Article

Evaluating the effect of educational media exposure on aggression in early childhood ☆

Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Impact Factor: 1.85). 12/2012; 34:38-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2012.09.005

ABSTRACT Preschool-aged children (M = 42.44 months-old, SD = 8.02) participated in a short-term longitudinal study investigating the effect of educational media exposure on social development (i.e., aggression and prosocial behavior) using multiple informants and methods. As predicted, educational media exposure significantly predicted increases in both observed and teacher reported relational aggression across time. Follow-up anal-yses showed that educational media exposure also significantly predicted increases in parent reported rela-tional aggression across more than a two year period. Results replicate and extend prior research that has demonstrated links between educational media exposure and relational aggression, but not physical aggres-sion, during early childhood. Over the past fifty years, hundreds of empirical studies have demon-strated that exposure to media influences children's beliefs, attitudes, and behavior (see Gentile, 2003; Roberts & Foehr, 2004). Exposure to vi-olent media during early childhood is considered especially harmful, with results from a meta-analysis (Paik & Comstock, 1994) indicating that individuals of all ages can be influenced by media exposure, though preschoolers showed the largest effect size. There are several possible explanations for this developmental difference (see Gentile & Sesma, 2003). First, learning during this developmental period is especially critical, as younger children are not likely to have incorporated social norms against aggressive behavior (e.g., Huesmann, 1998). Second, younger children have problems differentiating reality from fantasy be-tween two-to five-years of age (e.g., Richert & Smith, 2011). As a result, they are increasingly likely to imitate even the most unrealistic behav-ior patterns. Third, media exposure during early childhood may be an especially salient influence on social relationships because social de-velopment is likely more malleable than in later childhood or adoles-cence and younger children have less control over the activities they engage in compared to older children (Huston, Wright, Marquis, & Green, 1999). Taken together, various cognitive and social factors at this developmental period may make young children more susceptible to effects of media.

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May 20, 2014