Effect of media violence on aggression partly dependent on peer behavior


Bullying bully teen girls fight jpgTeens who perceive more aggression among their friends become more aggressive after exposure to violent games and TV-programs - an insight that may help identify groups of children who are vulnerable to media violence. This is one of the results of a two-year survey among 943 Dutch adolescents conducted by a team of CcaM-scientists, now published online in Media Psychology.

Much debate exists about whether violent games and TV shows such as Grand Theft Auto and Game of Thrones can lead to more aggressive behavior among children and teens. Not only do parents worry about the consequences of such content for their kids, media violence also evokes broader societal debates. This happened, for example, in 2013 when players of the newly released Grand Theft Auto V were required to torture another character. So far, scientists have different views about the effects of violent media on children’s aggression. On one side of the spectrum, researchers view media violence as a trivial factor, while other researchers draw a direct line between media violence and real-world aggression. 

The current CcaM study shows that only some teens are susceptible to media violence. Among teens who consume much media violence and perceive more aggression (hitting, kicking) among their peers, their perceptions about approval of aggression change. These teens conclude that their friends find aggressive behavior more acceptable, and are then more likely to act aggressively themselves. Surprisingly, among teens who grow up in a non-aggressive environment (who do not perceive their peers to be aggressive), the opposite happened. These teens do not seem to integrate the violent messages in the media with the behavior of their friends and are less likely to become aggressive after playing violent games or watching violent TV shows. 

These results are in line with an earlier study by CcaM researcher Karin Fikkers. In 2013, she and her co-authors showed that especially teens from high conflict families are likely to become aggressive as a result of media violence exposure. That study as well as the current study fit with the theoretical model proposed by Patti Valkenburg, distinguished University Professor of Media, Youth and Society, and Jochen Peter, Professor of Media Entertainment. In their 2013 article, they propose that discussions about whether or not media violence affects aggression exist because not all children are affected to the same extent. Some youth may be more vulnerable to media effects as a result of their disposition, developmental level, or – as shown by this study – their social environment. 

For this study, CcaM researchers asked 943 kids between 10 and 14 years how often and how long they play violent games or watch violent TV shows. On average, these teens reported 4.6 hours per week of violent media exposure. They were also asked how often they act aggressively against other teens, and to what extent their peers are aggressive and approve of aggression. One year later, these questions were asked again to see how aggression changed over time, and what the role of media violence was in this process. 

This study was conducted by a team of CcaM researchers: Karin Fikkers, Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, and Patti Valkenburg, in collaboration with dr. Peter Lugtig from Utrecht University. Click here to read the article “The role of perceived peer norms in the relationship between media violence exposure and adolescents’ aggression”,  published online first in Media Psychology.

For more information about this paper, please contact the first author, Karin Fikkers, via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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