1. Selection of lifespan topic
The selected lifespan topic is early childhood (2 to 6 years old). This is a very important period in human development, when intensive cognitive and socio-emotional development takes place. In particular, this is the time of intensive language development, socialization and role play (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2011). Infancy and early childhood is also the period when aggression is manifested; aggression reaches its peak about the age of 4 (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2011).
A particularly important topic in this period is the exposure of the child to the media and to aggression in the media. The topic of the research is exploration of the relationship between the exposure to violence in the media in early childhood and aggressive behaviors in adolescence and adulthood. The goal of the research is to trace the levels of aggression across the developmental life span and their relationship with the exposure to violence in the media in early childhood.
2. Justification of the research
One of the most notable recent concerns about the media is the growing amount of violence in the media. Currently about 90% of movies, 60% of TV programs and 68% of video games contain different manifestations of violence. The exposure of children to the media also increases at a great pace with the development of technology: according to Plante (2010), kids in the early childhood watch an average 100 minutes of TV programs or movies per day, and in the middle childhood, this exposure to media increases to 4-6 hours on average.
According to the stimulation theory, such exposure to media violence in the early age might stimulate aggressive behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Jarvis, 2000). However, for adults with high level of aggression it is difficult to determine whether aggressive behaviors in adulthood were caused by the exposure to media violence or by other developmental factors. There is also an opposite point of view referred to as the catharsis theory; according to this theory, exposure to media violence relieves the aggression of the audience and redirects it into a “safe” channel (Jarvis, 2000).
There were numerous short-term researches on the relationship between media violence and aggression, but there is a need for solid longitudinal research allowing exploring the development of personality and the consequences of exposure to violence in the media in depth. Furthermore, there is a lot of criticism to the existing research in this area due to the failure to acknowledge the role of other social factors influencing the development of aggression, failure to take into account the role of genetics and environment and small effect size. In this research, core factors influencing the development of aggression will be accounted for.
The major factors contributing to the development of aggression are: child’s temperament, hyperactivity, quality of parenting, family structure, degree of family conflict, genetic factors (attention span, predisposition towards hyperactive behavior, prosocial behavior, cognitive deficit or predisposition to it) (Tremblay, Hartup & Archer, 2005). Socioeconomic factors such as family income level, employment and quality of neighborhood should be considered as well.
3.1. Study design and timeframe
This research will be a quasi-experimental longitudinal study. Optimal duration of the study will be 25 years. This will be a cohort study; a group of participants will be recruited and observed over time. Families which have kids of 2-3 years old will be invited to take part in the research. The number of participating families will be 10,000. This research will also benefit the members of these families, because they will be aware of the factors shaping the personality of their children, and will be able to gain in-depth understanding of their family dynamics.
The dependent variable in this study is the level of aggression. Aggression in this research is defined as a “impulsive, spontaneous act of anger, expressed in an observable behavior which can threaten, depreciate or hurt another people, or cause destruction of objects” (Tremblay, Hartup & Archer, 2005).
Quasi-independent variable in this research is the average daily exposure to media violence during early childhood. The media considered are: television programs, DVDs/movies watched on the computer or on TV, video games on the TV and on smartphone. Other family and genetic variables which might possibly be confounding will be measured and accounted for.
The following data will be collected at the beginning of the experiment: child’s gender, age, age of parents, family structure, family income, employment, occupation, the quality of living in the neighborhood where the family resides. Initial level of aggression of the child will be recorded, along with perceived degree of family conflict (obtained from interviews with parents and their comparison). Genetic factors of the parents will be explored: attention span, predisposition towards hyperactive behavior, prosocial behavior, cognitive deficit or predisposition to it. The evidence of child’s hyperactivity will be recorded as well.
Gerbner Violence Index will be used to measure the level of aggression in the media (Tremblay, Hartup & Archer, 2005). Java-based software will be installed on the devices of the participants to keep track of the exposure to the media. Average number of minutes of exposure to the media and exposure to violent media will be recorded. Such measurements will take place during three years.
The data collected at the start of the research will be analyzed and subjects will be divided into comparatively homogeneous groups according to different distribution of factors influencing the level of aggression. The level of aggression of the participants will be assessed by measuring aggressive behavior and aggressive cognition.
Annually the level of aggressive behavior among participants will be tested using the modified Taylor Competition Reaction Time Test (Tremblay, Hartup & Archer, 2005). The number of punishments in this test will be compared across the control and the experimental groups. In addition to this, data on the participant’s level of aggressive behavior can be obtained from his or her working/educational environment (e.g. teacher reports). Aggressive cognition will be measured using story completing, reading reaction time and aggression vignettes; facial reactions, word reactions and associations will be recorded to determine the level of aggressive cognition.
The data will be analyzed using correlation analysis, and multivariate techniques will be used to identify the groups of variables which are linked to each other. Furthermore, forecasts of the level of aggression will be done using the participants’ age, family and genetic factors and compared with the actual results.
The proposed research is devoted to the study of the impact of exposure to violence in the media in early childhood on the aggressive behavior and cognition in adolescence and early adulthood. This will be a longitudinal quasi-experimental cohort study, the duration of which will be 25 years, and the number of participants will be 10,000. The data on media exposure will be collected during three years, and the data on aggressive behaviors will be collected during these three years (monthly), and during the next 22 years (annually). Multicorrelational analysis will be applied in order to identify the factors responsible for aggressive behaviors. This study will contribute to the understanding of the development of aggression and of the factors influencing the development of aggression. Furthermore, the results of this study might be used for forecasting the level of aggression and predisposition to violence among kids in middle childhood and older.
Jarvis, M. (2000). Theoretical Approaches in Psychology. Routledge.
Kail, R.V. & Cavanaugh, J.C. (2011). Human Development: A Life-Span View, 6th ed. Cengage Learning.
Plante, T.G. (2010). Contemporary Clinical Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.
Tremblay, R.E., Hartup, W.W. & Archer, J. (2005). Developmental Origins of Aggression. Guilford Press.