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Mental Health

Beware the Psychological Effects of Media Violence

— November 15, 2023

Too much violence in the media can have lasting unhealthy effects on the mind and body.

Research shows watching violence – whether in movies, on television shows, on the internet or in video games – can have lasting psychological effects. Specifically, consuming too much violence in the media is associated with changes in brain chemistry and overall mental health. Of course, the news is commonly full of violence, so oftentimes watching it is unavoidable or can be educational at the same time so it’s worthwhile to view. Here are some of the possible outcomes of watching violent accounts on television and elsewhere:

Vicarious trauma: For those who have experienced past trauma, particularly trauma associated with violence, watching this can act as a trigger, having profound psychological effects, bringing painful memories and emotions. Traumatic responses can be evoked by viewing violence secondhand.

Fight or flight response: Watching violence can also bring about intense anxiety, sadness, or fear. Being stuck in “fight or flight” for too long intensifies stress hormones and makes it difficult to return to baseline after a certain amount of time.

Desensitization: Individuals can get desensitized to violence, believing that it’s an acceptable way to solve problems without consequences.

Aggression: Studies show that watching confrontations can make one more aggressive toward others.

Anger and Depression: Depression, homicidal and suicidal thoughts can all surface after watching violence.

Beware the Psychological Effects of Media Violence
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

Because, again, it is difficult to avoid violence in the media, it’s important to protect oneself as much as possible after exposure. Here are some tips:

Pick only reliable sources to follow. Being selective is key, making sure to choose two to three relevant resources that provide actual news that is important in a person’s life.

Set a time limit. Instead of spending hours trying to become informed, setting aside just a few minutes each day to watch the news or read about what is happening in the world should be sufficient. Spending twenty minutes daily, for example, is much better than binge watching violence.

Choose words, not images and videos. As much as 80% of the information that the human brain takes in is visual, and graphic images in the media affect processing more than reading articles or consuming these images via other means. Thus, sticking with printed news stories can help reduce the strain of viewing violence.

Take a break. Making sure one’s day is filled with relaxing and enjoyable activities like exercise, yoga, meditation or consuming comedy can combat the unhealthy impact of watching violent content.

Entertainment companies have an ethical responsibility to accurately portray the consequences of violent behavior, and government entities can mediate what types of content makes its way onto screen. But sometimes these efforts simply are not enough to fend off the negative effects of violence in the media, and viewing violence can have a destructive psychological impact on those who consume it.

It is important for organizations who portray violence to take responsibility for the content they produce and for these channels to be monitored by regulatory bodies who can choose what is viewed and what’s not. However, ultimately, it is up to individuals to make informed decisions about their own consumption and know when it’s best to turn off violent images.


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