A new research study led by an Indiana University professor has found that social bullying is just as prevalent in children's television as depictions of physical aggression.
The study, "Mean on the Screen: Social Aggression in Programs Popular With Children," which appears in the Journal of Communication, found that 92 percent of the top 50 program for children between the ages of two and 11 showed characters involved in social aggression.
On average, there were 14 different incidents of social aggression per hour - or once every four minutes.
While physical aggression in television for children has been extensively documented, this is believed to be among the first studies to analyze children's exposure to behaviors such as cruel gossiping and manipulation of friendship.
"Social aggression was more likely to be enacted by an attractive perpetrator, to be featured in a humorous context and neither rewarded or punished," wrote Nicole Martins, assistant professor of telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences. "In these ways, social aggression on television poses more of a risk for imitation and learning than do portrayals of physical aggression."
Martins, the lead researcher on the study, and Barbara Wilson, professor of communication at the University of Illinois, conducted a content analysis of the 50 most popular children's shows according to Nielsen Media Research between December of 2006 to March of 2007. In all, 150 television shows were viewed and analyzed.
Careful attention was given to what was portrayed in the cases of social aggression, whether the behavior was rewarded or punished, justified, or committed by an attractive perpetrator.
The findings suggest that some of the ways in which social aggression is contextualized make these depictions particularly problematic for young viewers.
"These findings should help parents and educators recognize that there are socially aggressive behaviors on programs children watch," Martins said. "Parents should not assume that a program is okay for their child to watch simply because it does not contain physical violence.
"Parents should be more aware of portrayals that may not be explicitly violent in a physical sense but are nonetheless anti-social in nature," Martins added.