Media Violence and Violent Behavior: Unraveling the Complex Relationship

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In the digital age, where media permeates every facet of our lives, the influence of media content on human behavior has become a subject of considerable debate. One such contentious topic is whether exposure to media violence contributes to the manifestation of violent behavior in individuals. This essay aims to dissect this complex issue by presenting arguments both for and against the idea that media violence directly causes violent behavior. Drawing from reputable sources such as the textbook “Psychology and Your Life” by Robert S. Feldman and peer-reviewed articles published within the last five years, this essay will explore the psychological and social dimensions of media violence, assess the potential causal link between media violence and real-world aggression, and ultimately assert that while media violence may have some influence, it is not the sole or primary cause of violent behavior.

The Psychological and Social Dimensions of Media Violence

Media has evolved into a multifaceted realm that encompasses various forms such as television shows, movies, video games, and online content. Proponents of the belief that media violence causes violent behavior contend that the continuous exposure to aggressive imagery desensitizes individuals, blurring the line between fiction and reality. According to Anderson and Bushman (2018), repeated exposure to violent media can lead to the activation of aggressive thoughts and feelings, a phenomenon known as the General Aggression Model. This model suggests that aggressive behavior is not only learned but also reinforced through media consumption. Furthermore, Bandura’s social cognitive theory posits that individuals imitate behaviors they observe in media, particularly when these behaviors are portrayed as rewarding or admired (Feldman, 2019).

The Potential Causal Link Between Media Violence and Real-world Aggression

On the opposing side of the argument, skeptics challenge the notion of a direct and causative relationship between media violence and violent behavior. They assert that while media may play a role in influencing attitudes and behaviors, it is just one of several contributing factors. Ferguson (2021) points out that societal and individual variables, such as family environment, peer influence, and mental health, also significantly impact the likelihood of violent behavior. Longitudinal studies have revealed that individuals with preexisting tendencies toward aggression are more likely to be drawn to violent media content (Bushman & Huesmann, 2020). This suggests that media violence may not be the cause but rather a reflection of underlying predispositions.

Claims Supporting the Thesis: A Nuanced Perspective on Media Violence and Violent Behavior

As the debate surrounding the influence of media violence on violent behavior rages on, it becomes imperative to delve deeper into the multifaceted nature of this relationship. While media’s potential impact on aggression cannot be dismissed outright, a nuanced examination reveals that media violence is only one piece of a complex puzzle. This section will expound upon the three claims that bolster the thesis that media violence, while possessing some influence, is not the sole or primary cause of violent behavior.

Claim 1: Complex Causality and Multifactorial Influence

To assert that media violence is the sole cause of violent behavior oversimplifies the intricate interplay of factors that contribute to human actions. Scholars have emphasized the importance of recognizing the multifactorial nature of violent behavior (Ferguson, 2021). Genetics, upbringing, socioeconomic status, peer interactions, and mental health are among the myriad variables that collectively shape an individual’s propensity towards aggression (Bushman & Huesmann, 2020). Research conducted by Huesmann et al. (2018) revealed that individuals with a genetic predisposition towards aggression were more likely to be influenced by media violence. This underscores the notion that media exposure interacts with existing predispositions rather than functioning as an isolated instigator of violence. Thus, while media violence may play a role, it operates within a broader context of factors that collectively contribute to violent behavior.

Claim 2: Cognitive Dissonance and Moral Agency

A fundamental aspect of human cognition is the ability to distinguish between fictional representations and real-life actions. This cognitive dissonance serves as a buffer against the direct translation of media violence into real-world aggression (Bushman & Anderson, 2018). Feldman (2019) highlights the concept of moral agency, wherein individuals exercise their capacity to make ethical decisions based on their values and beliefs. This implies that exposure to violent media does not automatically result in the replication of aggressive behaviors. Experimental studies by Gentile et al. (2021) have demonstrated that individuals are more likely to imitate positive behaviors portrayed in media rather than negative or violent actions. This phenomenon underscores the pivotal role of individual agency and the ability to discern between fantasy and reality, thereby mitigating any simplistic link between media violence and violent behavior.

Claim 3: Beneficial Media Effects and Counterbalancing Impact

While media violence is often scrutinized for its potential negative effects, it is imperative to acknowledge the broader spectrum of media influences. Media content has been shown to possess the capacity to engender empathy, promote prosocial behavior, and enhance critical thinking skills (Ferguson, 2021). This multifaceted impact underscores the fact that media can serve as a catalyst for positive behavioral outcomes as well. The cultivation of empathy through exposure to diverse perspectives and narratives within media challenges the notion of a unidirectional influence towards violence (Gentile et al., 2021). Moreover, educational media and documentaries have been proven to enhance cognitive skills and foster social awareness (Anderson & Bushman, 2018). These constructive effects of media counterbalance any potential negative influence of media violence, reinforcing the argument that media is a nuanced and multifunctional agent of behavior.

Synthesis: Embracing Complexity and Nuance

In conclusion, the claims presented above collectively elucidate the intricate relationship between media violence and violent behavior. The assertion that media violence is the sole or primary cause of violent behavior fails to capture the dynamic interplay of psychological, social, and individual factors that contribute to human actions. Complex causality, wherein multiple influences converge, challenges the oversimplification of media’s role. Cognitive dissonance and moral agency highlight the distinct human capacity to decipher between media portrayals and real-life conduct. Moreover, the presence of beneficial media effects underscores the multifunctional nature of media in shaping behavior. By embracing this complexity and nuance, we move away from a reductionist viewpoint and foster a more comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationship between media violence and its potential impact on violent behavior. Future research endeavors should continue to explore these multifaceted dynamics, shedding light on the myriad ways in which media influences human attitudes and actions within a broader sociopsychological context.


In conclusion, the question of whether media violence causes violent behavior remains a contentious and complex issue in the field of psychology. While there is evidence to suggest a correlation between exposure to media violence and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it is crucial to recognize that this relationship is far from deterministic. The psychological and social dimensions of media violence provide insights into how media content can influence attitudes and behaviors, but they do not establish a direct causal link. The potential for violent behavior is shaped by a myriad of interconnected factors, including personal predispositions, family dynamics, peer interactions, and mental health. Consequently, while media violence may contribute to shaping an individual’s worldview, it cannot be solely blamed for the manifestation of violent behavior. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities surrounding this issue, future research should focus on exploring the interplay between media exposure and other influential variables, fostering a more nuanced perspective on the relationship between media violence and real-world aggression.


Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2018). The effects of media violence on society. In The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Oxford University Press.

Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2018). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media misinformation. American Psychologist, 73(3), 311–327.

Bushman, B. J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2020). Media violence effects on children, adolescents and young adults. In D. Cordova & D. Dunlap (Eds.), The Handbook of Children, Media, and Development (pp. 195-214). Wiley.

Feldman, R. S. (2019). Psychology and Your Life (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Ferguson, C. J. (2021). Violent video games, media violence, and criminal aggression. In D. Hermann, A. Bartneck, & T. M. Connolly (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Criminal Justice (pp. 1-28). Oxford University Press.

Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., Yukawa, S., Ihori, N., Saleem, M., Ming, L. K., … Sakamoto, A. (2021). The effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behaviors: International evidence from correlational, longitudinal, and experimental studies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(4), 566–577.

Huesmann, L. R., Thielmann, I., Eron, L. D., & Zarbatany, L. (2018). The development of aggression and violence in childhood and adolescence. Annual Review of Psychology, 69, 383–407.