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Study Notes

Aggression: Media Influences & Desensitisation

A Level

Most of us live in a media saturated world. Television, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, the internet, and social media fill the daily lives of most individuals.

Psychologists have been interested to investigate whether these media influences have an effect on our behaviour, particularly aggressive behaviour. Any form of communication can be defined as 'media; new media is apparent in the technological advances in gaming. Computer games can be defined as a game played on a screen, using a mouse, keyboard or handheld controller. Computer games such as those played on the Xbox and Play Station have become a chief source of entertainment for many individuals, especially those in younger age groups. Psychologists investigating the influences on behaviour of these computer games have produced three main theories:

1a. Desensitisation

Desensitisation theory proposes that with continual exposure to a stimulus our responses to that stimulus are decreased. Therefore, if aggression is presented to us on a daily basis, there is reduction in our response to the aggression. Under normal circumstances the sympathetic nervous system switches on in response to witnessing violence or aggression. Heart rate increases, adrenaline is released and this physiological stress response causes a desire to remove ourselves from the object. Viewing aggression will cause an initiation of this evolved 'fight or flight' response. This response was adaptive for our ancestors and helped keep them alive.

However, it was also adaptive for our ancestors to become accustomed to environmental stimuli that were frequently encountered. For instance, some tribes have become tree dwellers for their own safety. On the face of it living high in the trees would seem a stressful and frightening experience, but these tree dwellers have become desensitised to the fear element of living in the treetops. Psychologists have proposed that desensitisation can therefore also provide an adaptive response to the environment.

Today our environment consists of a media saturated world, and violence and aggression are often present in news reports. However, violence is also a feature of many computer games. Psychologists propose that desensitisation as a response to violence viewed in computer games can have a negative effect. Individuals may not respond to real aggression with any physiological arousal, such as that associated with fear. The result of this effect is that individuals may be more likely to accept violence and aggression and may be more likely to respond violently and aggressively when presented with the opportunity to do so.

To read about the other Media Influences, click here.

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