K-State Professor, Colleagues Publish Latest Findings on Media Violence, Children
Thursday, February 9, 2006
MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University's John Murray and two other research teams took several different paths in studying the neurological effects of viewing video violence, but arrived at the same destination and the same conclusion.
Three recent studies by Murray, a professor of developmental psychology at K-State's School of Family Studies and Human Services, and research teams lead by Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri, and Rene Weber from Michigan State University, have shed new light on the ways in which the brains of young children and young adults respond to viewing video violence. Murray's findings were the result of his most recent research on brain imaging and video violence in children.
"Each study took a slightly different approach to assessing the neurological responses of viewers," Murray said, "but each study came to the same general conclusion: Viewing video violence activates specific areas of the brain that are known to be involved in recognizing, remembering, and rehearsing or activating aggressive behavior."
In the case of the study done by Murray and his colleagues, published February in the journal Media Psychology, young children between the ages of 8-13 watched video clips of a violent boxing match from the movie Rocky IV while their brains were scanned in a MRI unit. According to Murray, the study demonstrated that there were very distinct patterns of brain activation when the children watched the violence, contrasted with viewing nonviolent video scenes from other TV programs.
"In particular, children responded to the video violence by activating areas of the brain involved in fear responses. The amygdala -- the organ in the brain that recognizes threat in the environment and prepares the body for fight or flight -- was activated, along with the posterior cingulate, an area of the brain that stores traumatic events for long-term memory, such as that found in post-traumatic stress disorder victims of violence," Murray said.
According to Murray, who also serves as a senior scientist-visiting scholar at the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School Children's Hospital in Boston, there also was evidence of activation of the brain's premotor cortex, indicating that the children were attempting to imitate the boxing scenes while viewing the movie.
In another study by Weber and colleagues, young males played a violent video game while they were resting in an MRI. The young adult males, 18 to 26 years, were experienced video game players who played, on average, about 15 hours each week. When viewing and playing the most violent sections of the video game, as contrasted to the sections of the game that involved search for a target rather than active violence, there were changes in an area of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, that indicated a separation of thinking or judgment vs. emotion. This suggests that the repeated playing of violent video interactions leads to a desensitization to the infliction of pain and suffering as portrayed in the video game.
In a third study by Bartholow and his colleagues, young adult males who were extensive video game players were shown images from violent video games while electrodes on their scalps measured brain wave responses. The researchers found that a particular brain wave -- the P300 wave, which has been demonstrated to indicate the extent of aversive response to violent or negative scenes -- was diminished among the heavy violent game players. Furthermore, in a later part of the study, when the young men were allowed to deliver "punishment" to another participant to disrupt his performance in a competitive game the two were playing, the subjects with the lowest P300 responses -- the most desensitized to violence -- delivered the most aggressive "punishment."
Murray said these studies show the harmful effects of video violence.
"We must remember that these studies must be seen in the context of a long history of research, approximately 50 years of studies on the topic of the harmful behavioral effects of viewing video violence," Murray said. "Basically, this new research on brain responses to viewing violence begins to identify how and where the neurological processes of children and young adults are modified by the experience of viewing violence. When added to the behavioral research that has accumulated over the past half century, we now know that the effects of so-called 'entertainment' violence are far from entertaining. This is a serious source of violence in society; one that parents, teachers, and public officials should take seriously."
Murray's research, part of a three-year $500,000 grant from the Mind Science Foundation of San Antonio, Texas, also will be a part of a collaborative effort for the book, "Children and Television: 50 Years of Research," to be published in March. Murray's research also is part of a joint project between K-State and Harvard Medical School, which has received an additional $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was supported by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.