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

Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Impact Factor: 1.85). 12/2012; 34(1):38-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2012.09.005
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 analyses showed that educational media exposure also significantly predicted increases in parent reported relational 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 aggression, during early childhood.


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Evaluating the effect of educational media exposure on aggression in
early childhood
Jamie M. Ostrov
, Douglas A. Gentile
, Adam D. Mullins
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, USA
Iowa State University, USA
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 25 March 2012
Received in revised form 5 September 2012
Accepted 23 September 2012
Available online 9 November 2012
Educational media exposure
Relational aggression
Early childhood
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 signicantly
predicted increases in both observed and teacher reported relational aggression across time. Follow-up anal-
yses showed that educational media exposure also signicantly 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.
© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Over the past fty years, hundreds of empirical studies have demon-
strated that exposure to media inuences 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 inuenced 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 ve-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 inuence 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.
Media exposure
Theories regarding media effects on children and adolescents often
fall into two general categories: those associated with the amount of ex-
posure and those associated with the content of the programming (see
Anderson, Huston, Schmitt, Linebarger, & Wright, 2001).
In contrast to amount effects, in which time spent with media dis-
places alternative activities (e.g., physical activities, reading, or sociali-
zation), content effects refer to changes (behavioral, physiological,
social, etc.) due to the messages and behavioral models in the program-
ming of the media being consumed (Anderson et al., 2001). Amount-
and content-specic theories of media effects are valuable for ex-
plaining general media effects; however, researchers have an integrated
model of media effects and aggression: the general aggression model.
Anderson and colleagues (e.g., Anderson, 1997; Anderson, Anderson,
& Deuser, 1996; Anderson & Bushman, 2002) proposed an integrated
model of human aggression, the general aggression model (GAM:
see Carnagey & Anderson, 2003), to describe and predict short- and
long-term increases or decreases in aggressive behavior (Gentile &
Stone, 2005). According to the GAM, input variables, the individual's
present internal state, and outcome variables reciprocally interact to
produce aggressive behavior by priming aggression-related cognitions,
increasing anger-related affective state, and/or increasing arousal
(Lindsay & Anderson, 2000). The GAM can be used to interpret and pre-
dict the effects of most experiences or situations to which an individual
is exposed that could result in aggression. Exposure to violent media, for
example, has been demonstrated to increase each of the three posited
Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
The contribution of the entire UB Social Development Laboratory staff is grea tly
appreciated. Special recognition is given to Jamie L. Guzzo and Christa M. Bishop for
their contributions and assistance with th e coordination of this project. We thank the
families, teachers and directors of participating schools. We also thank Dr. Leonard J.
Simms for commen ts on an e arlier version of this manuscript.
Corresponding author at: 227 Park Hall, Depar tme nt of Ps ychology, University at
Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, NY 14260-4110, US A. Tel.: +1 716 645 3680.
E-mail address: jostrov@buffalo.edu (J.M. Ostrov).
0193-3973/$ see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
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Author's personal copy
internal state routes aggressive thoughts, feelings, and affect
(Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
The association between violent media consumption and physically
aggressive and prosocial behavior has been thoroughly investigated in
the literature (see Gentile & Stone, 2005; Huesmann, Moise-Titus,
Podolski, & Eron, 2003). These effects have also been successfully ex-
tended to the study of relational (and indirect) aggression in several
studies (e.g., Coyne & Archer, 2005; Coyne et al., 2008; Gentile,
Mathieson, & Crick, 2011; Möller & Krahé, 2009). Comprehensive
meta-analyses (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson et al.,
2010; Paik & Comstock, 1994) have documented short- and long-term
negative effects of violent media exposure, across media types, experi-
mental methodologies and samples. Not surprisingly, the majority of
studies on links between media exposure and aggressive behavior in
children focus on violent media content. In contrast, exposure to pro-
social media (e.g., TV) has documented effects on increasing prosocial
behavior, positive social interactions, and tolerance for others (see
Gentile et al., 2009; Mares & Woodard, 2005; Wilson, 2008). Education-
al programming is dened as media products that have an explicit in-
tent to education children in a school-related skill such as literacy,
numeracy, as well as socialemotional and character development
domains (Vandewater & Bickham, 2004). Furthermore, educational
media (which are often believed to have prosocial themes) have docu-
mented value for educational outcomes (e.g., Fisch & Truglio, 2001). A
recent meta-analysis documented large effects for links between
prosocial content and altruistic/prosocial behavior (Mares & Woodard,
2005). Interestingly, Mares and Woodard (2005) make the distinction
between purely prosocial or aggressive content from aggressive
prosocial content, in which positive messages follow aggressive actions
or violent content. Mares and Woodard (2005) further indicate that this
specic type of media content included cases in their meta-analysis in
which physical or verbal aggression was resolved in a prosocial manner
and they found that this category of content was problematic with re-
gard to aggression and other outcomes of interest. The meta-analysis
did not explicitly mention relational aggression, it is likely that similar
processes occur for this behavior as well.
There is also evidence that viewing media violence can lead to forms
of aggression among viewers different from the form viewed, a phe-
nomenon known as the crossover effect (see Coyne et al., 2008). Spe-
cically, several studies have demonstrated that televised physical
aggression can lead to relational aggression in viewers. Huesmann et
al. (2003) found that girls who viewed physical violence on television
as children engaged in more indirect aggression as adults. Ostrov,
Gentile and Crick (2006) also found that young children who viewed
high amounts of physical violence on TV were more relationally aggres-
sive. In an experimental design, Coyne, Archer, and Eslea (2004) demon-
strated that adolescents who viewed physical aggression were in some
cases subsequently more indirectly aggressive. Linder and Gentile
(2009) also found that exposure to televised physical aggression was
positively associated with teacher reports of indirect aggression in a
sample of fth grade girls. Gentile, Coyne and Walsh (2011) found
that children's consumption of media violence early in a school year pre-
dicted higher verbal, relational, and physical aggression, as well as less
prosocial behavior later in the school year. Although the GAM model
as originally described by Anderson and his colleagues does not speci
cally predict crossover effects, it ts within the model. Media violence
does not have its effects solely through modeling, but also by increasing
aggressive feelings, arousal, and thoughts. These are not necessarily spe-
cic to what was modeled, and can be generalized to new situations. If
children become more willing to aggress, how they aggress will be de-
termined by multiple factors, such as sex (i.e., boys tend to be more will-
ing to hit, whereas girls tend to use relational aggression more) or
opportunities (e.g., people tend to be aware of the greater likelihood
of being caught and punished for physical aggression).
Only one study to date, however, has investigated educational
media exposure (EME) and subtypes of aggression (i.e., physical and
relational) in preschoolers (Ostrov et al., 2006). Using a sample of
78 preschoolers, Ostrov et al. (2006) evaluated the effects of media
exposure on aggressive and prosocial behaviors. Interestingly, EME
was associated with future relational aggression. After reviewing
the most frequently reported programs the authors speculated that
many of the educational programs model relationally aggressive be-
havior as a way to frame friendship conicts (Ostrov et al., 2006).
The reconciliation among the friends occurs at the end of the pro-
grams and given research that suggests that young children have dif-
culty understanding plots and connecting content across a program
(Bryant & Anderson, 1983) and given that young children often focus
and retell specic components of the story rather than the overall
general principle (Goldman, Reyes & Varnhagen, 1984), the authors
posited that young children are not attending to the overall educa-
tional lesson, but are instead learning and in turn modeling the rela-
tionally aggressive behaviors (Ostrov et al., 2006).
The hypothesis raised by Ostrov et al. (2006) that young children
may not be learning the social and emotional lesson often found in
educational media is consistent with a recent study by Mares and
Acosta (2008) who examined if kindergarten children (89% were
5-year-olds) could identify the correct moral lesson in an episode
of Clifford the Big Red Dog (a PBS Kids show that was frequently
watched in the Ostrov et al., 2006 study). Interestingly, this study
found that only 19% of the children identied the correct moral lesson
and 89% of the children focused on irrelevant information and misun-
derstood or misinterpreted the intended moral lesson (Mares &
Acosta, 2008). Past research has also found that children have difcul-
ty remembering (i.e., recognition and recall) the motives of TV char-
acters or the consequences of actions within the context of an
actionadventure television program (Collins, Wellman, Keniston, &
Westby, 1978). Collectively, this work suggests that young children
who are exposed to cases of relational aggression within educational
media may not attend to moral lessons of reconciliation or learn con-
ict resolution skills, but rather would focus on and learn about the
aggressive behavior.
Importantly, content analyses of children's programming (e.g., Disney
lms) have shown that indirect or relational aggression was por-
trayed as high as 9.23 times per hour, although it was primarily
depicted by bad characters, which migh t decrease the reinforcing
value of the content in these cases (Coyne & Whitehead, 2008).
Further more, the research on the crossover effe ct suggests that any
aggressive modeling in children's programming could lead to greater
aggression, although how it is expressed is lik ely to be moderated by
individual and situational factors (e.g., even young children know
that they wil l g et in trouble if they h it, so they may use relational ag-
gression as it has a lower likelihood of punishment from adults;
Wer ner, Senich, & Przepyszny, 2006). Given how novel the initial
ndings were documenting links between educational media expo-
sure and relational aggression, the origina l authors called for the rep-
lication and extension of the ef fect (Ostrov et al., 2006), which is the
central goal of the current study.
Study objectives
Taken together, although the association between media effects
and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors has been extensively
demonstrated in previous research, signicant gaps in the literature
exist. Most notably, research investigating alternate subtypes of ag-
gressive behavior (e.g., relational aggression) in early childhood is
clearly lacking and more focus on educational media content is need-
ed. In order to address these gaps in the literature, the primary goal of
the current study is to evaluate the association between EME and pro-
spective displays of aggressive behaviors in preschoolers. Ostrov et al.
(2006) only demonstrated that educational media was associated
with future relational aggression and in the present study we predict
that educational media will also be associated with increases in
39J.M. Ostrov et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
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relational aggression across time. We anticipate that these effects will
be unique to relational aggression and not physical aggression. To
support the robustness of these relations, we further aim to replicate
these effects with both observations and teacher reports of aggressive
behavior. Finding similar effects across the independent informants,
which are known to contribute unique information in the prediction
of various outcomes (e.g., Ostrov et al., 2008), would provide strong
support for our key hypothesis.
An additional improvement on the existing literature (e.g., Ostrov et
al., 2006) is controlling for the alternative subtype of aggression in the
respective models (e.g., initial physical aggression will be controlled in
the relational aggression model). Further, given past associations be-
tween gender, age, and SES with aggressive behavior and media effects
(for reviews see Card et al., 2008; Dodge, Coie & Lynam, 2006; Gentile,
2003) we statistically control for these variables.
Children were recruited from four nationally accredited, university
afliated childcare centers in a large city in the northeast US, participat-
ing in a larger project (e.g., Ostrov et al., 2008). Parents of participating
children were invited to complete a parent questionnaire packet dis-
tributed and collected via US mail, and were compensated with a $10
gift certicate for their time. Of the 75 children participating in the pro-
ject, packets for 47 children (63%) were completed by parents; 43 were
mothers (91.5%) and 4 were fathers (8.5%).
At Time 1, the sample comprised 47 children (17 males and 30 fe-
males), between the ages of 30 and 58 months (M = 42.44 months,
SD = 8.02). The sample was relatively diverse: Asian (10.6%), Caucasian
(66%), Latino (2.1%), multi-racial (10.6%), Native American (4.3%), and
other/unknown (6.4%). The majority of parents were married (87.2%),
with the remainder being single (8.5%), divorced (2.1%), or in other sit-
uations (2.2%). On average, parents had a four-year degree (ranging
from some high school to a graduate or professional degree) and
mean family income between $55,000 and $100,000 (ranging from
$15,000 to over $100,000), suggesting the children were from primarily
middle class families. Between time points, seven (four girls) partici-
pants switched schools or moved out of the country, resulting in a
nal participant sample at Time 2 of 40 children. An additional two
(one girl) participants were missing media exposure data due to incom-
plete parent packets. Thus, the nal sample consisted of 38 children (25
girls). A power analysis using G*Power 3.1.3 (Faul, Erdfelder, Buchner, &
Lang, 2009) with α =.05,1-β =.80,andr
= .37 (based on the Ostrov
et al., 2006 prospective nding between educational media exposure
and relational aggression), suggested we would need 18 participants
for correlations. However, without prior regression models to base our
estimate on, the power analysis for regression models was more dif-
cult to conduct. We estimated that with α =.05,1-β = .80, a medium
effect (f
= .20; based in part on Ostrov et al., 2006), and regression
models with six total predictors, we would need a sample size of 42
(Faul et al., 2009). Given the unforeseen circumstances (attrition and
the aforementioned errors) we are slightly underpowered for detecting
these anticipated medium effects and caution should be exercised in the
interpretation of the ndings. Importantly, there were no signicant
differences between those that stayed in the study and those that did
not on any of the key study variables, ts b 1.40, n.s.
The project was approved by the local social and behavioral sciences
IRB. All children were invited to participate and parental consent was
collected. Observations and teacher reports were conducted at two
time points (fall and spring) with approximately four months in be-
tween. Parent packets were collected during the middle of time 1 (fall).
Observations of aggression
Children's social interactions were observed and recorded using
the Early Childhood Observation System developed by Ostrov and
Keating (2004) and revised by Crick and colleagues (Crick et al.,
2006) that uses a focal child sampling with continuous recording ap-
proach. One child is randomly chosen from the class roster and ob-
served for ten minutes during free play. Each child was observed
eight times, resulting in 80 min of total observation at each of the
two larger time points (or 160 min per child across the study). No
child was observed more than one time per day. Behavior categories
included physical aggression (e.g., hitting, pushing, kicking) and rela-
tional aggression (e.g., friendship withdrawal threats, excluding child
from playgroup). Behavioral categories were summed to create phys-
ical and relational aggression scores. Previous research has shown ac-
ceptable levels of inter-rater reliability with Intra-Class Correlation
Coefcients (ICCs) ranging from .78 to .91 for physical aggression,
and .70 to .85 for relational aggression (e.g., Ostrov et al., 2006; for
a review see Leff & Lakin, 2005). Observations were conducted by
graduate and undergraduate students who were trained via video-
tapes, vignettes and in-vivo practice reliability observational sessions.
Inter-rater reliability was assessed for 1015% of total observations
and ICCs were calculated. ICCs with absolute agreement have been
demonstrated to be appropriate given the nature of the current data
(McGraw & Wong, 1996), and have been used with the ECOS in the
past (e.g., Crick et al., 2006; Ostrov & Keating, 2004). ICCs assessing
inter-observer agreement in the current study, across both time
points, for physical aggression and relational aggression were all
greater than .75.
Teacher reports of aggression
The Preschool Social Behavior ScaleTeacher Form (PSBS-TF; Crick,
Casas, & Mosher, 1997) was used to assess children's relational and
physical aggression. This measure contains 16 items including 6 rela-
tional aggression items (e.g., This child tells a peer they won't be invit-
ed to their birthday party unless s/he does what the child wants), and 6
physical aggression items (e.g., This child kicks or hits others). Four
additional positively toned ller items are included to avoid a negative
response bias. A 5-point rating scale from 1 (never or almost never true)
to 5 (always or almost always true
) was used. The psychometric proper-
ties of this measure have been supported (e.g., Crick et al., 1997, 2006).
Four (two girls) children were missing teacher report data due to in-
complete packets. In the current sample, Cronbach's α's > .80 for all
scales at the two time points.
Parent-reported media exposure
Items evaluating media habits were included in the family infor-
mation questionnaire and come from the MediaQuotient survey
(Gentile & Walsh, 2002). For each media product, parents estimated
how many hours per day their child was engaged with such media,
using a 4-point scale (i.e., 01, 12, 34, 5 or more). Parents rated
how educational they considered the television/movies and
video/computer games their child played during the school year.
More specically, for each media product (i.e., television/movies,
video/computer games), parents rated how educational they consid-
ered each media product using a 7-point scale from 1 (Almost
Never)to7(Almost Always). An educational exposure score was com-
puted for each medium by multiplying the number of hours spent
with each media product by its subjective educational rating (for sim-
ilar procedures, see Gentile, Coyne et al., 2011; Gentile, Mathieson et
al., 2011). An overall index of educational media exposure (EME) was
calculated by summing the educational rating provided for television/
movies and video/computer games, respectively (Ostrov et al., 2006).
Media researchers have commented that it may be unreasonable to
expect specic media scales, such as educational media indices, to have
40 J.M. Ostrov et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
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high reliabilities. Gentile and colleagues (2004) noted that it is likely
that some children prefer media differently across various mediums,
and as a result, the specic media index may appear unreliable when
in fact the scale is measuring exactly what it is designed to measure
(Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004; Gentile & Walsh, 2002). Given
this recommendation, Cronbach's α was not computed. However,
responses were signicantly correlated (e.g., r =.42,p = .004, for the
two items assessing educational exposure).
Importantly, the measure of EME (and similar approaches for vio-
lence exposure; e.g., Gentile, Coyne et al., 2011; Gentile, Mathieson et
al., 2011) has demonstrated acceptable validity and reliability (Ostrov
et al., 2006). For example, Ostrov and colleagues asked parents to pro-
vide the frequency of each child's three favorite television programs
and an inspection of the content of these shows suggests that the
most frequent programming to which the participants were exposed
was found on PBS, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon and may be
coded as prosocial or educational in nature (Ostrov et al., 2006,p.
619). Ostrov et al. (2006) further noted that these programs were
rated as educational and were not rated as violent by the parents.
Given the similarities in the present sample to the Ostrov et al. (2006)
study with respect to age, ethnicity, SES, and marital status (as well as
the quality of child care center from which the participants were
recruited), and due to space restrictions in our parent packet we did
not ask parents to report on the specic programs. However, parents
uniformly reported that children were exposed to educational rath-
er than violent media. Violent media exposure was assessed using
the same types of items and procedures as EME (i.e., parents indicat-
ed how violent they considered the television/movies and video/
computer games their child played during the school year on a 7
point scale from 1 not at all violent to 7 extremely violent). Using
the same procedures as described by Ostrov et al. (2006) the current
measure of violent media exposure was not signicantly correlated
with EME, r = .28, p = .11, which demonstrates that parents discrimi-
nated between educational and violent
content. In addition, parents
reported that children were exposed to signicantly more educational
media (M = 10.62; SD = 3.65) than violent media (M =8.54;SD =
4.79), t(34) = 2.38, p =.023,d = .49, as would be expected for children
of this age.
Follow-up assessment
To bolster the validity of the EME, a follow-up assessment
(i.e., Time 3) was conducted. Participants and a parent were invited to
visit the laboratory to complete a small parent report packet for which
they were compensated ($20 gift card). The lag between Time 1 and
Time 3 assessments was slightly more than two years and three months
(M = 27.92 months; SD = 1.91; Range = 25.9731.47). Of the original
38 families, 27 (71%) completed the follow-up study. There were 18
girls and 9 boys and the ethnicity percentages were similar to the initial
time point (14.8% Asian, 66.7% Caucasian, 3.7% Latino, 7.4% multi-racial,
7.4% other races or ethnicities). For one child, a different parent com-
pleted the measures at Time 3 compared to Time 1 (i.e., father partici-
pated at Time 1 and mother participated at Time 2).
Follow-up measures included parent reports of child aggression and
media exposure. The Children's Social BehaviorParent Report (CSB-P),
which was revised from the Children's Social Experience measure used
by Casas et al. (2006) and developed by Crick (2006), was used to assess
relational and physical aggression. The CSB-P has 13 items on a 5-point
scale ranging from 1 (Never true)to5(Almost always true). The
relational aggression subscale contains 5 items (e.g., spreads rumors,
secrets, or gossips about other kids), and the physical aggression
subscale has 4 items (e.g., hits or kicks other kids). Four additional
prosocial items are included to avoid a negative response bias. Casas
et al. (2006) supported the validity of the original measure with moder-
ate associations between mother and father reports for both relational
and physical aggression. Ostrov and Bishop (2008) further supported
the validity of the measure with signicant a ssociations between
parent and teacher reports for physical (r = .45, p b .01) and rela-
tional (r = .40, p b .01) aggression. In the present study, the CSB-P
was reliable for physical aggression (Cronbach's α = .71), but was
slightly lower than conventional thresholds for relational aggression
(Cronbach's α = .67) at Time 1. At Time 3, the CSB-P was reliable for
both physical (Cronbach's α = .76) and relational (Cronbach's
α =
.73) aggression.
Parents also completed media exposure measures at the follow-up
assessment. Parents rst completed the aforementioned measure
from Time 1 assessing EME. Parents also completed the Parental Survey
of Media Exposure (PSME, Ostrov et al., 2006), which asks parents to re-
port on their child's three favorite television shows and their child's
three favorite movies/videos. For each named media product (i.e., tele-
vision shows as well as movies/videos), parents were asked to rate how
educational they consider each media product to be on a 7-point scale
(1 = Not at all educational,7=Extremely educational)anditemswere
summed to create an overall index. The majority of shows that were
listed included shows that are educational or informational in nature
with a social and emotional emphasis and are found on channels such
as PBS and Nick Jr. including: Arthur, Caillou, Clifford the Big Red Dog,
Curious George, Franklin, and Reading Rainbow. Additional programs
were reported and included Hannah Montana, Full House, and Sponge
Bob Square Pants, although these shows generally received low educa-
tional ratings by the parents.
The partial correlation (controlling for SES) between general EME
at Time with the PSME (i.e., educational ratings of named programs)
at Time 3 was signicant and moderate providing important validity
for the EME used in the present study, r
= .52, p = .026. In addition,
the stability of the EME from times 1 to 3 was signicant even when
controlling for SES, r
= .53, p = .023. Collectively, these ndings sup-
port the validity of the EME.
Preliminary analyses indicated that there were no skew (b 1.73) or
kurtosis (b 2.53) concerns (Kline, 2005). There was one outlier for
each of the four observed aggression variables and these were respec-
tively reduced to the magnitude of 3 SD above the mean (Kline,
2005). Descriptive statistics and correlations among the key study vari-
ables are presented in Table 1. Correlations revealed that observations
of physical and relational aggression were not signicantly associated
at Time 1 or 2, but correlations between physical and relational aggres-
sion were moderately correlated at times 1 and 2 for teacher reports.
Despite the lack of statistically signicant associations among the ob-
served constructs we control for the alternative subtype of aggression
in all the respective models given our a priori goal of testing unique ef-
fects and the knowledge that some of these correlations are in the the-
oretically predicted range despite the lack of signicance (likely due to
the sample size). All subsequent models were run controlling for violent
media exposure and there were no differences between those models
with and without the covariate and so it was removed for simplicity.
Association between educational media exposure and aggressive
behaviors at Time 2
To evaluate the stated objectives, four regression models were
conducted: assessment of the relation between EME and prospective
displays of observed and teac her-reported (in separate models)
(a) relational aggression and (b) physical aggression. In order to predict
the respective behavior category (e.g., physical aggression at Time 2),
observations (or teacher reports in separate models) of the behavior
at Time 1 (e.g., physical aggression at Time 1) as well as the alternative
aggression subtype at Time 1, entered the regression model at step 1,
and EME was entered at step 2. In addition, age, gender, and SES were
all entered at step 1 as covariates. As seen in Table 2,EMEsignicantly
41J.M. Ostrov et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
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predicted increases in observed relational aggression. It is notable that
these effects with relational aggression were also found with teacher in-
formants. EME was not associated with changes in either observed or
teacher-reported physical aggression.
Associations between educational media exposure and aggressive
behaviors at Time 3
To test if the effects held beyond the academic year, two regression
models were conducted that examined if EME at Time 1 was associated
with increases in parent reported relational aggression from times 1 to
3(seeTable 3). Given the small sample size in the follow-up portion of
the study as well as shared method variance concerns (i.e., only parent
report was available at both time points), caution should be exercised in
the interpretation of the ndings. Consistent with the aforementioned
ndings, EME predicted increases in parent reported relational aggres-
sion across on average two years and three months, even when control-
ling for initial physical aggression, age, gender, and SES. In addition, as
shown in Table 3, EME did not signicantly predict changes in parent
reported physical aggression.
The present study tested the association between educational
media exposure (EME) and subtypes of aggression in early childhood
using observational methodology. Results of this research provide ev-
idence that EME can predict the exhibition of relational aggression in
preschool children. The current study replicated past research
(Ostrov et al., 2006) in which EME signicantly predicted future rela-
tional aggression in preschoolers, but extended the past ndings by
revealing that EME was associated with increases in relational aggres-
sion. Moreover, our conservative model also controlled for initial
physical aggression, as well as SES, gender, and age. In addition, we
are also the rst to demonstrate these effects using multiple methods
and informants. Although most research on EME has documented a
signicant effect on positive academic and social outcomes, these re-
sults suggest that EME may simultaneously have a detrimental effect
on children's social behavior. Ostrov et al. (2006) posited that it is
possible that children may be exposed to relationally aggressive
models within these programs and may not comprehend the conict
resolution skills that typically are depicted at the end of the program,
(or may not understand how they relate to the earlier conict) rather
the young children focus on and learn the modeled behaviors. In fact,
younger children tend to pay greater attention to perceptually-salient
information (e.g., action, music; Schmitt, Anderson, & Collins, 1999),
relative to older children, who attend more to cues that are plot-relevant
(Calvert, Huston, Watkins, & Wright, 1982). Future experimental studies
are needed to test the hypothesis that children are modeling behaviors
from peer conict scenarios seen in educational programs.
Despite the contributions of the current study, there are several
limitations. First, the limited sample size reduced the power to nd
signicant results. Although the sample size was similar to that used
in other observational studies of aggressive behavior in early childhood
(e.g., McEvoy, Estrem, Rodriguez & Olson, 2003; Ostrov & Keating, 2004;
Stauffacher & DeHart, 2005) and was generally consistent with power
analysis recommendations, attrition between time points constrained
the study's power. Clearly, replication with larger, ethnically diverse
samples is needed. Second, even though the follow-up analyses
suggested moderate levels of agreement between the general EME
and PSME ratings in which parents named programs, and most of the
programs listed are generally believed and rated by the media industry
to be educational and informational, it is unclear how well parents can
evaluate the educational value of children's media. More importantly,
perhaps, future studies should measure both the perceived educational
value and the amount of relational aggression in each media product
(although it is similarly unclear how well parents can judge that). In
Table 1
Descriptive statistics and correlations for key study variables.
123456789MSD Range
1. RA-O T1 .03 .30 .13 .52
.25 .47
.09 .15 0.94 1.19 0.005.00
2. PA-O T1 .04 .15 -.004 .42
.20 .01 .03 2.54 2.60 0.0010.00
3. RA-TR T1 .55
.06 .01 .59
.29 .09 10.74 5.42 6.0023.00
4. PA-TR T1 .01 .52
.07 10.47 4.89 6.0022.00
5. RA-O T2 .30 .38
.01 .21 2.43 3.07 0.0012.17
6. PA-O T2 .07 .39
.12 1.66 2.16 0.008.57
7. RA-TR T2 .38
.01 12.27 5.88 6.0025.00
8. PA-TR T2 .07 9.83 4.83 6.0020.00
9. EME-P T1 10.62 3.65 2.0020.00
Note. RA = Relational Aggression; PA = Physical Aggression; EME = Educational Media Exposure; O = Observation; TR = Teacher Report; P = Parent Report; T1=Time1;T2=
Time 2.
p b .05.
p b .01.
p b .001.
Table 2
Hierarchical multiple regressions: Associations between educational media exposure
and aggressive behavior at Time 2.
Outcome, step, predictors β F, ΔFR
, ΔR
I. Relational aggression T2 (O)
1. Gender .06 F(5, 33) = 1.25, n.s. .159
Age .20
SES .07
Relational aggression T1 (O) .28
Physical aggression T1 (O) .07
2. EME T1 (parent report) .34 ΔF(1, 32) = 4.41, p = .04 .102
II. Physical aggression T2 (O)
1. Gender .28 F(5, 33) = 4.51, p = .003 .406
Age .24
SES .16
Relational aggression T1 (O) .37
Physical aggression T1 (O) .35
2. EME T1 (parent report) .14 ΔF(1, 32) = 0.94, n.s. .017
III. Relational aggression T2 (TR)
1. Gender .28 F(5, 29) = 7.38, p b .001 .560
Age .05
SES .18
Relational aggression T1 (TR) .42
Physical aggression T1 (TR) .30
2. EME T1 (parent report) .25 ΔF(1, 28) = 4.11, p = .05 .056
IV. Physical aggression T2 (TR)
1. Gender .05 F(5, 29) = 5.48, p = .001 .486
Age .06
SES .11
Relational aggression T1 (TR) .03
Physical aggression T1 (TR) .69⁎⁎
2. EME T1 (parent report) .07 ΔF(1, 28) = 0.27, n.s. .005
Note. O = observations; TR = teacher report; T1 = Time 1; T2 = Time 2; EMI =
educational media exposure. pbb .05. ⁎⁎ pbb .01.
42 J.M. Ostrov et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
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Author's personal copy
addition, the ndings from the follow-up portion of the study should be
interpreted with caution given the small sample size and relatively
small number of boys that participated. Third, although the format
was similar to that used in previous studies (e.g., Anderson & Dill,
2000), social desirability could certainly have inuenced the parental
ratings in the present study and thus not only should future studies ex-
amine for and possibly control for these biases, but it may also be best
for future studies to conduct content analyses of the nominated
shows, similar to the approach taken by Linder and Gentile (2009)
with older school-aged children. Future studies are needed that incor-
porate multiple measures of media exposure (e.g., parent report,
media diaries, specic program content analyses) from multiple infor-
mants (e.g., children, siblings, parents, and peers) across mediums
(e.g., television, video games, movies, and music) in order to determine
the gold standard for assessing media exposure. Moreover, future re-
search should specically assess the actual TV programs, movies, and
video games that children are exposed to, the relative amounts of
time that they are exposed to each program, and expert raters should
be used to assess the specic content of each show, movie, and
It is certainly possible that children who consume high levels of
media receive less scaffolding from their parents with respect to how
to navigate social relationships. In fact, we echo the calls of others that
suggest that parents not just co-view, but actively mediate the content
of the media (Warren, 2003). This mediation may allow young children
the assistance that they need to appropriately connect the aggressive
behaviors and friendship conicts with the moral lesson of the program.
We believe that this process requires active mediation and not just
co-viewing (Warren, 2003), as co-viewing without the active engage-
ment and scaffolding of the content may imply tacit approval of the ag-
gressive behaviors. Perhaps relationally aggressive behavior would
decline if parents actively mediated the educational programs with
their young children and helped them to make the connections be-
tween the relationally aggressive behaviors and conict resolution
strategies. The fact that children are not following the plot line and
learning the character development lesson in media programs and
may just be attending to reinforced (i.e., the character gets what they
want) relationally aggressive behaviors that they see displayed suggests
the need for simpler and more explicit lessons for young children's pro-
gramming (Mares & Acosta, 2008). A second implication, however, is
that even shows that are considered to be child-friendly educational
shows can have negative consequences if they model and reinforce re-
lational or indirect aggression (Linder & Gentile, 2009). The current rat-
ings (and the associated V-chip) do not discuss this type of information
(Linder & Gentile), which leaves parents with limited information for
making informed decisions for their children.
In conclusion, the present study documented that exposure to
media that parents label as educational is prospectively associated
with increases in relational aggression over time. These effects were
replicated using three independent measures of relational aggression
(i.e., observations, teacher reports, and parent reports) and after con-
trolling for physical aggression, age, gender, and SES. In keeping with
past work and current predictions the links were limited to relational
aggression and not physical aggression. These ndings suggest that par-
ents, educators, media professionals, policymakers, and researchers
should work collaboratively to reduce these potential harmful effects
for young children.
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44 J.M. Ostrov et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 34 (2013) 3844
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    • "Though these findings (Linder & Werner, 2013; Ostrov et al., 2013) indicate that there may be long-term effects of viewing relational aggression in the media, the studies were limited by sample size, measurement used in terms of outcomes and predictors , and sample type (i.e., participants were children). In the current study, the aim was to examine associations between viewing relational aggression and exhibiting aggressive behavior in a sample of adolescents over a 3-year period. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Most researchers on media and aggression have examined the behavioral effects of viewing physical aggression in the media. Conversely, in the current study, I examined longitudinal associations between viewing relational aggression on TV and subsequent aggressive behavior. Participants included 467 adolescents who completed a number of different questionnaires involving media and aggression at 3 different time points. Results revealed that viewing relational aggression on TV was longitudinally associated with future relational aggression. However, early levels of relational aggression did not predict future exposure to televised relational aggression. Conversely, there was a bidirectional relationship between TV violence and physical aggression over time. No longitudinal evidence was found for a general effect of viewing TV, as all significant media effects were specific to the type of aggression viewed. These results support the general aggression model and suggest that viewing relational aggression in the media can have a long-term effect on aggressive behavior during adolescence. (PsycINFO Database Record
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Developmental Psychology
  • No preview · Article · Jan 2013 · Human Development
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Media exposure and consumption have become unprecedentedly intense, ubiquitous, diversified, simultaneous, and interactive in the everyday lives of children and adolescents. In this chapter, we address the complex question as to whether media exposure and consumption can represent risk factors in the development of antisocial behavior. More specifically, we selectively review the most recent and sound empirical findings from meta-analyses and longitudinal studies to evaluate the extent to which television/movies, video games, Internet, music, and media in general may influence aggressive behaviors in children and adolescents. We offer nine concluding remarks that pertain to (1) longitudinal impacts of media violence on aggressive behavior; (2) longitudinal effects of aggressive behavior on violent media consumption; (3) effects across research designs; (4) effects of media violence on severe or criminal aggressive behavior; (5) gender differences; (6) confounders or so-called third variables; (7) converse impacts of media with prosocial contents; (8) developmental continuity of violent media consumption; and (9) conceptual balance between biomedical (risks) and psychosocial (growth) models toward a more biopsychosocial perspective. Lastly, future research needs are suggested.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2015

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