Study: Bullying, Aggression Very Prevalent In Children’s Television

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Aggressive behavior and bullying are highly prevalent in children's programming, a new study has found. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Aggressive behavior and bullying are highly prevalent in children’s programming, a new study has found. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Physical aggression and bullying is a dominant trait in today’s television for kids.

The Indiana University study, “Mean on the Screen: Social Aggression in Programs Popular With Children,” which appears in the Journal of Communication, found that 92 percent of the top 50 program for children between the ages of 2 and 11 showed characters involved in social aggression.

“Social aggression was more likely to be enacted by an attractive perpetrator, to be featured in a humorous context and neither rewarded or punished,” wrote Nicole Martins, assistant professor of telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences. “In these ways, social aggression on television poses more of a risk for imitation and learning than do portrayals of physical aggression.”

On average, there were 14 different incidents of social aggression per hour, or once every four minutes.

While physical aggression in television for children has been extensively documented, this is believed to be among the first studies to analyze children’s exposure to behaviors such as cruel gossiping and manipulation of friendship.

Martins, the lead researcher on the study, and Barbara Wilson, professor of communication at the University of Illinois, conducted a content analysis of the 50 most popular children’s shows according to Nielsen Media Research from December 2006 to March 2007. In all, 150 television shows were viewed and analyzed.

Careful attention was given to what was portrayed in the cases of social aggression, whether the behavior was rewarded or punished, justified or committed by an attractive perpetrator.

The vast majority of socially aggressive incidents — 78 percent — were verbal: words to hurt the self-esteem or social standing of another character on the program. The most common types of social aggression were insults (52 percent) or name-calling (25 percent). Other common types of negative behavior shown were teasing (10 percent) and sarcasm (9 percent).

“We also coded whether social aggression was directly perpetrated at the target — such as making a mean face — or indirectly perpetrated behind the target’s back — such as spreading a rumor,” the authors wrote. “The vast majority of socially aggressive incidents (86 percent) were enacted directly at the target. Rarely were socially aggressive incidents perpetrated behind the target’s back.”

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