Television and Violence

Mander (1977) spoke extensively to the “Unifying of experience” and “Lack of alternative choices” afforded by the television experience―especially in the delimited manner in which information is presented seemingly without prejudice, to brains that are reduced in frequency reception from beta (active attention, such as required by reading) to alpha (passive attention, the attendant lack of focus, and access to critical faculties).

Television addiction is virulent, and mostly ignored; or dismissed as being minor or harmless. Television’s electrical broadcast frequency actually switches brain activity from the left to the right hemisphere. Moore (2001) reported that, while watching television, the right hemisphere is twice as active as the left (a neurological anomaly), releasing a flood of opioid peptides. Opiates introduced externally act on the same opioid receptors as naturally-produced endorphins, so there is little difference between the two. The crossover from left to right releases a surge of beta-endorphins and enkephalins that are “Structurally identical” to opium, and are usually “Habit-forming,” in the same manner that cracking knuckles, strenuous exercise, video games, and orgasm can.

In 1988, Gelles and Strauss found that the average teenager under the age of 18 spends twice as many hours (20) watching television as doing schoolwork (10) during an average week. Further, “These children observe 18,000 killings before graduating from high school” (p. 197). As of 2012, the statistics are far more alarming. Children watch an average of 4.5 hours of television daily (42 hours a week) and will have witnessed approximately 200,000 killings by the time they graduate. No matter how subliminal or subconscious, the possibility of children being programmed for violence is a harvest that we, as a collective humanity, will have to reap in years to come.

Breggin (1991) noted the strong evidence linking childhood violence with learning disorders and disabilities, especially Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and prematurely diagnosed Bi-Polar Disorder. Individuals dissociated from their own self-awareness may turn to violence (Springer, 1994). Such individuals may respond from deeply-ingrained previous conditioning completely without discrimination (Butler et al., 1996). Van der Kolk (as cited in Saunders & Arnold, 1993) hypothesized that dissociation may create dependence on this kind of re-traumatization, defending against trauma by dissociating into an “Alternate reality,” (e.g., video games) by which to attempt to regain an illusory sense of power and control. In the same vein, Bradshaw (1988a) stated, “Whatever mood alters our chronic pain will take precedence over everything else” (p. 96).

The possibility of violence, like that of addiction, seems attractive because it appears to offer relief from dysphoric emotional states. Violence is often approved in a de facto manner within the culture. “Unconscious” generally refers to material that is dissociated―traumatic experiences hidden in unawareness. This material then begins to act “automatically” (e.g., as if of its own accord), chewing one’s fingernails, or pulling on one’s hair seemingly without paying attention.

The Most Recent StatisticsNewsome (2015), in her brilliant film (The Mask You Live In) revealed updated statistics, noting that young men’s “Brains are being digitally rewired” and have become “Habituated to the sameness of violence.” She also noted:

✅ Every week, boys watch 40 hours of TV; play 15 hours of video games; and 2 hours of porn, the total of which is clearly creating “arousal addiction”
✅ 99% of boys play video games
✅ 90% of games approved for children over the age of ten contain violence
✅ 31% of boys consider themselves addicted to video games
✅ 50% of parents don’t monitor ratings of games
✅ 39% of all boys are exposed to unwanted pornography
✅ 93% of boys have been exposed to video porn
✅ 68% of boys watch porn weekly
✅ 21% of boys watch porn daily
✅ 83% of boys have witnessed group sex
✅ 39% of boys have witnessed bondage
✅ 18% of boys have witnessed rape
✅ Research shows that such exposure increases sexual aggression by 22%
✅ Research shows that such exposure increases belief in the myth that women enjoy sexual violence by 31%
✅ 50% of all boys are physically abused, and 1 in 6 sexually abused
✅ Those who have been abused are 9 times more likely to commit violent crimes
✅ 90% of homicides are committed by men; 50% of them by men under age 25
✅ Mass homicide (more than 4 people killed) occurs approximately every 2 weeks, and has tripled since 2011
✅ School shootings happen about once a week since Sandy Hook (2012)

The question of causation, however, remains contested. What’s missing are studies on whether watching violent media directly leads to committing extreme violence. “In fact the Surgeon General, the National Institute of Mental Health and multiple professional organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association—all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence” (, 08/25/13, accessed 01/21/17).

Dr. Stefan J. Malecek
Author – Veteran – Psychologist

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