Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011, Vol.100(4), pp.630-646
This study examined the links between desensitization to violent media stimuli and habitual media violence exposure as a predictor and aggressive cognitions and behavior as outcome variables. Two weeks after completing measures of habitual media violence exposure, trait aggression, trait arousability, and normative beliefs about aggression, undergraduates ( N = 303) saw a violent film clip and a sad or a funny comparison clip. Skin conductance level (SCL) was measured continuously, and ratings of anxious and pleasant arousal were obtained after each clip. Following the clips, participants completed a lexical decision task to measure accessibility of aggressive cognitions and a competitive reaction time task to measure aggressive behavior. Habitual media violence exposure correlated negatively with SCL during violent clips and positively with pleasant arousal, response times for aggressive words, and trait aggression, but it was unrelated to anxious arousal and aggressive responding during the reaction time task. In path analyses controlling for trait aggression, normative beliefs, and trait arousability, habitual media violence exposure predicted faster accessibility of aggressive cognitions, partly mediated by higher pleasant arousal. Unprovoked aggression during the reaction time task was predicted by lower anxious arousal. Neither habitual media violence usage nor anxious or pleasant arousal predicted provoked aggression during the laboratory task, and SCL was unrelated to aggressive cognitions and behavior. No relations were found between habitual media violence viewing and arousal in response to the sad and funny film clips, and arousal in response to the sad and funny clips did not predict aggressive cognitions or aggressive behavior on the laboratory task. This suggests that the observed desensitization effects are specific to violent content.
Media Violence ; Desensitization ; Physiological Arousal ; Aggressive Cognitions ; Aggressive Behavior
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