Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the Subcommittee, will preside. The Subcommittee will hear testimony on the nascent field of neurobiological research, such as brain mapping, and its use in the investigation of the impact of entertainment media on children's health.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Joanne Cantor
Statement of Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. Professor Emerita University of Wisconsin-Madison before the United States Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Science, Technology, & Space Washington, D.C. April 10, 2003 Contact Information: Mailing Address: 5205 Tonyawatha Trail Monona, WI 53716 Phone: 608-221-0593 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: www.joannecantor.com Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to present my views on the media's impact on children. Since 1974, I have been a professor at the University of Wisconsin, focusing the greater part of my research on the impact of media violence on children's aggressive behaviors and emotional health. My book, “Mommy I’m Scared”: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them, helps parents protect their children from the effects of media violence. Finally, and not the least important in terms of expertise, I am the mother of a fourteen-year-old son. We now know a lot about the effects of media violence. Study after study has found that children often behave more violently after watching media violence. The violence they engage in ranges from trivial aggressive play to injurious behavior with serious medical consequences. Children also show higher levels of hostility after viewing violence, and the effects of this hostility range from being in a nasty mood to an increased tendency to interpret a neutral comment or action as an attack. In addition, children can be desensitized by media violence, becoming less distressed by real violence and less likely to sympathize with victims. Finally, media violence makes children fearful, and these effects range from a general sense that the world is dangerous, to full-blown anxieties, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and other trauma symptoms. The evidence about these effects of media violence has accumulated over the last few decades. Meta-analyses, which statistically combine all the findings in a particular area, demonstrate that there is a consensus on the negative effects of media violence. They also show that the effects are strong – stronger than the well-known relationship between children’s exposure to lead and low I.Q. scores, for example. These effects cannot be ignored as inconclusive or inconsequential. Even more alarming, recent research confirms that these effects are long lasting. A study from the University of Michigan shows that TV viewing between the ages of 6 and 10 predicts antisocial behavior as a young adult. In this study, both males and females who were heavy TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to engage in serious physical aggression and criminal behavior later in life; in addition, the heavy violence viewers were twice as likely as the others to engage in spousal abuse when they became adults. This analysis controlled for other potential contributors to antisocial behavior, including socioeconomic status and parenting practices. The long-term effects of media on fears and anxieties are also striking. Research shows that intensely violent images often induce anxieties that linger, interfering with both sleeping and waking activities for years. Many young adults report that frightening media images that they saw as children have remained on their minds in spite of their repeated attempts to get rid of them. They also report feeling intense anxieties in nonthreatening situations as a result of having been scared by a movie or television program – even though they now know that there is nothing to fear. [For example, you might find it logical that many people who have seen the movie Jaws worry about encountering a shark whenever they swim in the ocean. But you would be surprised to learn how many of these people are still uncomfortable swimming in lakes or pools because of the enduring emotional memory of the terror they experienced viewing this movie as a child.] These long-term reactions of increased aggressiveness and lingering fear raise important questions about the processes involved in media effects. The fact that a child might imitate a wrestling move he has just seen on TV is not that surprising. Nor is it difficult to explain why a youngster might have a nightmare after watching Psycho or Poltergeist or Scream. But the fact that the negative effects of media violence are so enduring indicates that we need to explore these processes more deeply. We need to know what’s happening to children’s brains as they watch media violence and what kinds of lasting changes occur. Some encouraging findings are beginning to emerge from research teams headed by Vincent Matthews at Indiana University Medical School and by John Murray at Kansas State University. By mapping the areas of the brain that are influenced by violent images, these studies promise to help us understand how media violence promotes aggression and to help explain why they have such enduring effects on emotional memory. What can government do about the problem of media violence? Congress has already provided help by mandating the V-chip and TV ratings so that parents can have some idea of what’s in a program before their child watches it. This is an enormous first step, but currently each mass medium – TV, movies, music, and video games – has its own distinct rating system. Parents need better information, and they would certainly benefit from having one easily understood rating system that would apply to all media. Congress has already conducted hearings regarding the media industries’ aggressive marketing of violent programming to children. These hearings have resulted in many promises on the part of industry executives and some movement in the direction of curbing these excesses. But Congress should continue to keep tabs on these activities. Congressional hearings have also had a positive effect by keeping the issue of media violence in the news and helping to educate parents about the potential risks of media to their children. Anything else the government can do to help educate parents on this matter would provide enormous benefits. What Congress can do in addition is provide funding for more research on this topic – especially research on the neurobiology of brain reactions and on the relationship between media violence exposure and children’s mental and physical health. We must not lose sight of the stakes here. A great deal has changed in the past generation or two. Our children are spending much more time with media than we did, and what they are exposed to is much more violent, more graphic, and now, with video games and computers, more interactive than we ever imagined. Our children’s heavy immersion in today’s media culture is a large-scale societal experiment with potentially horrifying results (and with hardly a child left behind to serve in the control condition). The time is now to put serious resources into understanding what we are doing to our children and into finding ways to ensure their welfare and that of society as a whole. You can find these ideas and arguments in more detail on my web site (www.joannecantor.com). Of course, I will be happy to answer your questions. Thank you again for your sincere and continuing interest in this matter. Related References Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359. Black, S. L., & Bevan, S. (1992). At the movies with Buss and Durkee: A natural experiment on film violence. Aggressive Behavior, 18, 37-45. Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2001). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media misinformation. American Psychologist, 56, 477-489. Cantor, J. (2003, May). “I’ll never have a clown in my house”: Frightening movies and enduring emotional memory. Paper accepted for presentation at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association. San Diego. Cantor, J. (1998). “Mommy, I’m scared”: How TV and movies frighten children and what we can do to protect them. San Diego, CA: Harcourt. Cantor, J. (2002). Fright reactions to mass media. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (2d ed., pp. 287-306). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Cantor, J. (2002). Whose freedom of speech is it anyway? Remarks at Madison (WI) Civics Club, October 12, 2002. http://joannecantor.com/Whosefreedom.html Center for Successful Parenting (2003). Can violent media affect reasoning and logical thinking? http://www.sosparents.org/Brain%20Study.htm Harrison, K., & Cantor, J. (1999). Tales from the screen: Enduring fright reactions to scary media. Media Psychology, 1 (2), 97-116. Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C., & Eron, L. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221. Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Smailes, E. M., Kasen, S., & Brook, J. S. (2002). Television viewing and aggressive behavior during adolescence and adulthood. Science, 295, 2468-2471. Kirsh, S. J. (1998). Seeing the world through Mortal Kombat-colored glasses: Violent video games and the development of a short-term hostile attribution bias. Childhood, 5 (2), 177-184. Lemish, D. (1997). The school as a wrestling arena: The modeling of a television series. Communication, 22 (4), 395-418. [Matthews, V. P.] (2002). Violent video games trigger unusual brain activity in aggressive adolescents. http://jol.rsna.org/pr/target.cfm?ID=94 Murray, J. P. (2001). TV violence and brainmapping in children. Psychiatric Times, XVIII (10). Owens, J., Maxim, R., McGuinn, M., Nobile, C., Msall, M., & Alario, A. (1999). Television-viewing habits and sleep disturbance in school children. Pediatrics, 104 (3), 552, e 27. Paik, H., & Comstock, G. (1994). The effects of television violence on antisocial behavior: a meta-analysis. Communication Research, 21, 516-546. Simons, D., & Silveira, W. R. (1994). Post-traumatic stress disorder in children after television programmes. British Medical Journal, 308, 389-390. Singer, M. I., Slovak, K., Frierson, T., & York, P. (1998). Viewing preferences, symptoms of psychological trauma, and violent behaviors among children who watch television. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37 (10), 1041-1048. Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1007-1021. Zillmann, D., & Weaver, J. B. III (1999). Effects of prolonged exposure to gratuitous media violence on provoked and unprovoked hostile behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 145-165. Summary of Statement of Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. (4/10/2003) We now know a lot about the effects of media violence. Study after study has found that children often behave more violently after watching media violence. The violence they engage in ranges from trivial aggressive play to injurious behavior with serious medical consequences. Children also show higher levels of hostility after viewing violence, and the effects of this hostility range from being in a nasty mood to an increased tendency to interpret a neutral comment or action as an attack. In addition, children can be desensitized by media violence, becoming less distressed by real violence and less likely to sympathize with victims. Finally, media violence makes children fearful, and these effects range from a general sense that the world is dangerous, to full-blown anxieties, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and other trauma symptoms. Even more alarming, recent research confirms that these effects are long lasting. A study from the University of Michigan shows that TV viewing between the ages of 6 and 10 predicts antisocial behavior as a young adult. In this study, both males and females who were heavy TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to engage in serious physical aggression and criminal behavior later in life; in addition, the heavy violence viewers were twice as likely as the others to engage in spousal abuse when they became adults. This analysis controlled for other potential contributors to antisocial behavior, including socioeconomic status and parenting practices. The long-term effects of media on fears and anxieties are also striking. Research shows that intensely violent images often induce anxieties that linger, interfering with both sleeping and waking activities for years. Many young adults report that frightening media images that they saw as children have remained on their minds in spite of their repeated attempts to get rid of them. They also report feeling intense anxieties in nonthreatening situations as a result of having been scared by a movie or television program – even though they now know that there is nothing to fear. [For example, you might find it logical that many people who have seen the movie Jaws worry about encountering a shark whenever they swim in the ocean. But you would be surprised to learn how many of these people are still uncomfortable swimming in lakes or pools because of the enduring emotional memory of the terror they experienced viewing this movie as a child.] These long-term reactions of increased aggressiveness and lingering fear raise important questions about the processes involved in media effects. The fact that a child might imitate a wrestling move he has just seen on TV is not that surprising. Nor is it difficult to explain why a youngster might have a nightmare after watching Psycho or Poltergeist or Scream. But the fact that the negative effects of media violence are so enduring indicates that we need to explore these processes more deeply. We need to know what’s happening to children’s brains as they watch media violence and what kinds of lasting changes occur. I urge Congress to provide funding for more research on this topic – especially research on the neurobiology of brain reactions and on the relationship between media violence exposure and children’s mental and physical health. Biographical Sketch of Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. Joanne Cantor, Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin?Madison, is an internationally recognized expert on the effects of the mass media on children and a popular lecturer to a wide variety of audiences. Dr. Cantor first became visible in the national media because of her research on television ratings. In the fall of 1996, when the television industry was developing the new rating system that is now being used with the "V?chip," she collaborated with the National PTA on a survey of what parents wanted in the new system. Their well publicized finding that parents wanted content information rather than age recommendations helped bring together a national coalition of child advocacy groups to oppose the industry's age?based rating system and to lobby successfully for more informative ratings. As a senior researcher for the National Television Violence Study and the author of the parenting book, "Mommy, I’m Scared”: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do To Protect Them, she has testified before the U.S. House and Senate and the Federal Communications Commission. She is regularly quoted in the national press and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel. Her research has been featured on ABC's 20/20. Since the early 1980's, Dr. Cantor's research has focused primarily on the effects of television on children, with major emphasis on children's reactions to scenes involving violence and other disturbing images. This research, which is grounded in developmental psychology, explores how frightening the mass media can be for children and the intervention and coping strategies that are most effective for different age groups. As well, her research investigates the contribution of media violence to children's aggressive behavior, and the strategies that can be employed to reduce these effects. Professor Cantor received her B.A. at Cornell University in 1967 and studied communications and psychology at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 1971), and at Indiana University (Ph.D., 1974). In addition to her book, she has published more than 80 scholarly articles and chapters and numerous encyclopedia articles on the impact of the mass media. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation. It has received awards from the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, and the National Association of Broadcasters. In 1997, the Madison Civics Club honored her for her advocacy of more informative television ratings. She received a Mid?Career Award for research (1998) and the Hilldale Award for distinguished professional accomplishment (1999) from the University of Wisconsin. In 1999, the International Communication Association gave her the B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award and named her a Fellow of the Association. Dr. Cantor contributed to the American Medical Association's "Physician's Guide to Media Violence" and has worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics on their "Media Matters" initiative. From 1974 to 2000 she taught courses in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin?Madison on the topics of mass media effects, the effects of television on children, and research methods. From 1990 to 1994, she was Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Science, with responsibility for the College's social science departments and programs. In May 2000, she became a Professor Emerita of the University of Wisconsin, discontinuing her regular classroom duties in order to spend full time on public education while continuing her research, writing, consulting, and the maintenance of her informative web site, www.joannecantor.com. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and 14-year-old son.
Dr. Dale KunkelProfessor, Department of CommunicationUniversity of Arizona
Testimony of Dr. Dale Kunkel, University of California, Santa Barbara Hearing on Neurobiological Research and the Impact of Media United States Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation April 10, 2003 Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the prospects for new and important research knowledge about media effects that may be derived from the use of neurological investigations, or so-called “brain mapping” technology. I have conducted extensive research on media content and effects over the past 20 years, emphasizing the study of violent and sexually-related images found in mainstream television programming. More specifically, I served as a senior researcher from 1994-1998 on the National Television Violence Study, one of the largest media research projects to date -- and I have also conducted an ongoing series of content analysis investigations entitled “Sex on TV” sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation over the past six years. Each of these topic areas have important linkages to the new research approach being pioneered by Dr. Murray, and I would like to comment on those linkages after first providing some background regarding the existing state of media violence research. Media Violence: The Importance of Context Concern on the part of the public and Congress about the harmful influence of media violence and other sensitive material on children dates back to the 1950s and 1960s. The legitimacy of that concern is corroborated by extensive scientific research that has accumulated since that time. Indeed, in reviewing the totality of empirical evidence regarding the impact of media violence, the conclusion that exposure to violent portrayals poses a risk of harmful effects on children has been reached by the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a host of other scientific and public health agencies and organizations. In sum, it is well established by a compelling body of scientific evidence that television violence poses a risk of harmful effects for child-viewers. While exposure to media violence is not necessarily the most potent factor contributing to real world violence and aggression in the United States today, it is certainly the most pervasive. Millions of children spend an average of 20 or more hours per week watching television, and this cumulative exposure to violent images can shape young minds in unhealthy ways. Much of my research has emphasized the importance of examining differences in the ways in which violence is presented on television, and the implications such differences hold for the effects that result from viewing violent material. Simply put, not all violence is the same in terms of its risk of harmful effects on child-viewers. The nature and context of the portrayal matters. For example, consider a violent act that has the following features: -- it is committed by a repugnant character who no one would wish to emulate; -- it clearly depicts the harms suffered by victims; -- and it results in strong negative consequences for the perpetrator. This would be the type of portrayal that would actually minimize the risk of most harmful effects for viewers, because it does not glamorize or sanitize its depiction of violence. In contrast, consider another type of violent portrayal; -- one that is committed by an attractive or popular character who is a potential role model for children; -- that depicts unrealistically mild harm to the victim who is attacked, -- and that conveys power and status for the perpetrator or attracts the approval of others in the program. This type of portrayal, by glamorizing and sanitizing the depiction of violent behavior, has a much stronger risk of leading to harmful outcomes in the viewer. Research conducted by myself and colleagues at UC Santa Barbara as part of the National Television Violence Study documents an unfortunate trend in the context surrounding most violent depictions on TV. Our final report, which was based on the analysis of approximately 10,000 programs across three television seasons, concluded that the manner in which most violence is presented on television actually enhances rather than diminishes its risk of harmful effects on child-viewers. That is, the most common pattern associated with violent portrayals on TV involved contextual features such as: -- not showing a realistic degree of harm for victims; -- not showing the pain and suffering realistically associated with violence attacks; -- and not showing the serious long-term negative consequences of violence. These patterns were present in the large majority of violent portrayals across all channels, and at all times of day. In contrast, programs that included a strong anti-violence theme accounted for less than 4% of all shows containing violent content. Implications of the Findings These data are troubling, though they are not new. I mention them here today for two purposes. First, they serve to underscore that the way in which most violence is depicted on television poses a serious risk of harm for children. It does not have to be that way. Independent of whether or not violence on television might be reduced in quantity, it could certainly be presented in more responsible fashion, thereby diminishing its risk to child viewers. This is an avenue for addressing the concern about media violence that, in my view, has not yet been adequately explored. But second, and now speaking more directly to the focus of today’s hearing, these data provide a potentially fruitful avenue for further exploration by researchers who examine the neurological activity that occurs when humans view televised violence. In a moment, Dr. Murray will review his brain mapping research, which holds strong promise for furthering our understanding of how the mind makes sense of violent images on the screen. Given the evidence we already possess about the varying risk of harms associated with differing types of violent portrayals, it seems clear that it will be important for neurobiological researchers to employ many different types of violent stimuli as part of their experimental work. We cannot assume that the way the mind reacts to one type of violent portrayal will be the same for all types of violent depictions; indeed, given our current state of knowledge, there is strong reason to expect that it will not. This factor underscores the need for a substantial program of research to adequately explore the full range of differences in the depictions of violent behavior. Finally, I should note that Dr. Murray’s initial brain-mapping research suggests that cortical arousal is an important aspect of how the mind reacts to violent images, which is important because heightened arousal levels are associated with a heightened probability of behavioral effects from media exposure. It will also be important to learn the extent to which sexually-related material on television may stimulate cortical arousal. Should that be the case, these findings would also hold similar implications for an increased probability of exposure effects in this realm. In sum, we know a great deal about the effects of media, but we still have much to learn. I encourage this committee to take every step possible to support research in this area that will further our knowledge about how the mind is influenced by media portrayals. Children spend more time with media than they do in the classroom, yet I the number of federal dollars spent on educational research today literally dwarfs that which is devoted to media effects investigations. The stakes are too high for us to miss any opportunity to better understand the impact of media on children. Thank you for your time and for your attention to this important issue.
Dr. Michael Rich
Testimony of Michael Rich, MD, MPH Center on Media and Child Health Children’s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School Before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space April 10, 2003 Chairman Brownback, Senator Breaux, members of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today as a pediatrician, as a child health researcher, as a media producer, and as a parent. My name is Dr. Michael Rich. I practice pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston and teach at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. I am the director and co-founder of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard University. The first of its kind, the Center on Media and Child Health is a multidisciplinary collaboration between scientists at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Graduate School of Education and colleagues around the country that is dedicated to research, education, clinical implementation, and media production based on findings about the effects of media on the physical and mental health of children and adolescents. Finally, and most importantly, I am the father of a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. The Effects of Media on Child Health One hundred years ago, the leading causes of illness and death in children were infectious diseases and congenital anomalies. Physicians tried, often unsuccessfully, to cure those afflicted. More successfully, they, along with public health workers and other scientists, sought to prevent these problems by discovering and intervening on the causes – many of which were found to be environmental – poor sanitation, crowded housing, and pollution. Today, with a hygienic infrastructure, antibiotics, and high technology prenatal care, diarrhea, pneumonia, and birth defects are no longer significant causes of morbidity and mortality in young people. Now the greatest threats to the health and well-being of children and adolescents are the outcomes of acquired health risk behaviors – violence, substance use, sexual risk behaviors, and nutritional problems from obesity to eating disorders. Surveys that have asked young people where they get their information on health, lifestyles, and relationships have consistently found that entertainment media are cited as one of the leading sources. Just as environmental causes of disease and death were discovered and addressed a century ago, we must examine the environment in which children are developing in the Information Age to determine the causes of the new morbidities. The medical community first voiced concern about the effects of media on child health in the early 1950s, shortly after the introduction of television to the general public. Since that time, media technologies have grown exponentially, in variety, in sophistication, and in the potency of their effects on users. Similarly, the level of concern about and research into media effects has grown. It has been estimated that there are thousands of research studies conducted by scientists of public health, psychology, sociology, and communications to investigate whether there is evidence of media exposure having an effect on health outcomes. In approaching any problem of public health, it is important to deal with it systematically, so that key information is not missed and a complete picture of the disease process can be established. An epidemiologist attempting to determine the causes and possible solutions for an epidemic examines the problem through four key aspects of the disease process. 1) Exposure – What is the nature and magnitude of the exposure to a potential causal agent? 2) Effects – What is the effect of that agent on the exposed individual? 3) Mechanism – What is the mechanism by which the causal agent affects the individual? 4) Intervention – What interventions can cure or prevent the negative health outcome? Research to date on the effects of entertainment media on the physical and mental health of children has concentrated largely on the first two of these areas, exposure and effects. Through the years, research has shown increasing exposure to television, movies, electronic games, the Internet, and popular music. A nationwide study in 1999, conducted by Doctor Dale Kunkel among others, found that American children between 8 and 18 years of age spent 6 hours and 43 minutes of every day exposed to media, more time than they spent in school, with parents, or, indeed, engaged in any other activity than sleeping. When media used simultaneously, listening to music while surfing the internet for example, were cumulatively calculated, the amount of media exposure rose to 7 hours and 57 minutes, just under eight hours of every day. There is little question that young people’s level of media exposure provides ample opportunity for the content of those media to affect the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors of young people. Since we know that children learn even the simplest skills, such as using a spoon, by observation, imitation and adoption of behaviors as their own, what are they learning from television, movies, popular music, and electronic games? Effects research has taken a variety of approaches, from laboratory experiments exposing subjects to various types of media and observing their responses, to natural experiments where researchers could study people and their behavior before and after media were introduced into their environments, to correlational studies where large populations were studied for media exposure and subsequent health-related behaviors. The work of Doctor Joanne Cantor has shown that children are frightened and traumatized by images they see on the news and in entertainment programming. This fear appears to be cumulative and lasting, resulting in what some researchers have termed the “mean world syndrome,” in which the child perceives the world as a dangerous and frightening place, one in which only the strong survive. In my clinical experience, this plays itself out in sleep disturbance, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in children as young as four or five years. Natural laboratories created when discrete populations have media introduced for the first time have shown 160% increases in aggression and 50% increases in disordered eating behavior after the introduction of media. The vast majority of the correlational studies done on media violence have shown a positive association between exposure to media violence and increases in aggressive attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. Children who watched a lot of television when they were young have been found to be more aggressive years later as adolescents and adults, whether they are male or female, even when such factors as baseline aggressive tendencies, socioeconomic status, and a variety of parenting factors are controlled for. The findings of hundreds of studies, analyzed as a whole, have shown that the association between television exposure and aggressive behavior is stronger than that of calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, condom nonuse and sexually acquired HIV, or environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer – all associations that clinicians accept as fact and on which preventive medicine is based without question. Despite the preponderance and strength of findings that associate media exposure with increased aggression, fears, and desensitization to violence, the mechanism by which media actually changes those who are exposed remains unclear. Without a step-by-step understanding of how viewed violence is translated into perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors, the media exposure and effects research remains open to criticism. Convincing as it is to those of us who make care and concern for children’s health our day-to-day business, there are well-funded challenges to this research. Just as the powerful correlational evidence linking tobacco smoke with lung cancer was challenged until researchers were able to demonstrate carcinogenic changes on a cellular level in response to tobacco exposure, research on the effects of media on health must examine the biological basis for behavioral change. Recent advances in medical technology now allow us to examine the human brain at work. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is an advance in neuroimaging that allows us to observe the brain in real time, to see what areas of the brain are active in response to various stimuli and how those responses move from area to area in the brain. In short, we are now able to visualize the activity of the brain as it processes and stores information. Coupling these images with our ever-increasing knowledge of brain architecture and function, we can construct the pathways by which stimuli are received, synthesized into ideas, categorized, and stored for future reference – in short, how we learn from our environment. We are privileged today to have the opportunity to hear from two pioneers of the new field of media effects neuroimaging, Doctor John Murray and Doctor Dan Anderson. I will leave the detailed description and findings of their pilot studies to them. However, it must be noted that this work is not isolated to a small group of scientists examining the effects of media. The cover story of the February 24, 2003 Newsweek entitled, “Anxiety and Your Brain: How Living with Fear Affects the Mind and the Body,” details the high level of concern held by clinicians and the public alike that we are changed and damaged by the stress of war, terrorism, and even our entertainment. It describes how anxiety, even among very young children, has become the most common chronic illness of modern society, the effects of which influence every waking moment and pervade virtually every human interaction. The response of the human brain to stress, regardless of its source, is universal and primitive. To quote briefly from the Newsweek article, “The fear system’s command center is the amygdala… An activated amygdala doesn’t wait around for instructions from the conscious mind. Once it perceives a threat, it can trigger a body-wide emergency response within milliseconds… stress hormones then shut down nonemergency services such as digestion and immunity, and direct the body’s resources to fighting or fleeing…creating a state of heightened alertness and supercharging the circuitry involved in memory formation.” When we entertain ourselves with scary movies or violent video games, we are attracted to the heart-pounding, super-alert excitement that these products stimulate. We are activating the very same primitive survival circuits, the “fight or flight” pathways in the brain, that allowed our ancestors to survive saber-toothed tigers. However, we may also be paying a long-term price for this excitement by acquiring deep-seated, primitive, almost-reflexive responses to conflict, responses that may be playing themselves out years later in physical and mental stress, fears, desensitization to the suffering of others, and aggression. Since 1972, comprehensive reports from the Surgeon General of the United States and the National Institute of Mental Health have indicated widespread concern among the public health community about the effects of media exposure on our physical and mental health. In the year 2000, the major health organizations of the United States, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issued a consensus statement calling media violence a public health emergency, indicating that the research evidence pointed “overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children.” Technology and scientific innovations have now given us the research tools to examine the mechanism of this causation. As a researcher, teacher, pediatrician, and parent, I urge us all to support and apply brain-mapping research for the benefit of our children and our society. I look forward to what we can learn by better understanding how the human brain responds to media and by developing interventions to protect us from negative media influences, completing the last two areas of epidemiological research needed to characterize and respond to this public health emergency. It was not so long ago that while the tobacco industry criticized and attempted to debunk scientific minutiae of various research findings, the medical community and society at large recognized the serious health risks associated with smoking and began to intervene. Look at how our personal attitudes and behaviors, our social environments and our public health awareness have changed for the better. We are at a similar crossroads in relation to media effects on health. It is time to be honest with ourselves, examine the scientific evidence with all the tools at our disposal, acknowledge the risks, and address them in a serious and responsible manner. Entertainment media are not inherently dangerous. They are a powerful tool that must be used thoughtfully and wisely. Just as the same shovel can be used to hit someone over the head or to prepare a field for planting, so, too, media can harm or help. What we teach our children today will determine not only their long-term health and well-being, but the world they create for all of us tomorrow. It is our task, as parents, as citizens, and as compassionate people, to do what we can to teach our children the lessons that will help them make their world safe, healthy, and free.
Witness Panel 2
Dr. John Murray
Click here to download Dr. Murray's PowerPoint presentation. (approx. 2.2MB)Neurobiological Research and the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children Concern about the impact of television violence began with the start of television broadcasting in the United States. Although the first commercial television station was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission in 1941, regular broadcasting did not begin until after World War II and became established later in 1947 or 1948. Nevertheless, the first official expression of concern about TV violence occurred in the U.S. Congress in Hearings in the Senate and House in 1952 and 1954. So, the issue of TV violence is not new to Congress. What is new, however, is the breadth and depth of research that has been accumulating on the impact of TV violence and, more recently, emerging studies of children’s brain activations while watching TV violence. In recent years, I have had the good fortune to study children’s brain responses to TV violence through the support of Kansas State University, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the Mind Science Foundation at San Antonio, and the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, I have enjoyed the intellectual support of my colleagues at The Menninger Foundation of Topeka, Kansas and Houston, Texas and the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Media and Children’s Health. A summary of our initial research on the impact of video violence and children’s brain activations was published in the October, 2001 issue of the monthly mental health journal, Psychiatric Times (available online at: www.psychiatrictimes.com/p011070.html and attached as an Appendix to this testimony). Research on brainmapping and TV violence is the outgrowth of a large and robust scientific literature on the impact of video violence—research that began in the 1950s and continues to date. I and my colleagues, Norma Pecora (Ohio University) and Ellen Wartella (University of Texas, Austin), are preparing a book that will review the history of research on television and children and will provide a comprehensive bibliography of the research and publications in this field. (The book is: Children and Television: 50 Years of Research, edited by Norma Pecora, John P. Murray, and Ellen Wartella, to be published by Erlbaum Publishers in late 2003.) I have provided the Committee staff with a draft of the comprehensive bibliography of 1,945 reports on children and television—approximately 600 of these reports deal with the issue of TV violence. However, the issue being discussed in this Hearing—neurological correlates of video violence—is only foreshadowed as a future possibility in this new book because there is very little in the way of completed studies. What we have learned from the vast body of research on children and television—and especially the research on TV violence—is the suggestion that viewing violence does influence the attitudes, values and behavior of children and adults who view this material. The main types of effects are three in number: 1. Aggression: Viewing video violence leads to increases in aggressive behavior and changes in attitudes and values favoring the use of aggression to solve conflicts; 2. Desensitization: Viewing video violence may lead to a decrease in concern about the pain and suffering of others; lower levels of concern about violence in society; and an increased willingness to tolerate violence; and 3. Fear: Viewing video violence may lead to increased concern about one’s personal safety; heightened fear that one may be the victim of violence; and decreased trust in the motives of others—a phenomenon known as the “mean world syndrome.” The effects described above have been identified in various studies over the past 50 years and they represent a very worrisome set of outcomes of violence viewing. However, much less is known about how these effects play out in individuals—how do children or adults come to understand and process the violence that they see in entertainment media? Our initial study of brainmapping and TV violence in children begins to provide some insights into the ways in which children process video violence. Much more research is needed before we can fully understand the effects of video violence, but enhanced brainmapping research can lead to significant progress in dealing with media violence. In our study, conducted at the Research Imaging Center (RIC) of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), we used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to map the brains of eight children (5 boys, 3 girls), ages 8 to 13 years while they watched violent and nonviolent videotapes. The youngsters who participated in this study were normal, healthy boys and girls who were good students and had no history of problems at school or home. The children viewed six, 3-minute, video clips—two clips each of violence (Rocky IV), nonviolence (National Geographic and Ghostwriter), and a control for viewing activations (a white “X” on a blue video screen). During these 18 minutes of viewing, we continuously scanned their brains while they viewed in the MRI. We also scanned for several minutes before and after the viewing to establish structural/anatomical features of their brains. In designing the study, we anticipated that we would see emotional arousal to the video violence and that this would be manifested in significant right hemisphere activations. In particular, we anticipated seeing involvement of an area of the brain that senses “danger” in the environment—the amygdala—and prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’ and we expected prefrontal cortex activation. The results of the scans confirmed our initial expectations and provided some additional surprising insights. In particular, two additional areas of the brain that were activated told us a very interesting story about what was happening in the minds of these young viewers. In the first instance, an area of the prefrontal cortex—the premotor cortex—was activated while viewing violence (not the other video clips) and this suggested that the youngsters were ‘thinking about moving’ (they could not move in the MRI and had they moved we would see motor cortex activation). Rather, what was happening while the youngsters watched the boxing, was a possible attempt at imitation of the boxing movements—thinking about but not able to actually imitate the movements. This is similar to what parents have observed when they see young children watching kick-boxing actions; the young viewers are likely to start imitating the movements on their brothers and sisters. The second surprising finding was an activation in the back of the brain—the posterior cingulate—an area that seems to be devoted to long-term memory storage for significant or traumatic events. My colleagues in this research had been working with military personnel who were being seen at the adjoining Audie Murphy Veterans Administration Health Center for severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When they scanned the brains of PTSD patients and asked them to recall the events and images that were causing them distress, the posterior cingulate was the area activated. Now, in our study, these children were not suffering from PTSD but they were watching traumatic and dramatic violence (although the movie was rated “PG”). In summary, the results or our initial, and very limited study, of children’s brain activations while viewing entertainment video violence, suggest that the violence is arousing, engaging, and is treated by the brain as a real event that is threatening and worthy of being stored for long-term memory in an area of the brain that makes ‘recall’ of the events almost instantaneous. This is as ‘scary’ as it gets; even more than an “R” rated slasher film. Here, we see normal children storing away violent images in a manner that could be used to ‘guide’ future behavior. Naturally, this is only the beginning of the story and we need to conduct much more extensive research on neuroimaging and violence. Thank you for your consideration of this testimony. John P. Murray, Ph.D. Professor of Developmental Psychology School of Family Studies and Human Services Kansas State University
Dr. Daniel R. Anderson
Testimony by Professor Daniel R. Anderson of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation concerning Neurobiological Research and the Impact of Media April 10, 2003 American children spend more time with electronic media than they spend in any other activity except sleep. While some research has shown negative effects, especially from television violence, other research has shown the positive impact of television programs that are designed to benefit children. For example, colleagues and I interviewed teenagers we had intensively studied as preschoolers in Springfield, Massachusetts and Topeka, Kansas during the early 1980s. We found that the more these teens had watched educational programs such as Sesame Street when they were preschoolers, the better grades they received in high school in English, math, and science. They also reported reading more books for pleasure than did teens that had not been regular viewers of educational television.1 The point is that electronic media can be designed to have a beneficial impact on children, an impact that is traceable more than a decade later. The design of educational TV programs has greatly benefited from behavioral research concerning children’s attention to and comprehension of television. Such research has been incorporated into the design of popular and effective preschool TV programs such as Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, and Bear in the Big Blue House, among others.2 Now, the advance of medical technology has made possible an extraordinary opportunity to further increase our understanding of how adults and children attend to and comprehend electronic media. This advance allows the 3-dimensional imaging of brain activity. This can be used to track brain activity as viewers watch and respond to film, television, or computer displays. I have had the fortune to design one of the first studies of brain activation as adults viewed visual action sequences in films. My colleagues in this research were from the University of Massachusetts and from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where the research took place. We wanted to know what parts of the brain are activated when adults comprehend visual film action sequences. Action sequences unfold over many successive film shots and the viewer, in order to understand the action sequence, must make many inferences concerning space, time, implied but not explicitly shown actions, and character intentions, among others. Although comprehension of film action sequences seems effortless to adults, we had no idea what parts of the brain accomplish this. We showed action sequences to adult viewers and recorded their brain activation using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We compared this activation to brain activation during sequences of unrelated film shots. We were interested in identifying those areas of the brain that are uniquely activated by the coherent, understandable sequences. We argue that these brain areas are those that are most important for visual comprehension of film. We found 11 such brain areas, all in the cerebral cortex, and most in the right hemisphere. When we considered what is known about the function of these brain areas, a sensible story emerges. These areas are involved in face and object recognition, the perception of action, movement, and space, the sequencing of events, and the emotional interpretation of experience.3 We consider this study just the beginning of what neuroimaging can tell us about media comprehension and eventually, media impact. Based on my experience with behavioral research, the information gained from neuroimaging will eventually inform us about ways to maximize the beneficial impact of media and about ways to minimize the harmful impact. I strongly support any initiative to provide dedicated funding to this emerging and most promising area of science. References 1. Anderson, D.R., Huston, A.C., Schmitt, K.L., Linebarger, D.L. & Wright, J.C. (2001). Early childhood television viewing and adolescent behavior. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68(1), Serial No. 264, 1-143. 2. Anderson, D.R. (in press). Watching children watch television and the creation of Blue’s Clues. In H. Hendershot (Ed.), Nickelodeon nation: The history, politics, and economics of America’s only TV channel for kids. New York: New York University Press. 3. Anderson, D.R., Fite, K.V., Petrovich, N. & Hirsch, J. (2003). Cortical Activation During Comprehension of Visual Action Sequences: An fMRI Study. Unpublished manuscript, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.