Monthly Archives: March 2012

Does the media cause children to become desensitized to violence?


Desensitisation is a word used to describe the ways in which viewing acts of violence reduce our responsiveness (Bushman & Huesmann, 2006). Media violence may stimulate aggressive behaviour by desensitising children to the effects of violence. This means that the more violence that a child views on television, the less emotionally concerned they become and the more acceptable it seems (Cline, Croft & Courrier, 1973). Frequent viewing may cause children to be less anxious about violence and see it as more ‘normal’. Therefore, they may be more likely to engage in violence themselves.

According to Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis (2005), there is consistent evidence that violent imagery in television, film and computer games has substantial short-term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions. This increases the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour in younger children, especially boys. These conclusions were drawn after a search for published work was conducted, revealing five meta-analytic reviews and one quasi-systematic review, all of which were from North America. The evidence becomes inconsistent when considering older children and adolescents, and also the long-term effects upon all ages. The different levels of aggression in children were tested, resulting in difficulties with the method and problems showing causation. However, a small but significant association was found, but with only weak evidence from correlation studies that linked media violence to crime.

Disinhibition is quite similar to desensitisation, the promoting of violent behaviour leads us to believe that violence is common and acceptable. According to Suler (2005), this reduces our normal inhibitions about behaving in certain anti-social ways, and may lead to us stopping exerting conscious control over our behaviour. Josephson (1987) argues that violence on screen is very different to violence in the real world, stating that media violence is more likely to make children more ‘frightened’ than ‘frightening’. According to Huesmann and Moise (2003), there are stronger desensitisation effects for males than there are for females. They suggest that boys who watch excessive amounts of television show lower-than-average physiological arousal in response to scenes of violence.

There is not sufficient evidence to support the claim that the media desensitizes children to violence, as there is an unpredictable link between watching television and aggression. The media cannot be wholly blamed for causing desensitization and disinhibition efftecs, certain factors such as individual differences and personality types need to be taken into consideration. Results cannot be generalizable to all children, as most studies tend to be conducted on young, white males, without taking into consideration females or other cultures. There are also some methodological problems; demand characteristics are common with controlled experiments. For example, when a natural experiment was conducted in St Helena (a British Colony in the South Atlantic Ocean), where people were first introduced to televisions in 1995, the new televisions did not increase aggressive behaviour, or desensitize people to acts of aggression (Charlton & O’Bey, 1997).




Browne, K. D. & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2005) The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: a public-health approach, The Lancet, Vol. 365 (9460) pp. 702 – 710. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17952-5


Bushman, B. J. & Huesmann, L. (2006) Short-term and long-term effects of violent media on aggression in children and adults, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 160 (4) pp. 348-352


Charlton, T. & O’Bey, S. (1997) Links Between Television and Behaviour: Students’ Perceptions of TV’s Impact in St Helena, South Alantic, Support for Learning, Vol. 12(3) pp. 130-136. doi: 10.1111/1467-9604.00031


Cline, V. B., Croft, R. G. & Courrier, S. (1973) Desensitization of children to television violence, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 27 (3), pp. 360-365. doi: 10.1037/h0034945


Huesmann, L. R. & Moise, J. T (2003) Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood, Developmental Psychology, Vol. 39(2), pp. 201-221. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.39.2.201


Josephson, W. L. (1987) Television violence and children’s aggression, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 53(5), pp. 882-890. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.53.5.882


Suler, J. (2005) The disinhibition effect, International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Vol. 2(2), pp. 184–188


Is there anything that can’t be measured by psychologists?


Psychologists conduct experiments in order to gain an understanding of human behaviour and its possible causes (Gleitman, Gross and Reisberg, 2011). These experiments often involve measuring certain emotions or feelings, but it has been questioned whether such subjective matters can be measured accurately, if measureable at all (Mitroff, 1974).

Each individual has their own unique experiences and views on life, therefore their thoughts and behaviours cannot be measured accurately using the same scale. Complex variables that are not directly measureable, such as motivation and intelligence, provide problems for psychologists (MacCorguodale and Meehl, 1948). When conducting an experiment, the research must first remove all ambiguity from a construct so that it can be measured, this is known as operationalizing the variable (Gleitman, Gross and Reisberg, 2011). For example, define the concepts and deciding whether the construct should be assessed using quantitative or qualitative measures. If a construct can be operationalized, it can be measured. Therefore, if all aspects of behaviour can be defined, they can be measured by psychologists.

Some things, such as love, are very difficult to define and consequently difficult to measure (Hatfield and Spence, 1986). Even if a measure was made for psychologists to study love, the results can’t ever be 100% accurate. It is impossible to know how someone is truly feeling, sometimes people don’t even know what their feeling themselves. The unconscious mind for example is impossible to measure as researchers cannot get access to it. Although some psychologists, such as Sigmund Freud (1915), have attempted to measure such a complex area, no solid evidence has ever been found, and probably never will be.

Questionnaires are often used in psychology, some of which can contain a rating scale that measures things such as mood, motivation and personality (Mulder and Joyce, 1994). An issue with this method is that it is difficult to rate how happy or sad you are at a certain moment, and what one person might consider being very sad, another may not feel the same.

Ultimately it is possible for psychologists  to create a measurement scale for almost anything; however the accuracy and relativity of these measures are questionable. In the future perhaps new measurement methods may become available to psychologists, allowing them to measure even the most complex and abstract human behaviours.


Freud, S. (1915) The Unconscious, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 159-21

Gleitman, H., Gross, J., Reisberg, D. (2011) Prologue: What is Psychology?, Psychology Eighth Edition

Hatfield, E., Spencer, S. (1986) Measuring passionate love in intimate relationships, Journal of Adolescence, Vol 9 (4) Pages 383–410

MacCorguodale, K., Meehl, P.E. (1948) A distinction between hypothetical constructs and intervening variables, Psychological Review, Vol 55(2), 95-107. doi: 10.1037/h0056029

Mitroff, I. I. (1974) The subjective side of science, Scientists: Psychology

Mulder, R. T., Joyce, P. R. (1994) Relationships of the tridimensignal personality questionnaire to mood and personality measures for depressed patients, Psychological Reports, Vol 75, pp. 1315-1325. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1994.75.3.1315