The Psychological Effects of Naturalizing Violence in Television

Harita Vyas
Jun 3, 2019 · 6 min read

Gun violence in the entertainment industry is becoming increasingly available to young children, and impacting the levels of gun violence in America. In the video entitled “Television’s Naturalisation of Violence” published by Nonviolence International New York, Momo Chavez discusses how violence has become embedded in American culture, as guns are being utilized in video games, movies, and TV shows, among other forms of media, establishing a culture of conflict. The news often broadcasts stories of war, violence, terror and narratives of individuals committing homicides, suicides, and violent criminal activity. Chavez discusses how viewing this violent entertainment has been linked to increased displays of aggression and desensitization to violence. Those most vulnerable to these adverse effects are young minds who are unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and assess social and moral norms. The psychological effects of watching violence in entertainment are significant and can also lead to problematic behavior in adulthood.


The Effects of Increased Exposure to Gun Violence in Entertainment and Statistics

By the time a person in the United States is eighteen years of age, they will have been exposed to nearly 200,000 acts of violence in the media, most of which do not demonstrate negative consequences afterward [1]. Increased exposure to gun violence on-screen can lead to a higher likelihood of guns being abused, and used to harm oneself or other individuals [2].

Violence in the media contributes to levels of aggression children can experience, and can increase their violent tendencies. This is largely because increased exposure to gun violence in the media has the ability to “distort the perception of vulnerable minds and contributes to aggressive attitudes” [3]. This increased exposure can result in abnormal physiological responses which can include desensitization to the suffering of other peoples, more instances of bullying, depression, and sleep abnormalities, all of which have been linked to violent behavior [4]. The Macquarie University Children and Families Research Centre found through their research that children who watch violent movies are more inclined to view the world in an unsympathetic and malicious way and that this triggers aggression. The research also suggests children are likely to exhibit aggressive behavior while becoming desensitized to violence [5]. A correlation exists between exposure to violence and these negative life experiences, but this is something that can be controlled by limiting violence in entertainment.

Children who exhibit violent and aggressive behavior are also much more likely to be aggressive adults and engage in risky behaviors in their adulthood [6]. A study conducted by L. Rowell Huesmann and Leonard D. Enron demonstrates this by tracking children for three years in middle-childhood who watched significant amounts of television that exhibited violence. When the study followed up fifteen years later, the researchers found that the children who watched more televised violence in their childhood were more aggressive as adults. Of the male children who had been exposed to the most amount of violence in their childhood, 11% had been convicted of a crime (compared with 3% for other males), and 69% had reacted physically when made angry in the past year. Of the female children who viewed the highest levels of violence, 39% had thrown an object at someone in the past year (compared with 17% of the other females), and 17% had attacked another adult when angry in the past year (compared with 4% of the other females)” [7].


The rate at which people were injured or died in the United States via firearm in 2016 was the second highest at over 37,000 people, compared to the next highest at 15,400 in Mexico [8]. As technology becomes more mobile, it also becomes more accessible, to the point where gun violence and human suffering is merely background noise to everyday life. In a country such as the United States where gun laws are laxer, and weapons are more accessible, the rates for possible accidents and homicides are higher than in other developed nations. From 2005 to 2010, almost 3,800 people in the US died from unintentional shootings [9]. These numbers will only rise as violent behaviors are becoming normalized and developed through watching violent entertainment.

Studies show a correlation between exposure to violent behavior, and the mimicking of violent behavior in children, often exhibiting aggression in general toward toys and peers after witnessing violent acts take place [10]. In a study conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and 1963, he tested how a group of children would react when witnessing an adult act aggressively towards a “Bobo” doll versus how children would react when the adult played nicely with the doll. Bandura found that the children from the first group who witnessed an aggressive model were much more likely to act in an aggressive manner with the doll than the children from the second group [11].

Violent entertainment can increase aggressive behavior in those who perceive it, but extracting gun violence from movies and video games has not shown a decrease in the overall satisfaction in the viewer’s experience according to a study by Ian Berkowitz. In fact, the children viewing the censored entertainment cannot tell violence has been removed and enjoy it as much as a child who viewed a non-censored version of the entertainment. Removing gun violence from entertainment has the possibility of limiting gun violence in the real world without affecting the level at which entertainment is objectively enjoyed.


Increased exposure to gun violence in entertainment is leading to an increase in gun violence in the real world. Children, in particular, are more susceptible to mimic aggressive behaviors and abnormal physiological reactions that can lead to the abuse of weapons and an inability to distinguish from “fake” and “real” violence. As consumers of global media, we must hold the entertainment industry accountable for exposing mass amounts of violence to the public and inciting aggressive behaviors. The message needs to be sent that conflict can be resolved through peaceful mediation and negotiation rather than violence. The censoring or limiting of violent media can contribute to a decrease in gun violence such that it is no longer an embedded part of our culture.

The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) is working to end gun violence and stop the misuse of small arms and light weapons. Through their annual campaign entitled a “Week of Action Against Gun Violence,” IANSA is highlighting the dangers of small arms in a world where they are increasingly available, and calling for small arms regulation on-screen and off. More information about violence in entertainment can be found in this report completed by the Media Violence Commission.


[1] “Media Violence: Facts and Statistics.” Media Education Foundation. 2005. Accessed May 25, 2019.

[2] “Violent Media and Aggressive Behavior in Children.” Psychology Today. January 28, 2018. Accessed May 25, 2019.

[3] “In the battle to end gun violence, why does violence in media get a pass?” The Hill. March 21, 2018. Accessed May 25, 2019.

[4] “Violence in the Media and Entertainment (Position Paper).” AAFP Home. March 19, 2019. Accessed May 25, 2019.

[5] “Violence, The Media and Your Brain.” Psychology Today. September 2, 2013. Accessed June 2, 2019.

[6] “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.” The University of Arizona. 2003. Accessed May 25, 2019.

[7] “The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research.” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. June 30, 2009. Accessed May 30, 2019.

[8] “There’s a new global ranking of gun deaths. Here’s where the U.S. stands.” PBS News Hours. August 28, 2018. Accessed June 2, 2019.

[9] “Statistics on Gun Deaths & Injuries.” Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2010. Accessed May 30, 2019.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Bobo Doll Experiment.” Simply Psychology. 2014. Accessed May 30, 2019.



Harita Vyas

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