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The Effect Of Cartoon Violence Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5227 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Research Question: Does the violence depicted in cartoons have a negative influence on young viewers between ages 3-5 in America, and does it promote aggression and/or violent behavior.


Nowadays it is a common belief that the violence portrayed in cartoons might have a negative impact on the behavior of young children. The main aim of this Essay will be to determine whether cartoon violence has a negative influence on the behavior of young children aged 3-5 in America or whether this assertion is merely a false presumption. If the claim is true, we will be considering any possible effects it may have on the behavioral development of those children in the future. My main scope of research will be consisting of various analyses of popular cartoon shows in the United States, along with various books, articles and online forums containing relevant information in order to aid me in providing a suitable solution to the research question.

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Many young children in America are believed to be spending an average of up to 30 hours of television a week [1] and the majority of their free time watching cartoons on television where they could be exposed to a variety of harmful scenes. Allowing young children to watch high amounts of cartoon violence might result in unwanted consequences and perhaps an undesired change in the behavior of the child. Presumably this is because the majority of cartoons that are displayed on the television contain some form of violent activity which could affect the undeveloped minds of young children in an undesired way, as well as possibly promoting violent behavior. Violence in cartoons can be extremely harmful to children of young ages as they have difficulties distinguishing reality from fantasy because their brain has not yet reached a state of maturity. [2] Americans are concerned because preschoolers’ social and emotional development could be negatively linked with cartoon violence and aggressive behavior. [3] While on the other hand it is believed by many people, especially by adults, that the violence depicted in cartoons has no serious or dangerous effects on young viewers in America which are worthy of concern. [4] 

This topic is worthy of investigation because the number of children being exposed to cartoon violence is supposedly increasing each day with the average rate currently standing around 1hour of television per day, most of which is made up of cartoons [5] . This could potentially result in aggressive and/or violent behavior by the preschoolers towards others in their surroundings. This information is worthy of notice because some of the most popular and most frequently watched cartoons have been featured to contain some of the highest amounts of violent and aggressive activity on television [6] which may have undesirable consequences on young viewers if overly exposed to such content. Accordingly this topic should be carefully investigated in order to be capable of preventing, and treating any unwanted outcomes of overexposure to violence in cartoons because investigation towards the effects of cartoon violence may be able to help prevent or minimize the development of violent behavior patterns among preschoolers in the United States.


Today it commonly known that many young children all around the world, including preschoolers in America, spend most of their day and a majority of their spare time watching the television. In fact recent studies have shown that in America, preschoolers alone were known to be watching an average of up to 30 hours of television a week. [7] It has been discovered that an average four year old child in America watches anywhere between 50 and 70 minutes of television a day, consisting mostly of cartoons. [8] This information is worthy of careful observation because some of these cartoons have been featured to contain some of the greatest amounts violent and aggressive scenes on television. [9] Research has shown that in-between years 1973 and 1993, over 90% of children’s weekend morning programs contained some form of violent activity, with an outstandingly high average of over 20 violent scenes per hour. [10] 

According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) which is the third largest online database containing information mostly about movies and television programs and is considered to be one of most popular online entertainment destinations with over 100million unique users each month and over 41million registered users, where viewers are able to rate and comment on any television shows they’ve watched [11] . Some of the top rated, and most frequently watched cartoons by preschoolers in America such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tom and Jerry, Ben 10, The Power Puff Girls [12] , … The list is endless and it is because of cartoons like these which are believed to contain some of the highest and most prominent levels of violent scenes from which the question on whether overexposure to such content may have any unwanted outcomes, arises.

Among the most popular cartoon broadcasting channels were ‘Cartoon Network’ and ‘Nickelodeon’ [13] , which display all of the previously mentioned cartoons containing noticeable amounts of violence, and are mostly portrayed during Saturday and Sunday mornings when young children in America are mostly exposed to television. These cartoons which are frequently displayed and which contain violence are often those which get people of America worrying that overexposure to such content may result in an unwanted negative influence on preschoolers. Let us look at a summary of Tom and Jerry for instance.

Tom and Jerry is an animated cartoon , which is mostly focused on a rivalry between a mouse (Jerry) and a cat (Tom) who chase each other throughout each episode which always contains some form of violence. Tom and Jerry is said to be one of the greatest cartoons of all time. [14] 

It is a cartoon which was created in the 1940s and still today is considered to be one of the most popular and highly rated cartoons among young viewers in the United States according to IMDB scoring an outstandingly high 8.7 out of 10 score which was voted by viewers [15] . It is mostly displayed during prime time hours and on Saturday and Sunday mornings on ‘Cartoon Network’ where it is mostly exposed to preschoolers in America.

A ‘Parents Guide’ section on the IMDB website where viewers and adults are capable of commenting on various television shows indicated how most viewers interpret the cartoon to be very violent and to contain dangerous weapons and abusive behavior towards animals and people. In addition there are times where the characters die at the end of an episode and come back alive in the next episode which may cause preschoolers in America exposed to the cartoon to get a false misinterpretation of death and the consequences of the actions displayed in the cartoon and in real life.

”In almost every episode of this show there is some form of violent activity where objects are smashed over either Tom or Jerry’s head.

Tom’s owner was very brutal and bizarre in the way he disciplined Tom. Many of the episodes feature Tom ‘dying’ at the end, but he always came back in the next episode.

Guns are used very frequently in the show, but they never really show any real harm apart from blowing hair off or grazing the characters.” [16] 

Despite the tremendous amount of violence which is displayed in the cartoon, it still is considered to be suitable, and is recommended for children of all ages. The most troubling thing of all is that Tom and Jerry is only one of many cartoons which portray such prominent levels of violence yet they are still recommended for all audiences. All of the previously mentioned cartoons (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Power Puff Girls, Ben 10) all contain some sort of violence, usually in the form of aggressive physical force in order to prove a certain cause, or to ‘defeat the evil characters’.

While examining the effects violence in cartoons on children, Haejung Paik and George Comstock found that all children, including preschoolers in America, demonstrated increases in violent behavior and manifested aggression when they were exposed to violent content from cartoons. Various studies conducted by the two have confirmed the suggestion that the aggressiveness of preschooler’s increases after they have been exposed to a cartoon which contained some form of violent content, and also where the characters in the cartoons demonstrated aggressive behavior. [17] 

A Study conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura showed how this information which was gathered is linked with the social learning perspective indicating that preschoolers learn to behave by observing other people or characters in their surroundings and try to imitate how they would react in certain situations. [18] 

Bandura also found that the aggressive behavior which young preschoolers were demonstrating was mostly coming from violent cartoons. He concluded that children were behaving aggressively towards others because they tried to simulate the actions of the characters which they saw in those cartoons. He discovered that this behavior which the children had observed from the characters, had then been generalized into other forms of violent deeds by the preschoolers themselves such as aggressively playing with plastic swords and guns. [19] 

Bandura and Huston found that the observation of violent and aggressive acts in cartoons by 3-5 year old children in the United States, regardless of which character was involved and what connection they had with the child, was a “sufficient condition for producing imitative aggression” [20] for preschoolers. Moreover children who have been known to watch many cartoons containing a decent amount of violent activity are more likely to express some form of that aggression towards their peers or even adults, in contrast with those children who do not view much violent content in cartoons. [21] 

Bandura has conducted studies showing that those actions by the characters in cartoons which are rewarded are more likely to be remembered by the preschoolers, rather than those which are punished. [22] 

A report by the NTVS (National Television Violence Study) showed how almost 70% of violent acts in children’s cartoons did not result in any harm or pain to the characters who were involved. Another study also showed how less than half of the children’s cartoon shows had any form of punishment for these violent and aggressive actions of the characters. [23] As a result the violence which young preschoolers view from cartoons on the television may give them the wrong impression of what the outcomes could be in real life and in a real-life situation.

The preschoolers are able to see how in most cartoons when an act of violence is implicated by one character towards another, the one who has demonstrated a violent or aggressive act towards the other character does not get punished for his/her actions in most cases, and does not suffer any consequences. In fact, in the cartoon ‘Ben 10’, the main character (Ben) destroys large amounts of the city in some situations including public and private property and inflicts damage in order to capture the villain, this mass destruction always goes unpunished, which may leave a false impression among young viewers that just because one ‘bad guy’ was caught might approve or act as a justification for the destruction of other people’s property or hurting others. In fact the most common way of teaching moral lessons by protagonists in cartoons is by aggressive or violent acts. [24] This type of behavior is often rewarded and the character is considered a hero when he defeats the ‘bad guy’ by using various forms of physically aggressive force such as the ‘Power Puff Girls’, who always inflict severe amounts of damage with their super powers in order to defeat the villain/s and are always considered heroes and are praised after every episode. Such cartoons in which the acts of violence are rewarded although in some cases are considered to be extremely harmful or pain inflicting, mislead the young children in perceiving those acts of violence as ‘the right thing to do’. By watching how the characters can almost always get away with it, and seeing how that sort of behavior is usually rewarded in the cartoons, the preschoolers in America might get the wrong impression of how they should be reacting in specific situations, and how they should be treating and behaving around others in their surroundings.

Children often view the characters they see on television as their role models. They consider them to be heroes and observe how they are rewarded and praised for committing violent acts as well as possessing not only very aggressive attributes, but the characters also consisted of very attractive and appealing qualities as well. [25] . This leads preschoolers to draw conclusions that the aggressive behavior by their favorite characters is justified since there is no form of punishment, or consequences to show that it is wrong, as a result the 3 to 5 year old children have an increased motive to try and reproduce this behavior. [26] 

Many people fear that overexposure to cartoon violence may have long term effects on preschoolers’ behavior in America, especially if they are consistently being overly exposed to violent content in cartoons at such an early age. [27] 

There are many different theories suggesting what possible effects overexposure to violence in cartoons could have. Professor Dolf Zillmann developed his excitation transfer theory which suggests that while children are watching television or cartoons containing violence, they suddenly feel a need to transfer negative energy towards something/someone else, resulting in antisocial behavior and perhaps inflicting damage to other children in their environment. [28] Another famous theory founded by Professor George Gerbner was the cultivation theory which indicates that overexposure to television increases the likelihood of a mainstreaming effect where young children might confuse what they see as a twisted representation of the real world and real-life situations, [29] Which in turn may result in children developing a misinterpreted view of violence in the real world. [30] John Flavell, an American psychologist, discovered that the understanding which preschoolers possess regarding whether the cartoons they watch on the television are real or imaginary is either very limited or not present at all. Meaning that there is a very high possibility for those young children to confuse reality from fantasy and comprehend what they see from cartoons as real. [31] Accordingly it has been discovered that 6-7 year old children had difficulties understanding the distinction between real world capabilities and those portrayed in cartoons and that they ”appear to have difficulty understanding television conventions that violate real-world possibilities”. [32] We can form judgments from the previous findings because if 6 and 7 year old children aren’t fully capable of understanding the conventions on television and linking them with the real world, then preschoolers, being of a much younger age and generally unaware of the meanings of the events taking place in cartoons, would have an even poorer understanding of what they are watching and what possible connections it may have with the real world.

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It has been discovered that when a specific character in a cartoon exhibits aggression or acts violently towards another character, and at the same time provides a clear explanation justifying the reasons for his/her actions by the use of words, was far too intellectually advanced and overly complex for young children in between ages 3-5 in America to interpret and understand completely. [33] This may leave the preschoolers with a false memory or intuition of only an aggressive or violent act by one character towards another without any reasoning or justification involved. In order for young children to become fully capable of understanding the reasons behind the actions of the cartoon characters and their intentions, they need the assistance of an adult who is willing to explain the means of the situation and why the use of aggression should or should not be punished, and what possible consequences would be necessary to the characters who have demonstrated some form of aggression towards others. [34] 

Ronald Drabman and Margaret Thomas found that children lose all forms of sensitivity and feelings towards victims in cartoons by the time they leave preschool, [35] which could mean that the young 3 to 5 year old children are finally becoming capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, and that they are becoming aware that the cartoon characters are not real. While on the other hand this information could mean that the children have lost interest or possibly gained the wrong impression of the consequences of the actions of the characters. E.g. if they watch a cartoon in which one character shoots another character, and the other character does not receive any injuries of any kind then the children may mistake guns for being incapable of inflicting any damage to other people in real life which could lead to serious consequences.

While looking at the unrealistic capabilities of most characters from cartoons, in their fantasy worlds, we cannot really determine whether this violence is considered harmful to young children. Even though not all television networks and adults, especially parents approve that they are comfortable with the amount of violence depicted in cartoons, many older and mature people who watch adult television comprehend cartoons and fantasy as something which has nothing to with extreme violence what so ever, and so they do not find young children being exposed to this type of content worrying. [36] 

In fact Some of the world’s largest and most famous television networks such as Warner Bros. also characterize cartoon episodes to be a reflection of good versus evil that particularly underline the importance of loyalty and how punishment for being selfish is necessary under certain circumstances. [37] Consequently the violence which occurs when the good characters have to defeat the evil characters is justified because it is the morally correct thing to do, and these cartoons try to pass on the message how in order for a whole community to feel safe and enjoy their lives, some people have to suffer and be punished.

Research shows that when children are able to interpret a cartoon with real life and compare the scenes which occur in the cartoon with real life situations, then there is a greater chance for the child to demonstrate aggressive behavior. Whilst on the other hand if the Childs understanding of the cartoon is rather poor and in their eyes is seen as unrealistic, then the chances of the preschooler showing any forms of violence or aggressive behavior, is significantly lower. [38] 

Research is continually proving that children in America between ages 3 and 5 do not completely understand the meaning of the cartoons they watch and that their apprehension of the shows they are being exposed to is very poor and could remain that way all the way through to until they are 8 years old. [39] By looking at this information we can conclude that because preschoolers have a poor understanding of the meaning and the plot of the cartoons which they are watching, the chances of inheriting any unwanted aggressive or violent behavior from those cartoons by the preschoolers will be significantly lower.

A study performed by Hodapp showed how 5 and 6 year olds could not recall what they had learned while watching educational programs and how they were simply incapable of performing and putting those skills to action in real life in order to help themselves in difficult situations. [40] 

Therefore this leads us to a conclusion that preschoolers, being of a younger age and not as intellectually advanced as a 5 or 6 year olds, may also be incapable of interpreting the actions they see in violent cartoons. So as a result they will not acquire any negative influences or bad behavior from watching cartoons containing violent and/or aggressive scenes.

Moreover the National Television Violence Study (NTVS) reported that for all cartoon programs, just over 30% of the characters who demonstrated some forms of violence in cartoon shows, also possessed some good and sympathetic attributes such as helping and caring for those in need [41] , which could be beneficial for preschoolers in America and teach them to exhibit concern and empathy for others in their surroundings.

Judging by their age, preschoolers have been proven to have a relatively high ability of drawing conclusions about moral reasoning [42] such as recognizing and determining when the character has acted selfishly or whether their actions are morally wrong. [43] 

The preschoolers in America are known to be capable of identifying the difference between morally acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in society. [44] Meaning that they are aware of the rights and welfare of others in their surroundings and how they should be treated equally and with respect. In addition the investigators of this topic believe that 3 to 5 year old children are fully aware of the distinction between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable behavior and how they are capable of making judgments based on whether it is real life situation of something they’ve seen from a cartoon. [45] 

This understanding of such situations at an early age may aid young preschoolers in finding a balance between the violence they view in cartoons and real life situations and it may not result in a negatively affected behavioral development in the future.


Does the violence depicted in cartoons have a negative influence on young viewers between ages 3-5 in America, and does it promote aggression and/or violent behavior. – answer the research question.

Throughout this investigation we have discovered that children between ages 3 and 5 in America may have difficulties when attempting to differ reality from fantasy which might intensify or negatively stimulate the preschoolers’ motive to act and behave differently and aggressively towards others in their surroundings.

However we cannot conclude that a preschoolers’ aggressive or violent behavior is the result of being exposed to violence in cartoons. In order to make such assumptions we must first take into consideration the children’s perception of the violence depicted in those cartoons and the way in which the preschoolers understand what is happening and why. Therefore we cannot confidently say that the children will show similar behavior in the real world only because the characters may have acted aggressively or violently in the cartoons.

When we focused on the most popular cartoons among preschoolers in America we found that they are clearly violent and how they might potentially influence the behavior of the young children in a negative way. However we also found that some of the acts of the characters could teach the preschoolers in America to act morally and to apply the skills they observe from television in real life which could be beneficial.

In order for us to summarize the effects of cartoon violence on preschoolers in America it is crucial that we first determine how well the children understand and what they learn by watching cartoons. We found that if the children are capable of differentiating the transgressions which are present in the cartoons from those in real life and if they realize a distinction between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable behavior which they view in cartoons, then cartoon violence would not have such a negative impact on the behavior of the preschoolers as assumed.

All in all cartoons which portray large levels of violence and aggressive activity will continue to do so and will remain a popular source of entertainment among the 3 to 5 year old viewers in the United States. The children will continue to spend most of their free time watching these cartoons which will perpetually be displayed on television during prime-time hours and throughout children’s weekend morning shows.

Adults, especially parents in America play a vital role in influencing the impression preschoolers obtain by observing potentially harmful scenes in cartoons and the violent actions portrayed by the characters as an act of justice, and determining the moral and social acceptability of those actions.

All in all the impact that overexposure to violent or aggressive content has on the more vulnerable audiences in the United States such as 3 to 5 year old children will remain unresolved as we have found evidence supporting both sides and various different views towards the topic and the possible effects which cartoon violence might have on preschoolers in America. I would suggest that adults watch cartoons alongside the children as they will then have the opportunity to answer any potential questions the children may have, and with the aid of an adult the children may interpret and gain a more clear understanding of the motives and reasons for the violent or aggressive actions which have been depicted by the protagonists in cartoons, therefore minimizing any possible unwanted outcomes.

Word count approx = (4258)


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