Home > Uncategorized > Do Television, games and other forms of media really have an effect on our behaviour?

Do Television, games and other forms of media really have an effect on our behaviour?

Hi there all.  Last blog of academic year from me! So, I thought I’d go for a topic that really interests me.  Please please be warned that the first example I’m going to use is a pretty nasty one, so I would warn you not to read on if you’re easily upset.

We’ve all heard the theories that games such as Grand Theft Auto can have an effect on a person’s behaviour. Ie. GTA might make a person more violent in real life.

The reason that this subject is on my mind is because I was recently listening to a call in show that airs on Radio City in Liverpool in which a caller was discussing James Bulger and his killers.  I don’t know if everyone will be familiar with the story, but I know anyone from the Merseyside area will know it well and keep it close to their heart, as I know I do.  I really won’t go into the story in much detail because it is absolutely heartbreaking, but in short, 2 very nasty 10 year old boys (keeping my language clean here) took a 2 year old boy away from his mother in a crowded shopping mall and did very horrible things to him before murdering him.  I wouldn’t bring this heartbreaking story up usually, but it is relevant to my topic.
Firstly, if anyone is not familiar with the James Bulger story, and wants to know about it,  everything about what happened, the trial, the release, the re-arrest of one of the boys 2 years ago etc. is here:


But please please be warned, I’ve just read through it (keeping in mind that I already knew it all) and I’m in tears and feel a little sick…so please be sure that you want to read it before you do, because it is utterly heartbreaking and sickening.

Anyway, moving on to how this is relevant.  The killing has been indirectly linked to the film Child’s Play 3 many times.  It is a film that one of the boy’s father had rented the week before and has been speculated that the boys watched as James’ death was similar to the death in the film. The judge on the case even mentioned film violence.  The subject got the nation talking about whether violent films could have influenced the two 10 year old boys to murder a young boy.  In reality, one boy had been sexually abused by his father and beaten by his brothers while the other had always been a difficult child (http://karisable.com/mbulg.htm), and surely this is what was to blame for their behaviour.

Having said this, the film certainly seems to have given the boys the idea of how to kill, maybe it gave them the initial idea of killing at all.

There have been many studies proving that there is a correlation between real-life violence and time spent watching violent films/playing violent games.  However, correlation does not prove causation.  So, it doesn’t prove that the violent media causes the violent behaviour, but perhaps that already violent people gravitate towards violent media.   However, there has been a study done that has shown that people who spend a lot of time playing violent games become desensitised to real-life violence. (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8449-violent-video-games-alter-brains-response-to-violence.html).
But, again, does desensitisation to real-life violence mean that a person is likely to commit that violence themselves, or that it simply wouldn’t phase them seeing a murder, for example.

When thinking about this subject, I always think to myself  ‘well, I watched scary films and played Grand Theft Auto when I was around 13ish…and I’m not a violent person. I’ve never had the urge to murder anyone.  I’m sure this is the case for a huge percentage of the population.  So, how can it work one way for some people and another for others?  If violent media alone is to blame for violent behaviour, surely everyone who participates in violent media would behave the same.  But they don’t…so there must be other factors affecting the violent behaviour.

I do believe that violent media has a bad effect on children who may have a bad temper or bad home environment, but I do not believe it is the primary cause of violent behaviour.

At the end of the day, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) put age restrictions on games and films for a reason. Because children under that age may not be mature enough to understand that the violence is fake and unacceptable.  Having said that, most violence does come from adults..so is some media just too violent to be put out to the public?

I, personally, think that it stops with the parents.  Of course, my parents knew me better than anyone and thought it safe for me to play Grand Theft Auto or watch the occasional film that I was too young to watch, because they knew me, knew that I knew right from wrong, and could keep a close eye on me.  Parents should know whether their child is mature enough to handle such media.

But then, again, what about adults who may be influenced by the media? Their parents can’t tell them what to watch and what not to watch.

Finally, unfortunately, the children who probably shouldn’t be watching such films, are perhaps those who don’t have a good home environment. Who perhaps have abusive parents or unloving parents which may result in the child being angry, violent or desperate for attention.  These children probably aren’t mature enough to handle the violent media and are the types of people who would get bad ideas and pick up violent behaviour.  Unfortunately, their parents probably aren’t paying enough attention, or don’t care enough to stop them participating in such media in the first place. It’s a vicious cirlce.

Anyway, I do not believe that Child’s play 3 was to blame for James’ death. I think maybe it gave those horrible boys some ideas, but they had a horrible environment to start with.  Seeing that film alone would not have caused such horrific acts, I don’t think.

Right, I seem to have let my thoughts run away with me. It’s such a huge topic area.  Please let me know your opinions.

I appologise for the heavy topic, but I think it’s an important one to think about in Psychology.

Have a great Easter everyone.

Please, spare a thought and a prayer for James Bulger and his family. The gorgeous little angel who had his life tragically taken away from him.  Never ever forgotten or unloved. RIP.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 16, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Here’s another more recent article, and again it is a stressful read so be warned!

    Brothers beat and burned boys – TWO savage brothers who tortured boys of 11 and nine snarled at their blood-soaked victims: “We can’t leave you — you are not dead yet.”


    I agree with you, this is a very thought provoking topic and one that has received much research in psychology Early reseach, Bandora’s Bobo doll studies (1961, 1963), demonstrated how observational learning can influence the behaviour of others.

    I also agree that their background, upbringing does play some part, as the majority that play violent video games or watch violent films show no adverse affects. But I’m not sure that everything can be blamed on their unbringing as some exposed to these violent games and videos also come from abusive and violent homes and do not go on to commit violent acts. I feel there has to be more to it, biologically or mentally. It’s definately an area that needs further research.

    • April 17, 2012 at 1:47 am

      You’re absolutely right. It’s the classic nature vs nurture debate. Do we behave the way we do due to our biology and genes or due to the environment we are brought up in and the way we were raised? Like it has been said, not everyone who participates in violent media is violent, so why some and not others? Not everyone who had a bad childhood and participates in violent media is violent. So, that suggests that there is a biological aspect to it.
      It has been suggested many times that some people may have a biological predisposition to violence. It is something that has always been ‘within’ them, until something sets it off. Having said this, that something that sets it off may be violent media! I think it is most probably a mix of many different things. But, again personally, I think the strongest factor is environmental influences, especially how people are treated by parents in childhood.


  2. April 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    This is such an interesting blog yet incredibly sad. You’ve dealt with the topic in a sensitive manner, but you still put across the important points.

    Personally, I feel that events like these cannot be blamed on just one factor, though I do believe that a great part of an individual’s behaviour is due to their background and environment. James’ killers (as you’ve mentioned above) were raised horribly, with some reports stating that they were allowed “to smoke cannabis and cigarettes and drink vodka from the age of nine” (Daily Mail). The boys were undoubtedly neglected, and were most likely never taught morals. However, despite their upsetting background, the boys can never be excused for what they commited.

    With regards to the murder being influenced by Child’s Play, this does have research to suggest it’s validity. Bandura’s infamous Bobo doll study showed that children who had previously watched an adult act physically aggressive towards a bobo doll, consequently imitated this aggressive behaviour when faced with the doll. This finding suggests that children’s behaviour is learnt from observing others, and so the boys could have learnt their behaviour from the film. This theory is also supported by Paik and Comstock’s finding that there is a significant relationship between aggressive behaviour and television violence.

    However, even though there is a suggested relationship, these studies don’t explain why children become aggressive after watching violence. The studies also don’t explore the background of the children who became aggressive; their aggression could very well be the cause of numerous factors (e.g. their parents).

    Either way, they will never be forgiven.


    Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of Aggression Through Imitation of Aggressive Models. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology. 63(3), 575-582. doi:10.1037/h0045925

    Paik, H., & Comstock, G. (1994). The Effects of Television Violence on Antisocial Behaviour: A Meta-analysis. Communication Research. 21(4), 516-546. doi:10.1177/009365094021004004

  3. April 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    From looking at research myself it does seem less likely that a direct link between violent films and games leading to violent behaviour exists, and more likely to be the act of a precursor such as desensitization. Research has not only suggested that this does happen due to reduced brain activity (Bushman & Sestir, 2005) but prolonged exposure to violent material also causes further physiological changes such as a decreased heart rate (Linz, Donnerstein & Adams, 1989). However, in Linz et al’s (1989) research they also found that participants attributed greater responsibility for perpetrators. Therefore it does seem that desensitization does play a role, but if responsibility for committing violent acts increases there must be something else involved to overcome this hurdle.

  4. April 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you for making such a thought-provoking topic as your last; I thoughroughly enjoyed reading it although (of course) the topic itself is upsetting.
    When I read about these cases, I immediately think of ‘kids-abusing-kids’; usually this phoenomenon happens when a parental figure abuses the child prior. Knowing very little about Thompson and Venable’s history, I can only assume that there was a greater chance of child abuse within the home in comparison to other children… actually, after some googling, I find some evidence to back up the possibility of previous child abuse in the home based from the parents: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2000/nov/01/bulger.familyandrelationships
    Consider the Bobo-doll experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobo_doll_experiment) whereby two seperate video footages were shown to children; one of an adult hugging Bobo, and the other of an adult attacking Bobo. The children did respond much more to the adult attacking Bobo, and immitated what they saw; but research has suggested that seeing an adult act this out in person, infront of a child, then the child may be tenfold more likely to copy an action [http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/66/1/3/]. This suggests that although a child may become excited or enthralled by a violent film, if an adult demonstrates that the behaviour is wrong, a child is much less likely to copy and/or imitate.
    In my conclusion, I believe that violent films/cartoons etc. have little to do with the overall behaviour of a child, so long as there is a strong parental figure to reinforce and explain the good and the bad to influental media. Thompson and Vendables parents can only be assumed to not have had an avid role in discouraging bad behaviour, only encouraging it.

  5. April 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Another story this reminded me of was of a murder where the murderer copied a scene from the film severance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severance_(film)#Copycat_murder). The murderer was quoted as saying he ‘thought it would be cool’ to copy the scene when he first saw it. However this makes me think that it is not the media that is causing the behaviour but a previous behaviour that can be facilitated by this.

    On the topic of games, there has been incidences of people who have killed their parents over them being removed such as Daniel Petric who shot his parents when they removed his games (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Petric_Shooting). And it must be questioned whether he would have committed these acts if he wasn’t affected by these games. However saying this i have played all these video games since i was about 12-13 and i wouldnt say i am violent at all. So can it really be all the games fault for this violence.

  1. April 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm
  2. April 17, 2012 at 2:01 am
  3. April 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm
  4. April 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm

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