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Media Violence and a Child's Developing Brain

Desensitisation to Violence after Consuming Violent Media

Prolonged exposure to violent media has also been shown to cause emotional desensitisation: “your typical emotional response to other people’s emotion is diminished [and you] tolerate more violence in world around you” says Dr Warburton. The theory is that desensitisation occurs because there are changes in the way we think – we tend to think aggression is more socially acceptable than is actually the case.  Explaining that people with ongoing exposure to violent media “have more aggressive scripts for how to resolve conflict”, the warning for parents is that "even if  a child observes that parents resolve conflict well, their violent media exposure makes children fall back on scripts they see in media rather than scripts they have learned from parents.”

 

A 1988 study by Dr J. Cantor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that when exposed to media violence, initially people experience fear, disgust and avoidance-related emotional states but that with further exposure there is diminished activity in those regions. And this year, Professor Guo at a Shanghai University, used FMRI imaging to demonstrate that short-term media violence exposure reduces the brain’s empathic response to other people’s pain.

Concern about the impact violent media may have on a child’s level of empathy (link) is an area where parents need more information. The most recent research in this area is by Dr D. Gentile and is due to be published any day now: this research used FMRI studies to show that gamers used to playing violent  games, demonstrate an active suppression of the emotion centres of their brains; “The blood flow of that part of their brain was significantly decreased” explained Dr Warburton.

Media Violence and a Child’s Developing Brain

Dr Warburton concluded his presentation by emphasising the application of this research to understanding and protecting the developing brain of a child. For parents of teens who know that adolescence is the time that they are most likely to be exposed to violent media, the message is clear: don’t be complacent. Teenage brains are still in the process of developing the area that inhibits automatic responses, and in puberty there is an unique confluence of hormones, neurodevelopmental changes and increasing social and environmental pressures that make an adolescent especially vulnerable to the effects of violent media. And with the trend being for children to use media devices at increasingly younger ages, parents are advised to keep themselves informed about the research in this area, particularly as media owners push for less regulation of content.