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Effects of Media on Violence: Theory of Social Learning

An academic paper on the effects of media on violence – how violence is depicted in media and its effects, using the theory of social learning.

This paper discusses the social learning theory as a way of explaining the effects of media valence on behavior. As such, it forms a part of various behavioral theories in the sociopsychological paradiagm of communication thought. The paper begins with a conceptual definition of the term violence. The following paragraphs explain the theory and its philosophical assumptions. Finally, the theory is applied to a case study.

A Definition

More than 3, 000 research studies have been conducted on the issue of effects of media violence on behavior (Hurston et al, 1992). Since the 1950’s the effects of media violence have been observed and recorded through various longitudinal and experimental studies (Eron, Walder & Lefkowitz, 1971). But before proceeding further to explain media violence effects, it is imperative to know and understand what one means by media violence. Media violence can simply be described as violence depicted i.e. read or seen on any form of media. Violence is defined as,

“the overt expression of physical force (with or without a weapon, against self or other) compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt and/or killed or threatened to be victimized as part of the plot” (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorelli, 1980).

According to Gunter in 1994, media violence has increased tremendously over the past few years. This can be attributed to the million violent media messages portrayed by media icons. Violence is a universal language and requires no prior knowledge. It can be understood by all surpassing geographical barriers and culture. In addition, violence is also seen as a quick and easy way to solving problems. For instance, a child might be propelled to hit another child on the head with a hammer to solve his problem of being bullied. However, media practitioners argue that media only reflects “what people want” (Easton, 1993). But such claims do not have empirical support or validation. In fact, Deiner and colleagues in 1978 and 1981 found that audience did not show specific favoritism or appeal to violent shows.

The Behavioral Theory of Social Learning

The social learning theory forms the cornerstone of popular social psychology. It was advocated by Bandura in the 1960s and has grown since then. In a nutshell, social learning theory advocates modeling and imitation behaviors through learning. The theory states that human beings as a rule, “have evolved an advanced capacity for observational learning that enables them to expand their knowledge and skills on the basis of information conveyed by modeling influences” (Bandura, 1994). The key words are observation and learning. Human beings observe violent media content, learn the behavior and then display it in their own life. The social learning theory is based on three fundamental philosophical assumptions of epistemology, oncology and axiology. Epistemologically speaking, the theory holds that people are not passive observers or recipients of external stimuli. An individual interacts and creates/ develops his/ her own world of knowledge. Thus, knowledge is created by active participation of the individual.

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