March 14, 2012

Media Bullies Make Real Bullies

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Relational aggression in the media may increase occurrences of real aggression

(dailyRx News) Physical violence depicted in television and movies can increase instances of real-life aggression. However, it may be that other, less violent, aggression in the media can have negative consequences too.

A recent study of college age women showed that viewing of relational aggression on screen - like malicious gossiping, spreading rumors, and teasing - increased cognitive activity in the brain related to aggressive behavior.

"Ask your therapist about healthy ways to deal with aggressive tendencies."

Douglas Gentile, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, says "what this study shows is that relational aggression actually can cause a change in the way you think, and that matters because of course, how you think can change your behavior."

The researchers asked 250 college women to view 1 of 3 videos. The first showed an act of physical violence which included a knife fight and murder scene. The second showed relational aggression like stealing boyfriends, spreading rumors, and acting exclusive. The third showed a scary scene that was simply meant to raise the pulse.

All three of the clips produced similar levels of excitement in the women.

The team measured cognitive activity in the women’s brains while they watched the scene. They also monitored activity afterwards while the women watched a series of words flash across the screen.

Words that were related to aggressive activity had a higher response by those who had just watched one of the two aggressive scenes.

"This matters because relational aggression tends to be considered more socially acceptable -- it's often portrayed on television as funny and how friends treat each other," notes Gentile. "Yet, several studies are starting to show that relational aggression can cause long-term harm."

The study does not directly link relationally aggressive behavior with viewing of relational aggression - only that, while viewing relational aggression in the media there is increased activity in the brain related to relational aggression. More research is needed to identify the specific relationship between the two.

The study was published in the March/April edition of the journal Aggressive Behavior and was funded by the Women's Research Institute and the College of Family Home and Social Science.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
March 13, 2012

Last Updated:
March 14, 2012