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Chapter 4:
Risk Factors for Youth Violence

Introduction to Risk and Protective Factors

Risk Factors in Childhood

Risk Factors in Adolescence

Proposed Protective Factors in Childhood and Adolescence



Appendix 4-A: Lipsey and Derzon’s Classes of Risk Factors

Appendix 4-B: Violence in the Media and Its Effect on Youth Violence

Media Violence: Exposure and Content

Major Behavioral Effects of Media Violence

Summary of Major Empirical Research Findings

Preventive Efforts



Appendix 4-B


A substantial body of research now indicates that exposure to media violence increases children’s physically and verbally aggressive behavior in the short term (within hours to days of exposure). Media violence also increases aggressive attitudes and emotions, which are theoretically linked to aggressive and violent behavior. Findings from a smaller body of longitudinal studies suggest a small but statistically significant impact on aggression over many years. The evidence for long-term effects on violence is inconsistent.

Based on the findings of studies reported here, the average effect sizes of exposure to media violence on various measures of aggression range from small (r = .15) to quite large (r = .64). The evidence that exposure to media violence is a risk factor for violent behavior is more limited, with small average effect sizes of r = .06 in cross-sectional surveys, r = .13 in experimental studies (Paik & Comstock, 1994), and r = .00 to .22 in longitudinal studies (Huesmann et al., submitted; Milavsky et al., 1982). Taken together, findings to date suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence. The effect on aggression is stronger, ranging from small to moderate.

Although there is clear scientific evidence of a correlation between exposure to media violence and some violent behaviors, randomized experiments—the research methodology best suited to determining causality—cannot ethically be used in studies of violent behavior. Thus, the causal links between media violence and behavior are more firmly established for aggressive behavior than for violent behavior. Longitudinal studies, which also provide some insights into this issue, have linked repeated exposure to media violence in the early years with an increased likelihood of aggressive behavior in the teen and adult years. However, few of these studies have reported on violence as an outcome. Moreover, the violent behaviors that are the focus of this report (homicide, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery) occur infrequently and are subject to multiple influences. At present, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the relatively small, long-term effects of media exposure and those other influences.

In sum, a diverse body of research provides strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase children’s aggressive behavior in the short term. Some studies suggest that long-term effects exist, and there are strong theoretical reasons why this is the case. But many questions remain regarding the short- and long-term effects of media violence, especially on violent behavior. Despite considerable advances in research, it is not yet possible to describe accurately how much exposure, of what types, for how long, at what ages, for what types of children, or in what types of settings will predict violent behavior in adolescents and adults.


Efforts to reduce the presumed harmful effects of media violence on youths have taken various forms, including:

  • Attempting to reduce the amount of media violence and children’s access to it (for example, calls for media self-regulation and violence ratings);
  • Encouraging and facilitating parental monitoring of children’s access to media (for example, V-chip legislation and advisory labels on music and video games);
  • Educating parents and children about the potential dangers of media violence (for example, media and empathy educational programs); and
  • Targeting children’s views about violence to reduce the chances that they will imitate the violence they see (Corder-Bolz, 1980; Hicks, 1968; Huesmann et al., 1983; Linz et al., 1990; Nathanson, 1999).
  • From a public health perspective, this preventive domain is largely uncharted territory. Few preventive efforts have been studied systematically. Furthermore, not enough research has been done to form a basis for the design of many experimental interventions. As noted in other parts of this report, an extensive body of scientific research undergirds our emerging knowledge about effective ways of preventing youth violence. Although many violence prevention programs address a complex array of risk and protective factors in the lives of young people, they have not yet addressed the role of the media. This gap needs to be filled.


    Research to date justifies sustained efforts to curb the adverse effects of media violence on youths. Although our knowledge is incomplete, it is sufficient to develop a coherent public health approach to violence prevention that builds upon what is known, even as more research is under way. Unlike earlier Federal research reports on media violence and youth (National Institute of Mental Health, 1982; U.S. Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, 1972), this discussion takes place within a broader examination of the causes and prevention of youth violence. This context is vital. It permits media violence to be regarded as one of many complex influences on the behavior of America’s children and young people. It also suggests that multilayered solutions are needed to address aggressive and violent behavior.

    A variety of media violence is present in the homes of young children, with considerable variation in the degree of parental supervision (Woodard, 1998). Regardless of government and other interested groups’ attempts to limit the amount of violence reaching American families, families themselves play a critical role in guiding what reaches their children. Whether by adopting V-chip technology for home television programming, by using Internet violence screening, or simply by monitoring closely children’s use of televisions, computers, and video games, parents can limit and shape their children’s selection of, interaction with, and response to media violence. Community groups—including schools, faith-based organizations, and Parent Teacher Associations—can teach parents and children how to be more critical consumers of media. Federal agencies can be more active in encouraging needed research, in sharing research findings with the public, in encouraging increased interaction between violence prevention researchers and media researchers, and in creating networks for sharing solutions to social and public health problems.

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