How a Bully is Made

Media violence exposure makes bullying more likely among kids with other risk factors

(RxWiki News) If prevention relies on knowledge, how do you prevent bullying? You figure out what child is most likely to become one.

A recent study has found that watching violent TV or movies is one of the factors that can affect how aggressive a child becomes.

Watching violent TV won't make a child a bully on its own, but it's the easiest risk factor to change.

"Don't let your young child watch violent TV."

The study, led by Douglas Gentile, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, involved surveying grade school children, their peers and their teachers twice during a school year.

The 430 children interviewed, from third and fourth grade, came from five Minnesota schools. The two interviews occurred six months apart.

They were asked if they had been in a fight in the past year, and they filled out surveys that identified other children in their class who were more likely to "hit, kick or punch others."

Teachers were also surveyed about the aggression behaviors of each child they had in their class.

The researchers assessed six possible factors that might affect children's physical aggression in a positive or negative way.

One factor was how much media violence the child was exposed to through television, films and video games.

The children listed their favorite shows, movies and games, answered how frequently they watched or played it and rated how violent it was.

Another factor was the child's gender. Males are more likely than females to be physically aggressive, according to past research.

Two other factors included whether they had been physically victimized themselves before and whether they had a history of prior aggression.

Both of these have been shown in past research to be strong risk factors for bullying others physically.

An addition risk factor included was "hostile attribution bias," where a person perceives others to be doing something intentionally aggressive.

With hostile attribution bias, a person assumes that someone else is being hostile, even if the other person is not intentionally causing a problem.

For example, someone might cut you off in traffic accidentally simply because they didn't see you, but you might assume they are aggressively intending to cut you off. That's hostile attribution bias, and it's also a risk factor for a child becoming a physical bully.

The last factor included in the study was how much parents monitored what media their children watched. Research has shown that more monitoring leads to less violent media watched by kids.

The researchers found that each risk factor increased the likelihood that a child would start a fight, including exposure to media violence.

They also calculated what impact each risk factor appeared to have on how likely a child was to become physically aggressive when they controlled for the other factors.

They found that exposure to violent media had the biggest single impact, increasing the risk of physical aggression 62 percent.

They also found that having multiple factors increased a child's risk of becoming aggressive disproportionally.

"Having one or two risk factors is no big deal. Kids are resilient — they can handle it," Dr. Gentile said in press materials. "You get to three and there's a big jump. When you get out past four risk factors, risk is increasing at a much higher rate than you would expect."

Dr. Gentile said that his findings could be used to "profile" kids to predict who is most likely to act out aggressively. If implemented, this method may make it easier for adults to watch for possibly dangerous bullying situations among children.

But one of his biggest findings was that media violence is not insignificant. It appears to play a major role in increasing a child's likelihood of aggression if other risk factors are present.

"Results also suggest that the effects of media violence exposure may be underestimated by standard data analysis procedures," the authors wrote. "Exposure to media violence acts similarly to other risk factors for aggression and therefore deserves neither special acclaim nor dismissal as a risk factor."

That means media violence on its own will not likely create a bully. But mix it with the other factors, and the risk of a bully-in-the-making increases considerably.

The good news is that exposure to media violence is the easiest factor to change, Dr. Gentile said. Parents cannot change a child's sex or the fact that they started past fights or have been bullied before.

But they can influence how much violent media the child continues to consume.

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Information regarding funding and disclosures was not provided.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 10, 2012