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For years researchers have been examining the relationship between violent content on television and aggression in viewers. Studies support the hypothesis that media violence is positively correlated with aggressive behavior (American Psychological Association, 1985; Paik and Comstock, 1994). Longitudinal studies have shown that long-term heavy exposure is significantly associated with later aggression and restlessness in elementary school students, even with controls in place (Huesmann, Lagerspetz and Eron, 1984; Singer, Singer and Rapaczynski, 1984). Toleration or acceptance of real-life aggression, especially in children, is another effect supported by research (Molitor and Hirsch, 1994).

Added to all this is the general agreement among scholars that children are of particular concern because of their developing cognitive, emotional and moral skills (MacBeth, 1997; Potter, 1998). Krcmar and Valkenburg (1999) studied children's moral reasoning after viewing media violence, and found negative relationships in children who watch more fantasy content. In addition, older children may be more likely to view aggression as a suitable means of handling problems (Huesmann and Guerra, 1997). Such evidence led representatives from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association and American Medical Association to sign a joint statement agreeing that "viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children" (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2000, p. 1).

The vulnerability of children to potentially negative effects is especially pertinent because of their lack of stable normative beliefs about aggression in the early years of learning (Huesmann and Guerra, 1997). Children may identify more with aggressive characters andbelieve that television offers an accurate portrayal of life (Eron, 1982). They may not have the necessary background knowledge and experience to adequately consider the context of media violence (Dorr, 1986). Yet television remains a prime source of information and entertainment for children (Liebert and Sprafkin, 1988). This medium, like no other, captivates children in their formative years of elementary schooling, and thus helps shape their long-term interests and life-long patterns (Winick and Winick, 1979; Van der Voort, 1986). Fortunately television does not act alone (Gunter, 1985; Surette, 1994), and parents can play a vital role in mediating between television's content and their children's potential for aggression, desensitization and moral reasoning (Krcmar, 1998; Nathanson, 1999).

The television content often used as an independent variable in studies is an amalgamation of either fantasy-related or reality-based programming ( Singer and Singer, 1986; Van der Voort, 1986; Aluja-Fabregat and Torrubia-Beltri, 1997; Nathanson, 1999). Because of its humor, attractiveness and lack of real consequence of violence to perpetrators, a cartoon may be sufficient for increasing aggressive inclinations even to fifth and sixth grade boys (Nathanson and Cantor, 2000). What happens when the content producers attempt to portray an amalgamation of both fantasy and reality? Do children recognize a dividing line? Do they assimilate illusory components into their schemas of reality? And are there implications for children's formation of moral standards concerning the use and toleration (if not promotion) of aggressive or violent behavior?


This article was presented at the BEA national convention.



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