TV ratings fail to reflect cartoon violence

Researchers at Iowa State University are investigating aggression and kids’ television viewing. Their study, published in the March/April issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, compared the amount of violence in children’s shows according to their rating. Surprisingly, they found that shows deemed acceptable for children aged 7 and older (TV-Y7) contained three times as much violence as those rated for 14 year-olds (TV-14). Both contained more violence than PG-rated shows. The researchers concluded that the “Fantasy Violence” label for cartoons was misleading and may allow children access to more violent content. Perhaps more interesting were the findings about other types of aggression…

The study also looked at verbal and indirect aggression – non-physical behaviours that are meant to be harmful. This kind of aggression is more commonly seen in girls than in boys, as we discussed in Episode 36. The researchers found that viewing verbal aggression on television was linked to increased verbal aggression at school, according to reports by teachers – this was the first study to examine the correlation between verbal aggression on television and in life. Students who watched physically violent shows were also rated as having more negative behaviours. Of course, this link doesn’t mean that TV viewing caused the bad behaviour.

I grew up watching Looney Tunes, which I think was as violent a show as one could find at the time, and I never became aggressive as a result. There are studies in addition to the one described above that have found a link between increased aggression and televised violence – sometimes the link is only found for boys, sometimes only for children who are already aggressive, sometimes for boys and girls. What do you think? Are you aware of the indirect aggression in the shows your children watch?

You can read more about the study here.

Subscribe to The Family Anatomy Podcast by clicking here, or get your free subscription directly through iTunes.

Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.

3 Responses to TV ratings fail to reflect cartoon violence
  1. The Mother
    March 6, 2009 | 3:44 pm

    Whenever we see articles complaining about cartoon violence, we laugh about Looney Tunes.

    But don’t forget the Three Stooges, on which an entire generation’s teeth were cut.

  2. brianmacdonald
    March 6, 2009 | 3:57 pm

    I did forget the Three Stooges! These shows are sometimes used by parents (myself included) to dismiss evidence linking aggression and TV. Thinking about it though – it’s possible that parents spent more time with their kids when those shows were popular, and that they might have discussed some of the things that were happening on television or watched it together.

    We’re going to talk a lot about this when we have Dr. Dutwin on the phone! I have a feeling that our interview with him might span more than one episode.

  3. Barb Desmarais
    March 7, 2009 | 7:36 pm

    Hi Brian ~

    I remember over 20 years ago going to a conference where the keynote was detailing the amount of violence young children are exposed to through television. Instintively I just never bought into his claim that it would lead to aggressive behavior. I think of any time I’ve read the personal stories of anyone with a violent past and never has there been a correlation between their behavior and the kinds of TV shows they watched.

    From my experience coaching parents, there is often a connection between aggressive behavior and hostility in the home.

    I agree with you Brian that parents probably spent a lot of time with their kids watching things like The Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. The value of the time together far out weighed any potential harm the “violence” they were watching would have on them.