Two sides to the same coin: relational and physical aggression in the media

Published date28 September 2012
Date28 September 2012
AuthorSarah M. Coyne,Laura Stockdale,David A. Nelson
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Sociology
IFAS paper
Two sides to the same coin: relational and
physical aggression in the media
Sarah M. Coyne, Laura Stockdale and David A. Nelson
Purpose – This review aims to examine how aggression is portrayed in the media and how it can
influence behavior and attitudes regarding aggression.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors reviewed the relevant literature and examined both
physical and relational forms of aggression in multiple media forms (television, film,video games, music,
Findings – Across media types, evidence is found that both physical and relational aggression are
portrayed frequently and in ways that may contribute to subsequent aggression. Furthermore, though
there are studies finding no effect of exposure to media aggression, evidence is found that watching
physical and relational aggression in the media can contribute to aggressive behavior.Prominent media
aggression theories are reviewed and some of these theories are applied to relational aggression media
Research limitations/implications Researchers should no longer ignore relational aggression in
terms of the media, in terms of content and associations with aggressive behavior. Researchersshould
also focus on understudied media forms, such as music and books.
Practical implications Policy makers should take careful note of the research on media and
aggression when deciding on public policy and clinicians should inquire about media habits when
clients show problematic aggressive behavior (physical or relational).
Originality/value – This paper is a valuable source of information regarding current research on media
and aggression. Unlike other reviews, it focuses on multiple typesof aggression (physical and relational)
and multiple media types (TV, movies, video games, music, and books).
Keywords Physical aggression, Relational aggression, Media, Media violence, Violence, Influence,
Individual behaviour
Paper type General review
Decades of research into media violence and subsequent aggressive behavior have
explored whether there is a link between physical aggression in the media and aggressive
behavior. This association between content and behavior has been found in television
(Bandura et al., 1963), movies (Thomas et al., 1977), video games (Anderson et al., 2010),
music (Anderson et al., 2003), and literature (Bushman et al., 2007). While television and
movies have received the most research attention, results are similar across many forms of
media. Likewise, a number of experimental (Coyne et al., 2004), correlational (Huesmann and
Eron, 1986), and meta-analytical studies (Bushman and Anderson, 2001) have been
conducted to explore these associations. However, there is evidence that increased
aggression is not the only effect of violent and aggressive media exposure. Exposure to
violent media may also lead to a decrease in prosocial behavior (Bushman and Anderson,
2009), increased attitudes in support of aggression (Krahe
´and Mo
¨ller, 2003), and increased
hostility (Bushman and Anderson, 2002).
PAGE 186
VOL.4NO.42012,pp.186-201,QEmeraldGroup Publishi ng Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.11 08/17596591211270680
Sarah M. Coyne,
Laura Stockdale and
David A. Nelson are all
based in the School of
Family Life, Brigham Young
University, Provo,
Utah, USA.
Several factors influence the strength of these relationships including identification with the
physically aggressive character (Konijin et al., 2007), repetition and rehearsal of the
aggressive content (Gentile and Gentile, 2008), perceived realism of the aggressive media
(Sherry,2001), justification (Berkowitz, 1962), and whether or not the aggression is rewarded
or punished (Simmons et al., 1999). Similarly, several theories have been developed and
applied to the media violence and aggression field to help explain these associations.
Nonetheless, much work still needs to be done. Though some scholars have even claimed
that we have ‘‘nailed the coffin shut’’ on whether exposure to media violence influences
aggression (Huesmann, 2010), several recent studies suggest that aggression in the media
does not have a negative effect on viewers; rather, it can have a positive effect in some
contexts (Ferguson et al., 2009). Indeed, this topic was recently reviewed the US Supreme
Court as we will describe later. Accordingly, we will present research where possible, that
show both sides of the issue.
Additionally, while physical aggression in the media has received vast research attention,
research on relational aggression in the media is greatly underdeveloped by comparison.
Likewise, as noted earlier, television and movies have received the bulk of research
attention. Accordingly, more research is needed to investigate the associations between
exposure to physically and relationally aggressive content in other forms of media such as
video games, music, books, and newer forms of social media. Finally, it is also important to
understand how aggression is portrayed in all media types, and whether there are
characteristics of depiction, possibly unique to media type, which may increase the
likelihood for subsequent imitation (Donnerstein et al., 1994). Accordingly, the current paper
will provide an in-depth review of media aggression studies, with a focus on subtypes of
aggressive behavior as they are depicted in several media forms. This review substantially
expands upon previous reviews by the inclusion of relational aggression studies as wellas a
focus on content analyses and forms of media generally ignored in larger reviews (e.g.
music and books). This paper will first introduce the reader to several different forms of
aggressive behavior,and then will examine media aggression studies (content analyses and
effects analyses) for all major media forms.
Aggression in children, adolescents, and adults has repeatedly been linked to negative
psychological and developmental outcomes (Ostrov et al., 2004). The link between
aggression and antisocial behavior is so strong that most delinquency measures include
aggressive behavior (Brotman et al., 2008). With the clear association between aggression
and negative developmental outcomes, scholars have turned their attention to
understanding and to preventing both physical and relational aggression.
Physical aggression has been defined as ‘‘the intent to hurt another individual using physical
force or the threat of physical harm’’ (Ostrov et al., 2008, p. 664). Examples of physical
aggression include hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, pushing, or threatening to do any of these
behaviors. Historically, most research has focused on physical aggression, however, recent
research has begun to examine non-physical forms. Relational aggression, in particular, has
been defined as attempting to harm others through openly or covertly damaging relationships
or threatening to damage relationships (Nelson et al., 2008). Examples of relational
aggression include gossiping, spreading false rumors, love withdrawal, and social exclusion.
Both physical and relational aggression appear early in childhood (Nelson et al., 2005;
Tremblay et al., 2004) and show negative psychosocial effects for perpetrators (Crick et al.,
2006; Barker et al., 2008; Houbre et al., 2006; Juliano et al., 2006) and victims (Ellis et al.,
2009; Houbre et al., 2006; Reed et al., 2008). Accordingly, both deserve recognition in the
Media and aggression theories
Several theoretical approaches have been employed to help explain the associations
between media content and behavior. There aretwo lines of thinking: one in which the viewer
VOL. 4 NO. 4 2012
PAGE 187

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT