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Journal Article


Wass H, Raup JL, Sisler HH. Death Stud. 1989; 13: 161-173.


(Copyright © 1989, Informa - Taylor and Francis Group)






VioLit summary:

The purpose of this study by Wass et al. was to evaluate the perceptions of adolescents about violence and death on television.

The authors employed a quasi-experimental cross-sectional design with a non-probability sample of 712 low, middle and high socio-economic status students from three rural and three urban schools in Florida. The sample consisted of 12 to 18 year olds, in grades 6 through 12, with 53% female and 80% white. The return rate for the request for participation was 54.7%. Subjects completed a revised form of the previously established TV Questionnaire while they were in school during Spring, 1987. Measures examined program preferences, ratings of violence in general programming and in news broadcasts, ratings of the most frightening shows, issues concerning whether young children should be allowed to watch violence on television, how much murder subjects thought occurred in the United States, how much subjects discussed death with parents or friends, and how many subjects had their own television sets and were therefore able to control their own viewing habits. Analysis involved examination of frequencies and correlations.

The authors found that 48% of the sample had television sets in their own rooms, and could thus monitor their own viewing choices. These subjects were found to watch more television than those without their own sets, and rural students watched more than did their urban contemporaries. No gender or age differences were found in amount of television watched each week. 44% of the total group reported that they watched fewer than 20 hours of television each week, 29% said that they usually watched 20 to 30 hours weekly and 28% claimed that their television viewing accumulated to more than 30 hours per week. Almost half of the subjects reported that comedies were in their top three favorite programs, with 30% preferring action or detective shows. Urban and rural students showed no differences in preference, and gender also had no effect. More than 80% of the students reported that death sometimes occurs on their favorite program, with over 20% seeing death often or always. 40% of these deaths were reported as violent. Over 50% of the subjects reported that death was often or always shown in news broadcasts, with almost 75% rating these deaths as violent. Urban students and males watched the news more than their rural or female counterparts. The most frightening movies were rated as those dealing with murder, the occult or nuclear destruction. For the total sample, 47% said that young children should not be allowed to watch violent death on television. The greatest percentage of those who thought that they should be allowed to view such events occurred for the urban males (62%), with urban females (60%) close behind, followed by rural males (59%) and rural females (43%). Reasons for allowing children to watch violent death on television included children's rights, the harmlessness of viewing, a knowledge of the difference between reality and television, and the need for children to learn to cope with the real world. Reasons for not allowing children to view violence on television included the fact that children were too young to handle such material, concern that children might become fearful, fear of corrupting children's minds and fears about children learning from and modelling such behaviors. With regard to estimates of the number of murders that occur in the United States, about 75% of the students greatly overestimated annual incidence, with more rural and female subjects making this mistake. The authors suggested that the distorted portrayal of the causes of death that television offers might have influenced subjects' estimates of murder statistics. No correlation was found between amount of news that subjects watched and murder estimates. Only 3% of the subjects reported that they often or always discussed death with their parents, whilst 80% said that they never or seldom talk about such things. More females than males discussed death with family. Nearly two thirds of the students never or seldom talked with peers about death, with 27% discussing the subject sometimes, and 11% often or always. Males discussed death with their friends more often than did females, and almost 90% of the sample, regardless of gender, grade or residence, reported that they would not like to talk about this subject with either parents or peers more often. The authors suggested that sex differences found throughout their research might be due to differential socialization patterns for the two groups.

The authors suggested that further research be conducted into the differences between males and females, and between rural and urban students, in perceptions about television, and now video, violence. They also stressed the need for continuing research, based on methods other than self-report measures alone, to determine the variables that play a role in shaping people's perceptions, in order to counter the negative effects that television can have. Education should also be developed to help alleviate fears that are related to death and dying. The authors hoped that further research could convince entertainment industry executives of the need to reduce the violent content in television programming, and that research could also convince parents to monitor their children's viewing habits.

The authors present an interesting examination of the effects of television portrayals of death upon adolescents. The large sample size, and inclusion of subjects from various ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, allows for good external validity and generalizability to other adolescents. However, a more thorough description of the methodology would have been useful, as would have a more detailed analysis of the data. The authors' recommendations provide valuable information to policy planners, although implications of the findings could have been discussed more thoroughly. Means of collecting the data other than self-report would also have been useful. Otherwise, the paper represents a useful addition to the research into the effects of television violence. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - Florida
KW - Juvenile Perceptions
KW - Television Viewing
KW - Television Violence
KW - Media Violence Effects
KW - Juvenile Male
KW - Juvenile Female
KW - Early Adolescence
KW - Late Adolescence
KW - Female Perceptions
KW - Male Perceptions
KW - Child Perceptions
KW - Child Female
KW - Child Male
KW - Late Childhood
KW - Junior High School Student
KW - Senior High School Student
KW - Grade 6
KW - Grade 7
KW - Grade 8
KW - Grade 9
KW - Grade 10
KW - Grade 11
KW - Grade 12
KW - Exposure to Violence


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