This observational learning generally requires the repeated observation of violence.
On the other hand, short-term increases in children's aggressive behavior following the observation of violence are owing to 3 other quite different psychological processes: (1) the priming of already existing aggressive behavioral scripts, aggressive cognitions, or angry emotional reactions; (2) simple mimicking of aggressive scripts; and (3) changes in emotional arousal stimulated by the observation of violence.
Neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists posit that the human mind acts as an associative network in which ideas are partially activated, or primed, by stimuli that they are associated with.
Consequently, children who observe (in the media or in the environment around them) others exhibiting a specific aggressive behavior, eg, hitting, are more likely to perform the same aggressive behavior immediately.
Theoretically, the more similar that children think they and the observed model are, the more readily imitation will take place, but the imitation mechanism is so powerful that even fantasy characters are imitated by young children.
To test whether the results of the accumulated studies on media violence and aggressive behavior are consistent with the theories that have evolved to explain the effects.
We tested for the existence of both short-term and long-term effects for aggressive behavior.
The psychological processes that link children's exposure to violence with subsequent increases in children's aggressive behaviors can be divided into those that produce more immediate but transient short-term changes in behavior and those that produce more delayed but enduring long-term changes in behavior.
Long-term increases in children's aggressive behavior are now generally agreed to be a consequence of the child's learning scripts for aggressive behavior, cognitions supporting aggression, and aggression-promoting emotions through the observation of others behaving violently.
As expected, the short-term effects of violent media were greater for adults than for children whereas the long-term effects were greater for children than for adults.
The results also showed that there were overall modest but significant effect sizes for exposure to media violence on aggressive behaviors, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, arousal levels, and helping behavior.
We then use meta-analyses to show that, on the whole, the available empirical data show the patterns one would expect from this theory.
Although the focus of this article is on exposure to media violence, the theoretical premise is that the same processes operate when children are exposed to media violence as when they are exposed to violence on the street, in the home, or among their peers.
For example, extensive observation of violence biases children's world schemas toward hostility, and they then attribute more hostility to others' actions, Similarly, through repeated observation of real-life aggressive models and aggressive models portrayed in the media, children develop normative beliefs that aggression is appropriate, and they acquire social scripts for how to behave aggressively.