Influence of TV Called 'Pervasive'

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Ten years after the first major national report on the effects of television violence, its author says the influence of television on children is now so pervasive that "the critical question is no longer, should something be done, but what that something should be."

Eli A. Rubinstein, principal author of the original report sponsored by the U.S. Surgeon General's Office, also says that the majority of studies conducted since the 1972 report support its conclusion that televised violence promotes aggression in children.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Los Angeles recently, Mr. Rubenstein, who is also a member of an ad hoc group of scholars currently updating the 1972 report, reported that the issue of violence and TV, while still important, has led researchers to inspect the effects of the medium from many other perspectives as well. And they now see the need for further study of additional ways in which television affects children, he noted.

They have come to realize, he said, that television affects children's perceptions, thinking patterns, and personalities in ways that are still not understood.

Mr. Rubinstein, noting that he spoke as an individual and not as the interpreter of material in the 10-year update, said he does not think it is realistic to expect extensive government action to deal with the problem. Little was done by the government after the 1972 report and, he said, given today's political climate, government action is even less likely.

The absence of government control makes it more important that the commercial networks respond more actively to the problems that research has uncovered, he said, but admitted this, too, is unlikely.

Mr. Rubinstein estimated that less than $5 million was spent by all three networks on social-science research in the 1970's. They have demonstrated, he said, a reluctance to do anything that is not directly profitable.

"Or they'll have to hear from groups that are concerned," he said. "Ultimately we need a collaborative effort to make people aware that TV is not just an innocuous thing to be taken lightly by the viewer."

Mr. Rubinstein, now a research professor at the University of North Carolina, offered these comments in a paper outlining the "state of knowledge" on the subject of televised violence. About 80 percent of all research on the subject of children and television has taken place since the 1972 report. The purpose of the updated report, says the author, is to assess much of that research.

No Longer an Occasional Intruder

Jerome L. Singer of Yale University's Family Television Research Center, a colleague in the ad hoc group updating the Surgeon General's report, also spoke at the APA meeting. Mr. Singer, who is interested in the effects of television on child development, said it no longer makes sense "to talk of the TV set as an extraneous and occasional intruder into the life of a child."

He believes, he said, that because television--for good or ill--will continue to capture more of a child's attention than parents, or school, or books, we should prepare the next generation to understand the way television "manipulates" so that viewers can become more than passive observers.

"Specifically, we should teach them how to recognize the techniques and gimmicks used in commercial television, like fast-pacing and loudness, that children generally don't understand," Mr. Singer said..

Other well-known researchers took part in the update, including W.A. Collins of the University of Minnesota, who wrote on "cognitive aspects" of television viewing; George A. Comstock of the University of Syracuse, on the history of TV violence; Amy Dorr of the University of California at Los Angeles, on the effect of television on developing emotions; and J.M. McLeod of the University of Wisconsin, on how the family uses television.

The two-volume report, to be released later this fall, will be available from the Government Printing Office. Both the 1972 and the current studies were supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health.--A.H.

Vol. 01, Issue 01, Page 4

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