaborate stories and scenarios designed to involve the player. These story lines are
quite successful in immersing the player in the game, maintaining interest and arousal
(Schneider, Lang, Shin, & Bradley, 2004). Additionally, many popular games involve
moderate to high levels of violence. The popularity of video games containing highly
realistic violent content has raised concerns about the effects of such games on chil-
drenʼs behavior. A major concern is that exposure to these realistic, violent games can
cause children and adults to behave aggressively. In recent years social scientists have
addressed this concern. In this section we shall explore the relationship between playing
violent video games and overt aggression.
The main question we need to address is whether exposure to violent video games
increases aggression. The answer to this question is that it can (Anderson & Bushman,
2001). Anderson and Bushman conducted a meta-analysis of the literature and concluded
that playing violent video games increased aggression among both males and females.
This was the case regardless of whether the study reported was experimental or cor-
relational. Additionally, playing violent video games increases physiological arousal
and aggressive thoughts and emotions. Violent video games were also associated with
a short-term decrease in prosocial behavior. Generally, research suggests that there is a
link between playing violent video games and aggression, and that link is quite strong
(Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson & Dill, 2000). However, the effect of playing
violent video games on aggression is probably not as strong as the effect of televised
violence on aggression (Sherry, 2001). Playing violent video games has also been found
to increase an individualʼs immediate level of “state hostility.” That is, playing a violent
video game increases hostility while the person is playing the game (Arriaga, Esteves,
Carniero, & Montiero, 2006).
Interestingly, playing a violent video game activates parts of the brain that are com-
monly associated with aggressive thoughts and behavior. In a study conducted by Weber,
Ritter¬eld, and Mathiak (2006), participants played a video game that had violent and
nonviolent sequences while undergoing a functional MRI (fMRI) scan. Weber et al.
found that while playing the violent segments of the game, there was activation in the
dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (normally associated with aggression) and suppression
of the anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala. Weber et al. suggest that this pattern of
brain activity indicates that areas of the brain associated with emotions such as empathy
are suppressed, allowing the game player to engage in the violent activities needed for
the game.
How about gender effects? Anderson and Bushmanʼs (2001) meta-analysis showed
that both males and females are affected by playing violent video games. Research con-
¬rms that females are affected by violent video games (Anderson & Murphy, 2003).
However, one experiment suggests that the effect of violent video games is more pro-
nounced for men than for women (Bartholow & Anderson, 2002). These researchers
found that males delivered more intense punishment on another person after playing
a violent video game (compared to a nonviolent video game) than females under the
same conditions. Finally, research also suggests that females are most affected by violent
video games when they control a female character in the game (Anderson & Murphy,
2003). At this time, we donʼt know if a similar effect exists for males.
As is the case with exposure to violent television, playing violent video games does
not affect everyone equally. Long-term playing of violent video games is associated
with increased aggression most strongly among people with aggressive personalities
Social Psychology
388

(Anderson & Dill, 2000). Among these individuals, exposure to high levels of video
game violence produces high levels of aggression. Individuals with less aggressive
personalities are less affected by video game violence. Based on their experimental
and correlational studies, Anderson and Dill suggest that playing violent video games
increases real-life aggression (delinquent behavior) and aggression under controlled
conditions. They suggest that playing violent video games primes a person for aggres-
sion by increasing aggressive thoughts.

Media Violence and Aggression: Summing Up
Exposure to media violence is one among many factors that can contribute to aggres-
sion (Huesmann et al., 1984). Available research shows a consistent but sometimes
small relationship between media violence and aggression. But interpersonal aggres-
sion probably can best be explained with a multiprocess model, one that includes
media violence and a wide range of other in¬‚uences (Huesmann et al., 1984). In all
likelihood, media violence interacts with other variables in complex ways to produce
aggression.


Viewing Sexual Violence: The Impact on Aggression
Television and video games are not the only media that has come under ¬re for depict-
ing violence. Many groups have protested the depiction of violence against women in
pornographic magazines, movies, and on the Internet. These groups claim that such
sexually explicit materials in¬‚uence the expression of violence, particularly sexual
violence, against women in real life.
In the debate about pornographic materials, researchers have made a distinction
between sexually explicit and sexually violent materials (Linz, Penrod, & Donnerstein,
1987). Sexually explicit materials are those speci¬cally created to produce sexual arousal.
A scene in a movie depicting two nude people engaging in various forms of consensual
sex is sexually explicit. Sexually violent material includes scenes of violence within a
sexual context that are degrading to women. These scenes need not necessarily be sexu-
ally explicit (e.g., showing nudity). A rape scene (with or without nudity) is sexually
violent. Of course, materials can be both sexually explicit and sexually violent.
Although the causes of rape are complex (Groth, 1979; Malamuth, 1986), some
researchers and observers have focused on pornography as a factor that contributes to
the social climate in which sexual violence against women is tolerated. However, not
all forms of pornography are associated with sexual violence. Exposure to sexually
violent materials does relate to increased sexual violence (Malamuth & Check, 1983).
However, mild, nonviolent forms of erotica, such as pictures from Playboy magazine or
scenes of sex between consenting couples, may inhibit sexual violence against women
(Donnerstein, Donnerstein, & Evans, 1975, p. 175).
In a study reported by Donnelly and Fraser (1998), 320 college students responded
to a questionnaire concerning arousal to sadomasochistic fantasies and acts. The results
showed that males were signi¬cantly more likely to be aroused by fantasizing about
and engaging in sadomasochistic sexual acts. Speci¬cally, males scored higher than
females on measures of being dominant during sex, participating in bondage and dis-
cipline, being restrained, and being spanked. In terms of arousal to behaviors, males
scored higher than females on watching bondage and discipline, being dominant during
sex, and taking part in discipline and bondage.
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 389

Of course, sexual arousal does not usually lead to aggression. Most males can easily
control their sexual and aggressive impulses. A wide range of social norms, personal
ethics, and moral beliefs act to moderate the expression of violence toward women, even
when conditions exist that, according to research, lead to increased violence.

The Impact of Sexually Violent Material on Attitudes
Besides increasing violence against women, exposure to sexually violent material has
another damaging effect. It fosters attitudes, especially among males, that tacitly allow
rape to continue. There is a pervasive rape myth in U.S. society, which fosters such
beliefs as “only bad girls get raped,” “if a woman gets raped, she must have asked for
it,” “women »cry rapeʼ only when theyʼve been jilted or have something to cover up,”
and “when a woman says no, she really means yes” (Burt, 1980, p. 217; Groth, 1979).
Men are more likely than women to accept the rape myth (Muir, Lonsway, & Payne,
1996). Additionally, such beliefs are most common among men who believe in stereo-
typed sex roles, hold adversarial sexual beliefs, and ¬nd interpersonal aggression an
acceptable form of behavior. Thus, the rape myth is integrally tied to a whole set of
related attitudes (Burt, 1980). Interestingly, research shows that the rape myth may be
stronger in U.S. culture than in other cultures. Muir, Lonsway, and Payne (1996) com-
pared U.S. and Scottish individuals for acceptance of the rape myth. They found that
the rape myth was more pervasive among Americans that Scots.
Do media portrayals of sexual violence contribute to rape myths and attitudes?

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