Missing Links

Does TV violence cause real-world mayhem?


A funny thing happened on the way to quantifying violence on television: Researchers acknowledged that the nature and extent of the link between watching TV and engaging in violent behavior is far from clear. Indeed, even The UCLA Violence Monitoring Report and The National Television Violence Study , two recently released reports widely touted as providing irrefutable proof of TV's violent nature, admit as much.

The two studies grew out of a 1994 agreement between broadcast and cable networks and Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who agreed to forestall government action on TV violence if the TV broadcasters agreed to sponsor independent analyses of their programming.

The UCLA Television Violence Monitoring Report, which analyzed broadcast programming during the 1994-1995 season, notes that it is "known" that TV doesn't have a simple stimulus-response effect on viewers. The tube's influence fluctuates wildly with socioeconomic status, viewing setting, and other variables. "When the impact of television is discussed or when television is blamed for having caused something to happen, it should never be suggested that television alone is a sufficient cause," says the study.

The National Television Violence Study , underwritten by the cable industry, looked at broadcast and cable offerings over the same time period. Like the UCLA report, it finds ample evidence of violent acts and images on TV.

But the study admits that the connection between TV and real-world violence is far from clear. "It is also recognized," says the report, "that televised violence does not have a uniform effect on viewers. The outcome of media violence on viewers depends bo th on the nature of the depictions and the sociological and psychological makeup of the audience."