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How to Counter Violence in Media

The portrayal of violence in media has been a subject of widespread debate, argument and study. Some research suggests that viewing violence in media that “sanitize, justify or trivialize violent acts” might normalize it and make it more enjoyable. Less well-known are techniques to reduce the possible effects of viewing violence in media.

A new paper, published in the Journal of Media Psychology by Frank Wadell, assistant professor of Journalism in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, and researchers Erica Bailey (Angelo State University) and Stefanie E. Davis (Pennsylvania State University), examine techniques for reducing the effects of viewing violence in media through counter media narratives.

Specifically, the researchers examined the effectiveness of viewing eudaimonic media – films that depict altruism or moral beauty— on the feelings of viewers who consume violence in media. Previous research suggests that viewing  inspirational media has two possible effects: (1) people might feel moved, tender or inspired or (2) they might have mixed emotions, feeling both happy and sad. Viewers who have felt their emotions elevated by eudaimonic media are “more likely to behave prosocially and seek out meaningful media,” according to past work. The extent to which such emotions affect enjoyment of other types of media, however, was a gap in research that Waddell and colleagues attempted to study.

To test their research questions the authors recruited sixty-one undergraduate students from three communications courses to participate in a study. The experiment was conducted in two parts. First, participants were exposed to either a eudaimonic film clip or a non-eudaimonic control film clip. Afterwards, both groups viewed a violent film clip then recorded their evaluation of the clip.

To test the eudaimonic media factor, two film clips from the 2006 movie Blood Diamond were shown. Both clips were about twenty-one minutes long. In one clip, the main character sacrifices his life to save supporting characters. The non-eudaimonic control clip showed the main character being released from prison and encountering the female supporting character.

After seeing either the eudaimonic or non-eudaimonic control clip, participants looked at a nine-minute clip from the opening scene of Kill Bill. The scene was a fight between two women and involved the use of knives and guns. The main character eventually kills the other with a knife.

Participants who viewed the eudaimonic clip compared to those who saw the non-eudaimonic clip had higher levels of meaningful and prosocial emotions, and lower levels of enjoyment of media violence. The authors noted this as an interesting paradox: meaningful affect and mixed affect are both triggered by eudaimonic media but they produce opposite effects on enjoyment of media violence. The authors suggest that in addition to using eudaimonic media to counteract the impact of media violence, additional efforts at media literacy are necessary to avoid boomerang effects possibly elicited by mixed affect.

The authors acknowledge that their sample was not a representative sample of the population as a whole, nor do responses to a small handful of film clips encompass either meaningful or violent media as a whole. Nevertheless, their initial evidence tentatively suggests that eudaimonic media appears to decrease enjoyment of media violence and heighten positive feelings toward others.

Posted: November 28, 2017
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