The problem of violent images is worth of attention first of all because media are now playing a great role in the life of mankind. On average, children in the USA, for example, spend about four hours a day watching TV; 54 percent of kids have TV sets in their bedrooms which makes it rather hard or even impossible to control their viewing habits. At the moment it is disputable whether the links between consuming media violence and aggressive behaviour exist. According to the data presented by the American Academy of Paediatrics and the American Psychological Association, there have been more than three thousand studies conducted to confirm this link. There are different theories substantiating this link. Social learning theory states that children imitate aggressive behaviour while viewing it in others. Social cognitive theory makes a stress on desensitization and the reduction of empathy. These are psychic changes that occur during violent images consumption. According to this theory, desensitization means that repeated exposure to visual images of violence result in psychological saturation or emotional adjustment. As a result, regular exposure to violence diminishes or weakens the initial levels of anxiety and disgust (Fanti et al., 2009, p. 181). Desensitization is also associated with diminishing of empathy. Empathy is generally defined as “the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient being”ť (Ickes, 1997, p. 30). Empathy is usually an innate ability to understand what other people sense. When another person’s emotions are observed, the same neuronal network is involved as if the person feels it him or herself. But when one sees violence too often, it becomes unbearable to feel disgust, pain and sorrow with no end, that is why the senses gradually atrophy. Seeing how imagined characters suffer on a constant basis, children do not perceive the pain of real people as something worth of attention and compassion. “They have difficulty differentiating between entertainment and reality, and develop a tendency to romanticize the villain,”ť Jones (2002, p. 197) explains. For many of them, real violence becomes the continuation of a video game in which everything is possible and nothing is forbidden. In this way they not only feel empathy for those who suffer staying indifferent, but they also tend to participate in violence as they don’t transfer the feelings of a victim to themselves. In other words, children become immune to blood and pain, and therefore become apathetic to suffering of other people.
According to the Media Awareness Network, sleep disturbances and increased anxiety are among the frequent outcomes too. Moreover, it has been revealed that physical changes occur during the viewing. The levels of heart rate, blood pressure and respiration have been traced to rise. These changes are first of all associated with adrenaline rush which causes a kind of addiction. In this way, the need for increased stimulation is developed. Therefore, when viewing violence on TV or at the PC monitor is not enough, adolescents tend to turn to real life violence in search of the same physical response. This “steady diet of violent programming”ť (Bartholow et al., 2006, p. 532) is one of the main sources of danger for the society on the whole.
The adherents of these theories insist that regular consumers of violent images become more aggressive, rebellious and immoral (Deselms and Altman, 2003, p. 1553). The critics of these theories argue that most of them are outdated; genetic data and early social influences are said to be ignored. Media violence is particularly deemphasized with the Catalyst Model (Pinker, 2002, p. 201), an alternate theory which nevertheless has not been tested extensively enough to deny the earlier findings. Moral panic theory presented by David Gauntlett argues that recent concerns are the consequence of “a predetermined negative belief about anything new”ť (Deselms and Altman, 2003, p. 1553). It is argued that the confirmative studies fail to investigate the role of social context in which violent images are consumed, while negative findings fail to be reported by them. It seems to be truly worth of criticism that third variables are often ignored, and the definitions of “violence”ť, “aggression”ť and “inadequate social behaviour”ť should be formulated more comprehensively. Further, the opponents challenge the methods of research too. For example, in reply to one of the tests in which children watched violent videos and then were likely to behave violently they argue that “the children may have viewed the videos as instructions, rather than incentives to feel more aggressive”ť (Goldstein, 1998, p. 234); the context of aggression is sometimes stated to be understood by young children instead of imitating aggression automatically (Anderson, 2003, p. 81). Yet there is little evidence for that and there is no guarantee against their unconscious following these instructions from media throughout their maturation. What is more, although it is often claimed that the level of violence saturating media is just the reflection of violence occurring in the real life, it does not mean that children should be under pressure of that violence or should not be protected from its traumatizing effects. In this or that way, deleterious outcomes of video games, movies, ads and TV shows saturated with violence are apparent and cannot be ignored.