Teen aggression linked to profanity in media

Teen aggression linked to profanity in media

By Liz Lockhart

With a growing use of swearing in films, video games, television and on the internet it is only natural to wonder if this is having an effect on child viewers.  Now, a new study may hold some answers.

The new study suggests that profanity in the media may increase aggression levels among teens, acting as a kind of stepping stone to violence, according to researchers.

The study is the first to examine the impact of profanity in the media among middle school students, say the researchers.  Previous research has suggested a link between watching violent scenes and aggression but the evidence is mixed.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

For the purpose of this study, scholars at Brigham Young University (BYU) collected information from 223 middle school students in the Midwest, USA.

Statistical techniques were applied to give more clues than would be gained from using simple correlation tests according to the lead author,  Professor Sarah Coyne of BYU.  Exposure to profanity is associated with acceptance and use of profanity, which in turn, influence both physical and relational aggression.

‘On the whole, it’s a moderate effect,’ said Coyne.  ‘We even ran the statistical model the opposite way to test if the violent kids used more profanity and then sought it out in the media, but the first path we took was a much better statistical fit even when we tried other explanations.’

The conclusions of the study are endorsed by other experts with Brad Bushman, a media expert at Ohio State University saying ‘This research shows that profanity is not harmless.’

 ‘Children exposed to profanity in the media think that such language is ‘normal’, which may reduce their inhibitions about using profanity themselves.  And children who use profanity are more likely to aggress against others.  These are very important findings for parents, teachers and paediatricians.’

‘Profanity is kind of like a stepping stone’ Coyne said.  ‘You don’t go to a movie, hear a bad word, and then go shoot somebody.  But when youth both hear and then try profanity out for themselves it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive behaviour.’

Even after the researchers accounted for the influence of portrayals of aggression in the shows and games popular with the middle school students, the association between profanity and adolescent aggression remained significant.

Coyne says that in one regard the ratings systems were ‘ahead of their time’ by steering young people away from profanity without scientific research to state why.  She also sees a new gap in the video game ratings system when it comes to educating parents about games that enable online interaction between players.

Even while accounting for the influence of portrayals of aggression in the shows and games popular with middle school students involved in this study, the connection between profanity and adolescent aggression remained significant.

Source: Brigham Young University 

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