Exploring children's learning
Exploring children's learning

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Exploring children's learning

3.3 Application: children and television violence

Bandura's use of filmed events prompted other researchers (Liebert et al., 1977) to argue that his work had important implications for the influence that television violence may have on young children. In general, children aged 2–7 years watch television for approximately 25 hours per week, a figure that increases for older children (Roberts et al., 1999). By the age of 12, the average child will have viewed over 8,000 murders (Beckman, 1997). Furthermore, children are more likely to give attention to commercials than the programmes themselves (Alexander and Morrison, 1995) and it has been estimated that approximately one-third of commercials that feature children also contain aggression (Larson, 2003). Bandura (1973) also explored the idea that televised aggression may have adverse effects on children's behaviour, and considered some of the variables that influence when a child will imitate. For example, children are more likely to copy another's behaviour if the model is similar to them in age and sex, or if the model has desirable characteristics and is seen as attractive. Reading B describes one study that considered the potential influence of filmed aggression compared to real-life aggression on children's imitative behaviour.

Activity 3 Reading B

At this point you should read Reading B, ‘Learning through modeling’ which is a paper written by Bandura (1973).

Reading B (PDF, 2 pages, 0.2MB)

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Bandura was especially interested in learning through modelling. His ideas are highly relevant to an age in which children spend many hours watching visual media each week. An important issue is whether children can learn to behave in particular ways, for example, aggressively, by seeing such behaviour in television programmes, films or computer games. It also has relevance regarding the course's earlier discussion on the effects of punishment, for example, the behaviours that are being modelled through punishment.

Bandura's (1973) view was that children's learning goes through three stages: exposure, acquisition, and acceptance. They may thereby learn, through observation, to be more aggressive and less sensitive to the results of violence. This straightforward account has been disputed by others who argue that other factors intervene in the learning process, such as the family conditions within which the television is being viewed (Kytomaki, 1998). However, there is some support for Bandura's stance. Davidson (1996) reports research showing that the amount of violence children watched as 8 year olds was a better predictor of adult aggression than socioeconomic and childrearing factors.

If children's development is significantly influenced, through social learning, by their television viewing then it also has the potential to act as a positive influence. Huston et al. (1981) found that very young children who spent a few hours a week watching educational programmes (e.g. Sesame Street) had higher academic scores 3 years later than those who did not watch educational programmes. Also, children who watched many hours of entertainment programmes and cartoons had lower scores than those who watched fewer hours of such programmes.


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