Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

October 17, 2011 -

A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics suggests that profanity in the media such as television and video games can cause aggressive behavior in middle school students. Researchers at Brigham Young University gathered information from 223 middle school students in the Midwest to come to the conclusion that profanity can lead to aggressive behavior.

While the data collected is not longitudinal, BYU family life Professor Sarah Coyne says that the statistical techniques applied in the study gave researchers more clues than simple correlation tests. According to her, the statistical modeling used points to a chain reaction where exposure to profanity is associated with acceptance and use of profanity, which results in an influence to both "physical and relational aggression."

"On the whole, it's a moderate effect" said Coyne, the lead author of the Pediatrics study. "We even ran the statistical model the opposite way to test if the violent kids used more profanity and then sought it out in the media, but the first path we took was a much better statistical fit even when we tried other explanations."

Brad Bushman, an Ohio State University "media expert" (he was not involved in the study) agrees with the research (which he has reviewed).

"This research shows that profanity is not harmless," said Bushman, a mass communications professor. "Children exposed to profanity in the media think that such language is 'normal,' which may reduce their inhibitions about using profanity themselves. And children who use profanity are more likely to aggress against others. These are very important findings for parents, teachers, and pediatricians."

Coyne calls profanity "a stepping stone," where kids try profanity out for themselves, which leads to "a downward slide toward more aggressive behavior."

On the plus side, Coyne says the ratings systems for games and TV were "ahead of their time" by steering young people away from profanity without scientific research to state why. But Coyne says that she sees a new gap in the video game ratings system when it comes to educating parents about online games where players interact with each other.

Source: TG Daily


Comments

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

What's the point of having words that you're not allowed to say?

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

There are so many contributing social background factors in a person's use of profanity that I hope they were all taken into account. In the UK at least, profanity is pretty normalised for some social groups/classes.

You can't really separate language from its context of usage, either. A child trying out an expletive out of earshot is just trying something normally off limits/taboo, testing boundaries. A player who breathes 'shiiiit' when an epic boss sweeps in out of nowhere and kills them without breaking a sweat isn't being aggressive. A player hurling foul invective at the screen, or a customer hurling abuse at an employee is what I'd class as aggression, but it's hardly the specific language used that is to blame there. They could be screaming euphemisms or my little pony names to the same effect.

Ultimately I find it hard to believe that non-context-based use of words can 'lead' to anything. More likely that excessive exposure to the contexts in which foul language is most likely to be used with real aggression, leads to aggression.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

The lead researcher (Coyne) does do some good stuff, although this study largely repeats flaws of previous work.  Single responder bias, high potential for demand characteristics, ad hoc measures rather than well validated ones, kids rated the profanity level of the media they watched themselves, etc.  And it uses "harm" language without documenting any evidence harm occurred to any of the kids.  To their credit, the authors do acknowledge some of these limitations.  However, overall I am disappointed.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

BYU. Of course. Only UTAH would waste time studying the effects of profanity as a means of potentially censoring speech in the long run.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

Yes, because no one outside Utah has ever tried to censor media.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

I used to teach kindergarten and even some kids at that age would occasionally use profanity. Those kids also were more violent and had more behavioral problems. Oh, no! the study is correct! Not so fast! When I was able to meet those kids' parents, or in most cases if I was able to meet their parents, it was clear that their parents were terrible role models. Those kids had a terrible home life. I'm sure they knew how to use those words because their parents used them. Just like I'm sure they had a more aggressive attitude because their parents modeled an aggressive attitude. Theses things are related, but profanity doesn't cause violent behavior. They are both symptoms of a larger issue.

-----------------------------------------

Managing Editor at TheBestGameSiteEver.com

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

I don't get it. Profane language is profane because someone (well, not just someone, but society) decided that that particular arbitrary congregation of phonemes was verboten. There is nothing inherently profane about any word, absent the social values that are projected onto it. Aggressive activity, on the other hand, is inherently aggressive; not just because someone said so.

Surely, then, profane language in and of itself (assuming the language wasn't contextualised aggressively in the first place, in which case the language might have nothing to do with it) can only lead to aggressive behaviour because that language has been decided to be profane. So it's not a huge leap to think that, in effect, shielding children from profane language actually strengthens the perceived profanity of the word and thus increases its capacity to lead to aggression.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

This is quite possibly the most intelligent comment I have ever read on the entire internet. Bravo Sir.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

There's no gap, just a bunch of lazy parents that aren't willing to involve themselves in their child's interest to be aware of what influences are in their lives. Be a parent. Know what games, music, games, movies, and TV shows your kid is in to.

-Greevar

"Paste superficially profound, but utterly meaningless quotation here."

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

i hate to say it, but these people need to get outdoors more often.. profane language and such is sadly, VERY normal...

i recall once being given crap because i didn't swear enough!

i can't think of a single workplace i've been too that didn't have high levels of fowl language when no customer/non-worker was around. even the supervisors/managers would get involved.

And in public.. its even worse! I'll curb my tongue around kids, but that doesn't stop THEM from cussing up a storm as i try to eat, or shop in peace.

what fantasy world do they live in?

i won't say its a high level norm, but trying to say its not the norm... thats a lie in its own.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

Oh calm the **** down.

That kind of language helps people vent there anger so they don't let it build up and become violent.

You made it in to something wrong.

Also i say your making some of that up. I have been outside and everywhere i go i don't hear any of that. Workplace yes but not in a restaurant or places like that.

Re: Research: Profanity in TV, Games Can Lead to Aggression

meh, no ones worked up here but to the rest i'll just quote a bit from my above.

"i can't think of a single workplace i've been too that didn't have high levels of fowl language when no customer/non-worker was around."

generally people will curb their tongue in public, but that doesn't prevent it from being somewhere within the normal conversation between people public or not. 

it is still by far the "norm" to have such  words appear from time to time. they make it seem like its a problem if such words are uttered once within a persons lifetime.

 
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