Violent TV, video scenes desensitise teen boys: study

Teenage boys who repeatedly watch vicious TV programmes, films and video games are likelier to become insensitive to violence, according to a study that claims new insights into this hotly debated field.

Researchers have long fretted that screen violence may have a brutalising effect on teenage minds.

Their worry is that part of the brain which controls emotions and responses to external events - essentially a "brake" on wrongful behaviour - is still in a vulnerable, developing stage during adolescence.

But investigations have been hampered by lack of evidence about what actually happens to brain functions, especially in the key area known as the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), when a teenager watches a violent scene.

Jordan Grafman of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and colleagues enrolled 22 boys between the age of 14 to 17 in a study aimed at getting this clinical data.

The lads each watched a series of short, four-second clips of violent scenes from 60 videos.

The scenes had been chosen by a previous panel of teenagers to rank as low, mild or moderate violence. They were shown in random order to the volunteers in three lots of 20 clips.

The boys watched the clips as they lay in a functional magnetic resonancing imaging (fMRI) scanner, which monitors brain activity.

Their fingers were attached to sensors that measure the skin's electrical conductance and varies in accordance with sweat. They are considered a useful guide of emotional response to a stimulus.

The longer the boys watched more violent images, the less they responded in terms of lateral OFC activity and in skin response, the investigators found.

This tendency did not happen when the boys watched images of only low violence.

"We found that as the boys were exposed to more violent videos over time, their activation in brain regions concerned with emotional reactivity decreased, and that was reflected in the data from the fMRI and in the skin conductance," said Grafman.

Desensitisation was most marked among boys who had the most exposure to violent media in their daily lives, as measured by questions in their initial meeting with the researchers.

Grafman said violent images stimulate structures in the brain which are typically activated when people are being aggressive. Without a mental guardian to exercise emotional restraint, this boosts the risk that aggression becomes seen as acceptable behaviour.

"The implications of this are many," said Grafman.

"(They) include the idea that continued exposure to violent videos will make an adolescent less sensitive to violence, more accepting of violence and more likely to commit aggressive acts since the emotional component associated with aggression is reduced and normally acts as a brake on aggressive behaviour."

The study only recruited boys, so does not offer a verdict on what happens to girls who are repeatedly exposed to violent images.

Previous studies, though, have found that females are far less likely to respond aggressively to visual violence than males, possibly because of differences in brain connections.

The study is published online Tuesday in a British journal, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence