In this paper, I will discuss how cartoon violence affects behavioral patterns in childhood. Several researchers have confirmed that visual media can affect the behavioral development in children because they learn social norms by following examples from social agents. Cartoons are a part of the visual media industry, and that is one of the major social agents that shape perspectives, rules, and norms in society. However, data analysis indicates that cartoons for children are frequently disguised as fantasy stories, but they promote more violence than programs focused on older audiences. Chronic exposure to violence through cartoons implicates normal psychological development which is required for successful integration in society. Although the influence of cartoon violence on development is weaker than the influence of child abuse and the role of parents in education, cartoon violence is also one of the primary sources of cognitive and behavioral development for children, so it is a serious issue that inhibits the development and well-being of contemporary society.
How Cartoon Violence Affects Children’s Behavior
Contemporary society is significantly influenced by mass media, and the type of content presented to consumers is an essential determinant for behavioral development. Children are the most vulnerable population when it comes to social influences from contemporary media because they are still learning behavioral patterns, so exposure to different types of content will determine their behavioral patterns later in life. Violence is the main concern because data from 1997 indicates that 60 percent TV programs contain violence, and 94 percent of video games contain violence (Bavelier, Green, & Dye, 2011).
Because young children develop concepts of acceptable norms and social rules through messages they receive from social agents, exposure to violence is a risk factor for aggressive behavior, and aggressive behavior includes violent emotional states, violent thoughts, and physical violence (Bavelier et al., 2011). The main issue is that TV programs, such as cartoons, are often disguised as fantasy content, even though they display more violence than most programs for adolescents and adults. Although several theories on learning behavior from cartoons explain behavior development in children from different perspectives, empirical research is consistent in finding a strong and positive correlation between violent behavior and exposure to violent cartoons in children.
“Cartoon Violence ‘Makes Children More Aggressive’” Review
In the article “Cartoon Violence ‘Makes Children More Aggressive,’” Clark (2009) claims that cartoons, such as Scooby-Doo, are potential risk factors that encourage children towards aggressive behavior because programs designated for children often provide more brutality than those focused on adolescents or general audiences. When children learn behavior, they want to identify with their favorite characters from the screen, so they can copy all forms of their behavior, including the negative aspects of behavior, such as gossiping or eye-rolling. Clark (2009) explains that the highest level of violent acts was recorded in shows aimed for children at the age of seven or younger, so children are exposed to violent behavior in a similar manner as they are exposed to maltreatment among family and peers, and they are more liable to develop behavioral disorders because of those influences.
According to research data, shows for younger audiences display an average of 26 violent acts within one hour of broadcasting time (Clark, 2009). In contrast to those TV shows, shows aimed at general audiences that were labeled inappropriate for younger children displayed approximately five violent acts per hour (Clark, 2009). According to Clark (2009), researchers claimed that cartoon violence supports violent behavior yesterday, and there was little data on the issue before the research at Iowa State University. However, a literature review indicates that it is false to assume that cartoon violence is a recently discovered issue in society.
The academic community has been aware of this issue for several decades, and several earlier researchers have explored the correlation between television violence and violent behavior development. It is a well established fact that social agents, such as parents, peers, or mass media, all attribute to cognitive and behavioral development. The prevalence of each agent and the outcome of interpretations of often conflicting messages from different sources determine the psychological development of children which determines their social behavior. The article by Clark (2009) does not indicate any new or unfamiliar facts to the academic community, but it helps increase public awareness of behavioral issues in children and their causes.
“Cartoon Violence ‘Makes Children More Aggressive’” and Sociological Research
The article by Clark (2009) states a fact that has been known to the academic community for several decades. It is consistent with research in sociology and psychology on the development of children’s behavioral patterns when learning behavior from media content. During the early years of television and its introduction into daily lives, the academic community neglected researching its influences on the population (Murray, 1995). The first concerns about TV violence for general audiences were raised in 1952, and the first concern about cartoon violence was raised in 1982 when researchers concluded that children who watched certain cartoons were more physically active, but they also displayed more maladaptive behavior when playing with other children (Murray, 1995). A research in 1986 reported that watching TV, including cartoons, can decrease imagination potential, increase aggressive behavior, increase physical restlessness, and decrease academic progress (as cited in Aluja-Fabregat & Torrubia-Beltri, 1998). The media have been a significant social agent in determining behavior learning in modern society, and researchers were aware of that fact.
However, Clark (2009) wrote an article on a serious social issue that affects social interactions and values. A study in 1992 revealed that 10 TV channels displayed more than 3,500 acts of violence during 24 hours, and that number did not decrease until today (as cited in Rübener, 2003). The most shocking part of the discovery is that cartoons for children accounted for 46 percent of all violence displayed in visual media, so children witness approximately 200,000 acts of violence by the time they turn 18 years of age (as cited in Rübener, 2003). According to research by Fick, Osofsky, and Lewis (1997), that much exposure to violence would be classified as chronic stress, and the manifestations of witnessing violence and aggression constantly creates a chronic psychological condition in which people are constantly alert to danger. When children become adults, their psychological state will perceive more potentially dangerous and violent circumstances and environments in the community, and they will resort to short-term solutions to creating a safe environment for their children that will eventually inhibit their development rather than provide safety (Fick et al., 1997). The negative effects of exposure to violence are not limited only to cartoons and childhood aggression, but their effects can manifest on several levels of society.
Critical Evaluation of Cartoon Violence
Several theories on learning behavioral theories have been developed during the 1980s. For example, Zukerman’s theory indicates that violent programs do not necessarily influence behavior learning, but inherited traits, such as impulsiveness or sensation-seeking, can influence the preference of viewing violent programs (Aluja-Fabregat & Torrubia-Beltri, 1998). Another theory suggests that aggressive behavior is linked to gender differences because biological factors influence the individual’s reactions to and acceptance of external factors (Aluja-Fabregat & Torrubia-Beltri, 1998). Gray’s theory on two independent motivational systems suggests that different traits are linked to both systems, and low or high levels of certain traits can determine aggressive responses in different situations (Aluja-Fabregat & Torrubia-Beltri, 1998).
Although all theories suggest different models and causes of violent behavior, all theories are concerned with the proven relationship of cartoon violence or other visual media and violent behavior. Furthermore, their relationship works both ways. Scientists today acknowledge that both genetic factors and social factors have to contribute to behavioral development together. Children who have biological predispositions towards aggressive behavior will be naturally attracted to violent cartoons, but children who do not have biological predispositions for aggressive behavior could also learn aggressive behavioral patterns through frequent exposure to violence. It is evident that cartoon violence and aggressive behavior have a strong positive correlation in both cases.
Another issue in behavioral development is that social agents are related, but they often support opposite values. For example, religion is a major social agent that promotes altruism and other puritan values while visual media is another major social agent that can promote aggressive and self-serving behavior (Poel & Lecluijze, 2010). Poel and Lecluijze (2010) indicate that the problem is deeper than displaying violent behavior because cartoons which display aggression often display it as a rewarding act, and children are more likely going to imitate behavior they learn from cartoons because they will associate it with positive gains. In addition, children are unable to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality, so they will imitate their favorite characters’ traits and behavior in the real world without understanding the consequences of their negative behavior (Poel & Lecluijze, 2010).
Cartoon violence appears to be a form of entertainment, so it was often considered harmless in the past. However, worldwide studies indicate that delinquent and criminal behavior in adolescence and adulthood are related to childhood influences, such as exposure to violent content in cartoons (Browne & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005). Furthermore, in addition to domestic violence, cartoon violence contributes to developing psychological and social issues from multiple sources and on multiple levels (Osofsky, 1999). Censorship and other forms of ratings for content regulation have proven worthless in protecting children from exposure to cartoon violence (Browne & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005), so it is possible to conclude that cartoon violence is only a contribution to violent behavior development. When combined with child neglect and other forms of maltreatment from parents, cartoon violence becomes the primary source of learning acceptable behavioral norms, and the amount of violence presented in cartoons promotes the development of negative behavioral traits rather than virtues.
Aluja-Fabregat, A., & Torrubia-Beltri, R. (1998). Viewing of mass media violence, perception of violence, personality and academic achievement. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(5), 973-989. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00122-6
Bavelier, D., Green, & Dye, M. W. G. (2010). Children, wired: For better and for worse. Neuron, 67(5), 692-701. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.035
Browne, K. D., & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2005). The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: A public-health approach. The Lancet, 365(9460), 702-710. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17952-5
Clark, L. (2009, March 6). Cartoon violence ‘makes children more aggressive.’ Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1159766/Cartoon-violence-makes-children-aggressive.html
Fick, A. C., Osofsky, J. D., & Lewis, M. L. (1997). Perceptions of violence: Children, parents, and police officers. In: J. D. Osofsky (Ed.), Children in a violent society (pp. 261-276). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
Murray, J. P. (1995). Children and television violence. Journal of Law and Public Policy, 4(3), 7-15.
Osofsky, J. D. (1999). The impact of violence on children. The Future of Children, 9(3), 33-49.
Poel, F. M. van de, & Lecluijze, S. E. (2010). Game playing and television viewing: The influence of visual media on the acquisition of behavioural norms in children and adolescents. Social Cosmos, 1, 30-41. Retrieved from http://socialcosmos.library.uu.nl/index.php/sc/article/view/7/6
Rübener, F. (2003). Violence on TV: How the American society deals with violence on TV. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag.