Karen Dill, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images," House Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States House of Representatives, Sept. 25, 2007.
Media violence researcher Karen Dill is an associate professor of psychology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina.
I am Dr. Karen Dill and have been conducting research in the field of media psychology since 1994. My specialization is in media violence, violence against women, video games, and stereotyping of women and minorities in the media. In this capacity, I have co-authored a statement on interactive media violence which led to the American Psychological Association's (APA) Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media, adopted in 2005. In addition, I currently serve on the APA committee on Interactive Media and have published in the field of media psychology with an emphasis on video games, violence and gender stereotypes. My dissertation, Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors in the Laboratory and in Life, co-authored with my mentor Dr. Craig Anderson, is the single most-cited research paper on video game violence effects.
Americans spend two-thirds of our waking lives consuming mass media. Be it television, movies, music, video games or the internet, media consumption is the number one activity of choice for Americans—commanding, on average, 3,700 hours of each citizen's time annually. The average American child devotes 45 hours per week to media consumption, more time than she spends in school.
How Mass Media Shapes Culture
Since culture is our shared reality, created and sustained through common experience, American culture is now largely that which is shaped and maintained by the mass media. Television, video games, music and other forms of media create meaning including shared beliefs, values and rules. Television, games, songs and movies tell stories, project images and communicate ideas. Since we are social creatures, it is natural for us to learn who we are, how we should act, feel, think and believe through the stories of our common culture.
Violent music lyrics have been shown to increase aggressive thoughts and feelings.
This creation of culture through popular media was sadly exemplified recently when radio personality Don Imus referred to a college women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's." Sadder still, many responded that the racist and sexist language was acceptable because that type of language is used by minorities in rap music. Unfortunately racist and sexist slurs influence real people, for example sending the message to girls that this is how our society views them and causing issues with self esteem and identity.
The Psychology Behind Media
When people say that media messages do not matter, they do not understand the psychology behind the media. For example, research on the third person effect has shown repeatedly that people believe that they themselves are immune to being affected by negative media content such as media violence, but that they believe other people, especially children, are affected. A recent study showed that the more violent video games you play, the less likely you are to believe that you are affected by video game violence. Reasons for these misperceptions include 1) the natural tendency to reject the notion that our habits are harmful; 2) a mistaken view of how media effects work (e.g., that media violence effects are always immediately observable and extreme such as murder); and 3) that media are produced primarily to entertain us (rather than to make a profit); and 4) that media do not affect the viewer (including the tendency to believe that important effects such as violence must have an important cause, not a trivial cause such as watching television).
Research on music has demonstrated that exposure to violent rap videos increases adversarial sexual beliefs (viewing men and women as enemies in the sexual sphere), negative mood, and acceptance of relationship violence (for example, believing it is acceptable for a boyfriend to shove his girlfriend out of jealousy). Additionally, violent music lyrics have been shown to increase aggressive thoughts and feelings. Across a number of studies in which researchers controlled for artist, style and other relevant factors, results showed conclusively that it was the aggressive content that caused the observed changes....
The Need for Regulation
We enjoy freedom of expression in this country, but no country can grant us freedom from consequences. Scientists call it cause and effect. To put it more poetically, you reap what you sow. If you want peace, plant peace. If you want justice, grow justice. If we plant the seeds of violence and hate, we, as a culture, will reap what we have sown.
My message today is that violence, hatred, racism and sexism in the media do matter. One way our government can ameliorate this situation is to act on the research findings by planning legislation and regulation accordingly. Beyond that, we have a dire need in our schools to implement a curriculum that teaches how the media work (known as media literacy training) so that if a child hears these messages she is better equipped to deal with them. We need to make our priorities protecting and empowering children and all people rather than placing emphasis on protecting the rights of special interests to profit from selling messages of hate and injustice. We also need to recognize the deception involved with defending these harmful messages as freedom of expression.