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Television Violence ‘Harmful’

A yearlong study of television programming, conducted by researchers at four universities, concludes that “psychologically harmful” violence is pervasive on broadcast and cable TV programs.

The $1.5 million study, funded by the cable television industry, was based on a scientifically selected sample of about 2,500 hours of programming, the largest ever analyzed by researchers. It not only found that the majority of programs (57 percent) contained some violence, but also that the manner in which this violence was depicted can have harmful effects.

“The risks of viewing the most common depictions of televised violence include learning to behave violently, becoming more desensitized to the harmful consequences of violence and becoming more fearful of being attacked,” says the study.

The study, which will be released today, could have implications for the unfolding political debate about violence in the entertainment industry.

The study may also form the theoretical foundation for development of a rating system that could be used with TV sets equipped with devices that could block violent programming, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Monday.

With funding from the National Cable Television Association, researchers led by a team at the University of California at Santa Barbara reviewed cable and broadcast programming in an attempt to identify acts of violence that previous academic research has linked to harmful consequences. Among the findings:

Perpetrators of violent acts on TV go unpunished 73 percent of the time. “When violence is presented without punishment, viewers are more likely to learn the lesson that violence is successful,” the researchers concluded.

Most violent portrayals fail to show the consequences of a violent act. Researchers found that 47 percent of all violent interactions show no harm to victims, and 58 percent depict no pain. Longer-term consequences such as financial or emotional harm - were shown only 16 percent of the time.

Some 25 percent of violent incidents on TV involve the use of handguns, which, the study says, can “trigger aggressive thoughts and behaviors.”