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Researchers split over TV, violence ties
Last Updated Fri, 29 Mar 2002 23:57:23

TORONTO - At least one Canadian researcher is panning a new U.S. study that links young people's television viewing habits with violent behaviour later in life.

The authors of the study, published Friday in the journal Science, tracked 700 14-year-olds over 17 years. It concluded that the more TV they watched as adolescents, the more likely they were to become involved in assaults, fights and robberies as adults.

One of the authors, Jeffrey Johnson, a researcher at Columbia University in New York, said the study shows parents should limit the amount of time their children spend watching TV.

But a University of Toronto researcher on Friday dismissed the idea that television viewing habits can be linked to violent behaviour.

Although some television programs may be distasteful to parents, they will not turn their children into anti-social monsters, according to psychology professor Jonathan Freedom.

"It doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before," Freedman said. "Television violence and television is not harmful.

"I'm not a great lover of most of what's on television, but it doesn't make you aggressive; it doesn't make you violent."

Parents' role questioned

Another U.S. researcher suggested Friday that Johnson's results may say more about the character of the families he studied than the contents of the TV programs they were watching.

Chris Boyatzis, an associate professor of psychology at Bucknell University, said it's possible parents who watch a lot of television are less educated and have lower moral standards than others which could explain a tendency toward anti-social behaviour in their children.

Parents who watch television alongside their sons and daughters are using up time that could be better spent interacting with them, he argued.

Other researchers, however, embraced the idea that TV watching in itself leads to violent behaviour.

Mark Singer, of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said the new report backed up his own findings. In 1998, Singer's own study found that violence increased among young people who watched more than six hours of television a day.

Friday's study showed that about six per cent of young people who watched less than an hour of television a day became violent later in life. But the number soared to 30 per cent for those who sat in front of the TV more than three hours a day.

The rates were markedly different for girls and boys, according to researchers. They said about nine per cent of boys who watched less than an hour of TV a day showed violent tendencies later on, compared to just over two per cent of girls.

For those who watched more than three hours a day, 45 per cent of boys showed aggressive behaviour later on in life, compared to less than 13 per cent of the girls.

The results were the same for young people, regardless of whether they had been violent before the survey began, according to Johnson. He said that proved the findings were not biased by teens already prone to aggression.

Written by CBC News Online staff

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