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NCTV's Cartoon & Hostile Humor Bibliography

This complete review of the research through 1984 attempts to cover all the published studies on the effects of cartoon violence on children. In all, 28 of 31 studies document at least some harmful effect from cartoon violence on normal children.  In 5 of these, the effects did not quite reach statistical significance because of the small group size. No study found a benefit (catharsis) from cartoon violence.  One study found defects in the measure of violence they were using (e.g. a TAT rating scale) and could draw no conclusions.

Many studies found harmful effects on one measure or one group but not another. However, different studies have found measurable harmful effects on every type of child (e.g., boys or girls, aggressive children or all children). Some studies on TV violence have even found that otherwise advantaged children are the ones most harmfully affected by violent entertainment. This suggests that all types of children are affected, but that short studies, measuring only a limited range of behavior for a limited period of time, may detect only some of the effects.

It is surprising that there is so much evidence of harm, since most of the studies look at only 10 minutes to a few hours of programming while the average child may view 4-7 hours of cartoons every week for several years. The harmful effects of violent comic books, fairy tales, and adult humor are also briefly mentioned. Cartoon violence remains very common on U.S. TV.

The cartoon research studies examined the effects on over 4300 children and come from six different countries (U.S., England, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, and Lebanon). Some of the cartoons found harmful in various research studies include Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, and Mighty Mouse.  Behaviors increased by cartoon violence included hitting, kicking, choking, throwing, holding other children down, pushing, hurting animals, selfishness and anxiety. Sharing and school performance both decreased due to violent cartoons.

I strongly recommend families never allow their children to watch the above cartoons.  There are fortunately many non-violent and pro-social cartoon and children shows.  Examples would be Arthur, Magic School Bus, the Jetsons, Winnie the Pooh, the Get Along Gang, Peanuts, Madeleine, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, The Flintstones, and Dragontales.

Annotated Bibliography on Cartoon Violence and Hostile Humor (1949-1984)

Hoult, T.B.(1949). Comic books and juvenile delinquency. Sociology and Social Research 33:779-784.

Juvenile delinquents were found to have a higher exposure to comics than non-delinquents.

Goldstein, N.S.(1956). The effect of animated cartoons on hostility in children. New York University. Dissert Abst Internatl 17:1125.

200 New York City children (avg. age 11-years-old) watched 15 hours of cartoons over 5 days or served as controls. Hostility was measured by TAT and Rosenzweig Picture Frustration Tests. The tests were found to be inaccurate measures of hostility and prevented any conclusions.

Siegel, A.E.(1956). Film-mediated fantasy aggression and strength of aggressive drive. Child Development 27:365-378.

24 four-year-old nursery school children viewed a violent Woody Woodpecker cartoon and a non-violent Little Red Hen cartoon which were rated as equally interesting. The children were much more likely to be rated as anxious during the Woody Woodpecker cartoon. During free play after Woody Woodpecker the children were somewhat more aggressive (hostile, destructive) and somewhat more anxious and guilty but the differences were not statistically significant. Boys were much more aggressive in play than girls.

Lovaas,O.I.(1961). Effect of exposure to symbolic aggression on aggressive behavior. Child Development 32:37-44.

Children were permitted to play with either of two toys, each of which could be operated by depressing a lever. One lever operated a hitting doll, and the other lever caused a ball to rise within a cage-like structure. Children who had viewed an aggressive cartoon played with the hitting doll more than the children who had seen a nonaggressive film.

Mussen,P. & Rutherford, E.(1961). Effects of aggressive cartoons on children's aggressive play. J Abnormal & Soc Psychol 62:461-464.

36 first graders were divided into 6 groups. Half of the groups were frustrated. Each group then viewed an aggressive cartoon, nonaggressive cartoon or no cartoon. The aggressive cartoon showed a weed choking a flower and a panda bear then struggling to destroy the weed. The non-violent cartoon featured cooperative play between a frog and a duck. After viewing the aggressive cartoon, 67% were rated as tense compared to 33% of the others. Children viewing the aggressive cartoon were much more likely (150%) to want to pop a balloon which was considered a subtle way of measuring aggressive urges.

Bandura, A., Ross D. & Ross, S.A.(1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. J Abnormal & Soc Psychol 66:3-11.

96 3-5-year-olds were divided into 4 groups: one seeing real-life aggressive models, a second seeing the same models on film, a third seeing a cartoon version of the same acts, and the fourth group not exposed to aggressive models. The children then engaged in play in a playroom. Aggression such as striking a doll with a mallet, shooting a toy gun, or beating on a Bozo doll doubled in the three groups exposed to violent models. Imitative aggression was high in the three viewing groups. Boys were more violent than girls but both groups showed major increases in aggression, slightly more in the girls than the boys.

Sanders,J.T.(1969). A developmental study of preferences for television cartoons. Dissert Abst Internatl 30:1887-B.

210 kindergarten through sixth grade children ranked cartoons by preference. The most important source of variation was sex. Males strongly preferred cartoons with highly exaggerated masculine sex-typed heroes and themes (high violence) while females had a less uniform pattern of preferences.

Berkowitz, L.(1970). Aggressive humor as a stimulus to aggressive responses. J Personality & Soc Psychol 16:710-717.

College women displayed increased verbal hostility towards a peer after listening to a comedian's hostile humor (Don Rickles) but not after a friendly comic routine (George Carlin).

Hapkiewicz, W.G. & Roden,A.H.(1971). The effect of aggressive cartoons in children's interpersonal play. Child Development 42:1583-1585.

Children watched a Woody Woodpecker cartoon or a nonviolent one and were placed in a toy room where one toy was a peep show that only one child could use at a time. Boys who viewed the aggressive cartoon were less likely to share with their counterparts.

Osborn,D.K. & Endsley,R.C.(1971). Emotional reactions of young children to TV violence. Child Development 42:321-331.

25 boys and girls 4-5-years-old saw 3-minute film clips on TV in varying order of 1) an intruder strangling a grandmother in the presence of a young child. 2) a Spiderman cartoon with Spiderman fighting several monsters. 3) children visiting grandfather's farm 4) a cartoon of a boy and his dog on a picnic. Emotionality was measured by GSR (Galvanic Skin Resistance) measurements. The violent programs with the intruder or Spiderman caused significant increases while the non-violent programs did not.

Rowley, S.L.(1971). Film cartoon violence and children's aggressive behavior. Doctoral dissertation, Boston University. Dissert Abst Internatl 32:2384-B.

96 first graders were randomly assigned to watch an aggressive cartoon or listen to a nonaggressive story and frustrated or not frustrated. None of the conditions yielded significant differences.

Steuer, F.B., Applefield, J.M. & Smith, R.(1971). Televised aggression and the interpersonal aggression of preschool children. J Experimental Child Pscyhol 11:442-447.

Ten 4-year-olds viewed 10 minutes of violent or non-violent cartoon material chosen from Saturday morning network television each day for 11 school days. Their aggressive behavior (hitting, pushing, kicking, squeezing, choking, holding down, throwing objects at another) was measured for two weeks before the cartoons and each day immediately after the cartoons. Viewers of the violent cartoons committed 165% more acts of physical interpersonal aggression during the study period (106 vs. 40) which was statistically significant.

Ellis,G.T. & Sekyra,F.(1972). The effect of aggressive cartoons on the behavior of first grade children. J. Psychol 81:37-43.

51 first graders saw either an aggressive TV cartoon about a violent football game, a non-violent cartoon music show, or had a discussion. Physical aggression (striking, pushing, pulling, kicking, tripling, butting, and throwing) in a normal school setting was found significantly and considerably increased by the viewing of the violent cartoon.

Hart, L.R.(1972). Immediate effects of exposure to filmed cartoon aggression on boys. Dissertation Abstracts Internatl 32:6648-B.

8-9 year old boys viewed TV cartoons of 1)high violence, 2) high excitement but low aggression or 3) no cartoon. No increase in aggressive play behavior was detected. TAT and inkblot tests were also used although these tests have been found defective for measuring aggression.

Ross, L.B.(1972). The effect of aggressive cartoons on the group play of children. Doctoral dissertation, Miami University. Dissert Abst Internatl 33:2331-B.

96 kindergarten children were randomly assigned to view an aggressive cartoon, a nonaggressive cartoon or no cartoon. Children watching the aggressive cartoon were later more likely to commit aggression against another child. Acts of major violence showed no increase.

Stein, A.H., Friedrich, L.K. & Vondracek, F.(1972). Television content and young children's behavior. In J.P. Murphy, E.P. Rubenstein & G.A. Comstock (eds), Television and Social Behavior (Vol. 2). Washington D.C.: U.S. Govt Printing Office.

Demonstrated that children at play in nursery school settings will increase the level of aggression following daily viewings of a program like Batman.

Stoessel, R.E.(1972). The effects of televised aggression cartoons on children's behavior. Dissertation Abstracts Internatl 33:942-2B.

Two groups of children either watched nationally televised cartoons high in aggression or sat quietly for 30 minutes. Cartoon viewing was found to increase levels of aggression on psychological tests and also increased the likelihood that the children would aggress against a living animal which showed pain when punished.

Berkowitz,L., Parker & West(1973). Words and symbols as stimuli to aggressive responses. In J. Knutson (Ed.), Control of Aggression: Implications from Basic Research. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.

School children were more likely to choose words with aggressive meanings if they had just read a war comic book rather than a neutral comic book.

Friedrich, L.K. & Stein, A.H.(1973). Aggressive and pro-social television programs and the natural behavior of preschool children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 38:4, Serial No. 151.

Nursery school children viewed Batman and Superman or Mister Roger's Neighborhood or neutral films over a period of 12 days. Assaultive behavior decreased for both the neutral and Mister Roger's groups but not the violent cartoon groups in which the cartoons served to maintain their levels of aggression. Some subgroups of children had unexplainable changes in pro-social behavior.

Surbeck,E(1973). Young children's emotional reactions to T.V. violence. The effects of children's perceptions of reality. Univ. of Georgia. Dissert Abst Internatl 35:5139-A.

64 children 4-11-years-old viewed televised violence by real-life characters or the same violence by puppet characters, or a non-violence film segment. Both types of violence caused decreases in heart rate, were rated as scarier by the children, and were more likely to be remembered.

Hapkiewicz, W.G. & Stone, R.D.(1974). The effect of aggressive cartoons in children's interpersonal play. Child Development 42:1583-1585.

An aggressive cartoon was not effective at increasing aggression but the viewing of the Three Stooges, an aggressive comedy program, did increase assaultive behavior.

Davidson,E.S.(1975). Effects of aggressive, neutral, and anti-aggressive cartoons on children's tolerance of aggression by others. SUNY Stony Brook. Dissert Abst Internatl 37:435-B.

60 third graders saw 3 network cartoons, either high in violence, neutral, or "anti-aggressive" (a cartoon with aggressive and anti-aggressive incidents). A test was used to see how slowly children react to 2 other younger children fighting whom they were supposed to be supervising. It found that girls in the aggressive cartoon were slower to respond than girls in the neutral group.

Wiegman,O.(1975). Aanstedkelijkheid van gedrag (Research study of the effect of puppet film violence on young children). Utrecht, 1975. In A.P. Goldstein (Ed.): Aggression in Global Perspective. New York: Pergamon Press.

3 versions of puppet show were shown to 4-6-year-old Dutch children: an aggressive, a pro-social, and a neutral one. Children could then choose to cause another child to burst into tears by frightening it with a witch's mask (aggressive) or make the child happy by choosing a rabbit mask (pro-social). The aggressive puppet film caused an increase (33%) in aggressive behavior while the pro-social film caused a decrease in such behavior (60%).

Furu,T.(1977). Cognitive style and television viewing patterns of children. Research Reports, Department of Audio-visual Education, International Christian Univ., Japan.

Little, S.F.(1977). Reactions to the Surgeon General's report on televised violence: 1972-1975. U.S. International University. Dissert Abst International 39:5520-B.

Notes 1969 Surgeon General's Advisory Committee finding cartoons the most violent of all commercial programming in the number of acts of violence. Uses Univ of Pennsylvania violence index and finds a decrease in cartoon violence between 1972 and 1977 of 20% on network TV.

Baron,R.A.(1978). The influence of hostile and non-hostile humor upon physical aggression. Pers Soc Psychol Bulletin 4:77-81.

41 male college students at Univ of Texas were divided into two groups and either angered by a second student or not. They were exposed to 1)non-hostile cartoons, 2) hostile cartoons (e.g. a woman is shown peaking on the phone, while in the background, body dangles from a rope; she remarks, "It all turned around just as you said it would, Mother."), or 3)non-humorous pictures. The students were then given a chance to shock the second student as part of a different task. The hostile cartoon caused an increase in anger and an increase in the intensity of shocks given the second student. The non-hostile humor caused a decrease in the shock intensity administered. Angered students did give somewhat more intense shocks than non-angered students.

Belson, W.A.(1978). Television Violence and the Adolescent Boy. Hampshire, England: Saxon House.

A detailed survey of 1600 randomly selected London adolescents found that TV violence was the leading cause of violence out of 227 causes investigated. Movie and comic book violence were also found to have harmful effects. The viewing of cartoon violence (Tom & Jerry, etc.) was not found associated with increases in serious violence in adolescents, but was found associated with increases in minor violence.

Murray, J.P. et al(1978). Sequential analysis: Another approach to describing the stream of behavior in children's interactions. Australian J Psychology 30:207-215.

Surbeck, E. & Endsley, R.(1979). Children's emotional reactions to TV violence: Effects of film character, reassurance, age and sex. J Soc Psychol 109:269-281.

64 children 4-6 and 8-11-years-old were shown video and live acting of puppet and human violence. Video violence was as frightening as live violence. Puppet violence, though found frightening, was less scary than human violence. Reassurance did decrease the scariness.

Singer, D. & Singer,J.(1980). Television viewing and aggressive behavior in preschool children: a field study. Ann NY Acad Sci 347:289-303.

Zuckerman, D.M., Singer, D.G., & Singer, J.L.(1980). Television viewing, children's reading and related classroom behavior. J Communication 30:166-174.

185 3rd-5th grade middle-class children with IQs averaging 110 were studied with a careful record by parents of all TV viewing during 4 weeks at home and other home behaviors, as well as teachers' behavioral ratings of academic attitudes. Results found that viewing violent fantasy programs (Incredible Hulk, Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman) predicted lower average amount of time spent reading; that viewing these programs also predicted lower imaginative behavior; and that viewing cartoons (violent) predicts lower enthusiasm in school. Public television, comedies, and nonviolent dramas had no harmful effects.

Koelle, B.S.(1981). Primary children's stories as a function of exposure to violence and cruelty in the folk fairy tale. Univ of Pennsylvania. Dissert Abst International 42:1203-B.

School children heard four Grimm fairy tales with varying levels of violence. They then made up their own stories and were also interviewed. The author reports the results support an anxiety-reaction theory and cautions against fairy tale violence, at least for young children.

Singer,J.L. & Singer, D.G.(1981). Television, Imagination, and Aggression: A Study of Preschoolers. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

A very detailed 1-year field study of 138 nursery school children included the parents keeping a careful record of the programs watched at home for 2 week periods 4 times during the year. The viewing of violent television was found casually related to violence on the playground and explained 10-25% of the variance. Cartoon programming (Mighty Mouse, Spiderman, Bugs Bunny, Popeye) contributed to this effect. Public television (PBS), Captain Kangaroo, and Mister Roger's had the opposite effect. This is one of the most detailed studies ever done on the effects of violent TV on children.

Huston-Stein,A., Fox,S, Greer, D., Watkins, B.A. & Whitaker, J.(1981). The effects of TV action and violence on children's social behavior. J. Genetic Psychology 138:183-191.

66 3-5-year-old children viewed Saturday morning cartoons. They were divided into 4 groups watching 1) high violence-high action, 2)low violence-high action, 3)low violence-low action, 4) no TV. Non-violent imaginative play decreased considerably for only the high violence-high action group. Serious physical aggression (physical or verbal attacks on other children or objects, including an inflated clown) was found decreased (by 40%) in children in groups 3 & 4. Children who saw the high action programs, especially the one with violent content, did not satiate on aggressive activity and their physical aggression remained higher. (In a personal communication, the author stated that this study has been repeated with a low action-high violence group included. This latter study demonstrated that the most serious element maintaining aggressive behavior was the high violence level in the cartoons).

Hawkins, R.P. & Pingree, S.(1981). Uniform messages and habitual viewing: Unnecessary assumptions in social reality effects. Human Communication Research 7:291-301.

A study of 1085 children in Perth, Australia from second to eleventh grade found that viewing habits predicted their beliefs about the world. Crime adventure programs and cartoons were more likely to predict beliefs in exaggerated levels of violence in society. The violence of the cartoons appears to be retained and used to construct a false understanding of the social reality.

Teachman, G. & Orme, M. (1981). Effects of aggressive and pro-social film material on altruistic behavior of children. Psychol Rep 48:699-702.

120 8-10-year-old Toronto children saw 3 types of programs (aggressive vs neutral vs pro-social) in either a real-life or cartoon format. Aggressive programs were the violent chariot race from Ben Hur or a violent episode of Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner. Pro-social cartoon was Davy and Goliath (a boy and his dog) while a Donald Duck episode was the neutral cartoon. Children won tokens good for a prize and also had the opportunity to donate some of the tokens to help a needy child. Both the aggressive real-life and the aggressive cartoon TV shows caused a decrease in donating.

Bjorkvist, K.(1983). Children's physiological, verbal, and nonverbal reactions to different types of film violence. Aggressive Behavior 9:115-116.

Measuring blood pressure, facial expression, and verbal expression, researchers at Abo Akademi in Turku, Finland found that the more realistic the violence the more it caused an increase in anxiety in children viewers. It was less important whether the violence was in cartoon format or performed by human actors. Cartoon violence was found to increase anxiety.

Kolpadoff, M.H.(1983). The relationship between aggressive behavior and imaginative play skills in preschoolers. Dissert Abst Internatl 44:1241-B.

Children high in aggression were lower in imaginative play and had more negative play interactions. Aggressive children were much more likely to engage in play involving "superhero" themes.

Day, Richard, & Ghandour, Maryam(1984). The effect of television-mediated aggression and real-life aggression on the behavior of Lebanese children. J Experimental Child Psychology 38: 718.

96 male and female Arab Lebanese 6 to 8-year-olds were divided into four groups. One saw a ten minute film clip of "10 Days in Munich," a thriller with numerous soldiers shooting other soldiers, hand-to-hand combat, and screams such as "I want to kill him." The second groups saw a violent Lebanese cartoon, "Granderizer," with shooting, fist-fights, and aggressive statements. A third group watched a clip of the non-violent Sound of Music movie. A fourth group, meant to be a control condition, experienced a massive and bloody shelling of beaches in the neighborhood near the West Beirut school on the day before the testing. A very high level of tension existed at the school on the actual day of testing. In each condition, children went into a playroom in groups of 4. Measures of imitative violence (shooting another child with a dart gun, hitting, holding down, kicking another child, shouting "kill him" or "shoot him") and non-imitative violence (pushing, shooting in the air, breaking play materials) were collected.

Significant and major increases in interpersonal violence occurred in boys viewing the violent film, the violent cartoon, or experiencing the real-life violence compared to the non-violent film (150% increases in each violent condition. Boys were 2-6 times more violent than the girls, depending on the condition. Girls did show an increase in violent behavior from the violent film (40%) and violent cartoon (67%), but these did not reach statistical significance. The girls in the group experiencing the real-life war violence did experience a significant 250% increase in violent behavior. Boys were 2-6 times more violent than girls. The author notes that the Lebanese boys were much more aggressive than American boys tested in similar experiments in the U.S. Although the real-life war experience caused major increases in violent behavior in girls, their level of violence was still 40% lower than boys. The war had clearly the strongest harmful effect on the girls but the level of violent play by the boys was equally high in all three conditions (University of Beirut).

Singer, Jerome L., Singer, Dorothy G., & Rapaczynski, Wanda S.(1984). Family patterns and TV viewing as predictors of children's beliefs and aggression. J Communication 34(2):73-89.

63 4-year-olds were studied in 1977 and again at age 9 in 1982. A strong link between the viewing of violent programs and later aggressive behavior was found. Even when family and other variables, such as a disposition to act aggressively, were controlled for, heavy TV viewing was a good predictor of aggressive behavior and of a belief that the world is a rather "mean and scary" place. The most important family variables were a parental emphasis on physical force and power, and a TV environment in which children are not restricted in their viewing and where TV is seen positively as a source of entertainment and recreation. The authors warn the parents, educators, and broadcasters need to be much more aware of the long-term effects of TV. violence. In particular they point out that, in the USA at least, young children's TV viewing is often of cartoons filled with aggressive acts and aggressive solutions to situations of conflict.

Other references of interest:

Josephson, W.L. (1987). Television violence and children's aggression: Testing the social script and disinhibition predictions. J Pers Soc Psychol 53:882-892.

Second and third graders watched either a violent or nonviolent program and were later exposed to a cue associated with a violent TV program. The students' aggression was measured by observing their behavior during a game of floor hockey. The more highly aggressive boys showed a higher level of aggression following the TV program alone. The violent TV program alone produced more aggression than did the nonviolent TV program.

Huesmann, L.R. & Eron, L.D. (1986). Television and the aggressive child: A cross-national comparison. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Leibert, R.M. (1986). Effects of television on children and adolescents. J of Developmental and Pediatrics 7: 43-48.