PSYCHOLOGIST Leonard Eron is appalled about the possible effect on children of this year's Oscar-winning films, "The Silence of the Lambs," which deals with a psychopathic serial killer given to cannibalism; "Bugsy," about a murderous gangster; the carnage of "Terminator 2"; and "JFK," which focuses on the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Dr. Eron, who chairs the American Pyschological Association's (APA) Commission on Violence and Youth, is concerned about the effect on children when these violent films reach the video market or network screens in a few months.
After 35 years of research, he has found what the industry has always said at congressional hearings didn't exist: a causal link.
"There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behaviour, crime, and violence in society," he testified before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs recently on behalf of the APA. "This finding of a causal link between the watching of violent television and subsequent aggressive behavior is not an isolated finding...," he told them.
In a Monitor interview Eron, research professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said: "Approval of violence is a problem with TV and young kids 10 to 12; it's difficult for them to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They don't really know TV is all made up.... Violence begets violence, if there's a lot of it on TV."
And in a way, the Oscars validate violence, he says. They reinforce "the view this [act in a film] is the real-life approved thing to do," he says. After kids see films like "Silence," he suggests they get the feeling that everybody's doing it, this is "the approved way" of violence.
He cites the efforts of the National Institute of Mental Health to do prevention research on antisocial or violent behavior of children at risk. "This is a public health problem, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have said that. One of their priority areas is violence, youth violence," he says.
Eron says that while "media violence alone cannot account for the serious development of serious antisocial behavior... the current level of interpersonal violence has certainly been boosted by the long-term effects of many persons' childhood exposure to a steady diet of violence."
One possible way to correct televised violence, he says, is industry self-regulation. To date that hasn't proved effective here. Eron is against censorship, and points to the fact that "every Western democracy regulates TV and does not permit violence in terms of amount and hours in which it's shown [when children could be watching.] Holland, Belgium, England, France, all those countries regulate it. And I don't think the citizens of those countries have had their rights violated."