In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Violence in the Media

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Definitions and Content Studies
  • Meta-Analyses

Communication Violence in the Media
Erica Scharrer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0003


Controversy surrounding violence in the media has existed since the media themselves have existed. Scholarly approaches to the topic have come primarily from communication and psychology but also from such fields as sociology and public health. The relatively new “media psychology” subfield (a convergence of the psychology and communication scholarly perspectives) has provided particularly fruitful insights into the processing of violent media and influence on individuals’ thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and behavior. Researchers have documented the presence and types of violent depictions in television, film, video games, and other media forms. There is also convincing research evidence for three major effects of media violence: learning aggression, becoming desensitized, and feeling fearful or developing a view of the world as a mean and dangerous place. Congress and other policy-making individuals and bodies have taken up the issue periodically throughout US history, although key changes in the media industries to address the issue of violence (such as the creation of ratings to signify the presence of violence and other potentially objectionable media content) have been largely self-regulatory.

General Overviews

As the literatures regarding media violence have grown, so have the number of books that synthesize, critique, and expand on those literatures. General overviews of the topic appear in Potter 1999, Gentile 2003, and Kirsh 2006, although the latter two have a particular emphasis on the child audience. Other books provide important emphases within the topic, such as Anderson, et al. 2007, which focuses on video games; Cooper 1996, which investigates public policy initiatives; and Hamilton 1998, which engages in economic analysis. Lowery and DeFleur 1995 devotes a chapter to the Payne Fund Studies, which many believe officially began the scholarly inquiry and public concern regarding the influence of violent media on children. Finally, Smith, et al. 1998 and Gunter, et al. 2003 report on massive content analysis studies conducted in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, in which amount and types of violent depictions on television are documented through strong methodological techniques. In both cases, the reporting of those new data is placed into context with the existing patterns in the literature, thereby providing very useful summaries as well.

  • Anderson, Craig A., Douglas A. Gentile, and Katherine E. Buckley. 2007. Violent video game effects on children and adolescents: Theory, research, and public policy. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195309836.001.0001

    Provides excellent background information on the development and popularity of video games, as well as on the general aggression model (a theory explaining the effects of media violence). Presents important new data from multiple studies using various methodologies, each supporting the link between playing violent video games and aggressive thoughts, attitudes, and behavior.

  • Cooper, Cynthia A. 1996. Violence on television: Congressional inquiry, public criticism, and industry response; A policy analysis. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America.

    Cooper provides an invaluable account of the various congressional inquiries, public hearings, and court cases that span the history of policy developments pertaining to media violence. Appendices feature a thorough compendium of congressional hearings, presidential speeches and proclamations, legal cases, and government publications on the topic.

  • Gentile, Douglas A., ed. 2003. Media violence and children: A complete guide for parents and professionals. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    A comprehensive approach examining the economics, theories, and effects of media violence, with chapters devoted to such issues as violence in video games and music, media and fear, and the v-chip and other public policy initiatives. Highly useful for those concerned about media violence and young audiences.

  • Gunter, Barrie, Jackie Harrison, and Maggie Wykes. 2003. Violence on television: Distribution, form, context, and themes. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Presents excellent original content analysis data from a large swath of British television programs to examine violent content. Individual chapters highlight content patterns regarding motives and consequences for violence, gender roles and violence, and violence in the soap opera genre. An insightful comparison is made between British and American television.

  • Hamilton, James T. 1998. Channeling violence: The economic market for violent television programming. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Hamilton views the topic through the lens of economics and public policy, providing meticulous and extensive analyses of the size and characteristics of adult and child audiences for violence, revenues from advertising, and the role of such factors as ratings and global exporting in explaining economic incentives for violence in media.

  • Kirsh, Stephen J. 2006. Children, adolescents, and media violence: A critical look at the research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book goes beyond the usual topics to also cover motivations for consuming violent entertainment, violence in mediated sports, and the implications of violence in such understudied outlets as comic books, war toys, and music lyrics and videos. A strong emphasis on the developmental stages of childhood as they pertain to these topics and an excellent resource.

  • Lowery, Shearon A., and Melvin L. DeFleur. 1995. Milestones in mass communication research. 3d ed. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.

    This is one of the most frequently cited references for mass communication research, and devotes a chapter to the series of studies that became known as the Payne Fund Studies. Conducted in the 1920s by a group of psychologists and sociologists, the studies were early inquiries into the potentially negative effects of violence and other “objectionable” material in film on children.

  • Potter, W. James. 1999. On media violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    One of the first volumes to synthesize hundreds of individual studies of violent media content and the attending effects, featuring recommendations for standardizing definitions and refining methodologies. The final section presents “lineation theory,” a theory that aggregates scholarly treatments of production of content by media industries, content itself, effects, and processing of media messages.

  • Smith, Stacy L., Barbara J. Wilson, Dale Kunkel, Dan Linz, W. James Potter, Carolyn M. Colvin, and Edward Donnerstein. 1998. National television violence study. Vol. 3. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The final of three installments from the most comprehensive analysis of violence on television ever conducted, supported by a grant from the National Cable Television Association. The report describes the results of the third year of study of thousands of hours of programming on twenty-three broadcast, cable, and independent television channels.

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