Prof: Movie violence plays a role in real life

July 25, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - While the recent killings at a Batman movie premiere have critics blaming media violence for such crimes and others defending the entertainment industry, a Purdue University mass media expert says the truth about media violence is rarely captured in such debates.

"We should resist feeling forced to choose between a view that emphasizes personal responsibility for behavior and an understanding that media messages that fill our culture surely have an impact upon us," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication who studies the effects of frightening images. "We are all personally responsible for our choice to either refrain from or engage in violence. To better understand violence in media there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that media messages can be incredibly powerful.

"Just look at the influence that commercial messages have on us. The advertisers and researchers know this, and decades of research clearly establish that media messages can exert strong influence on consumers."

The second aspect is that graphic violence in films and television is increasing, and youths are growing up with access to such violence and gore via movies and digital content on the Internet.

"Today's level of graphic violence is unprecedented, and that is concerning because we know from research that viewers become desensitized when consuming large quantities," Sparks says. "We need to be more sensitive to how much violence people, especially young people, are exposed to and carefully weigh the extent to which such exposure is unhealthy."

Sparks says people need to take breaks from watching so much media violence, and instead spend that screen time connecting with people face to face. Parents also need to consider how much their teenagers are consuming.

"Parents should tune into children's reactions and ask them about what they thought of the film or what scenes were most disturbing," he says. "For the long-term, parents, educators and other adults need to evaluate how much violence is a part of their daily diet and the diets of their family members. At this rate, if we fast forward a couple of decades, I expect we'll see a larger component of the population prone to more anxiety problems, and we will live in a society that has become increasingly desensitized to violence. Those are consequences that most of us find undesirable."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Glenn Sparks,

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