Violence on television did not seem to have any effect on the behavior of girls. Also, watching non-violent programs didn't appear to make boys or girls more aggressive later in life, the team found.
"Parents need to know what really does constitute aggression-laden programming," Christakis said. "It's not just what parents think."
Indeed, the study suggests that trouble may lurk in cartoon programming as seemingly innocuous as Power Rangers and the animated Spiderman series, he said. Conceivably, he added, even old Warner Brothers' classics, such as the Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner series, could spell trouble.
"Kids in the 2- to 5-year-old age range don't understand the difference between cartoon and real violence," Christakis explained," particularly how it shows aggression without consequence. It sends the wrong message."
Not all children, of course, will become more aggressive by simply watching such cartoons, he said, but their risk for such behavior will grow.
L. Rowell Huesmann, director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan, said the study is "very well done," even though it does not prove that TV violence causes aggression.
"While the bad behavior being predicted is still behavior in childhood, society should be concerned about this effect, because the more aggressive child tends to grow up to be the more aggressive adult," he said. "So, if TV violence is increasing the aggression of preschoolers, it is likely to increase how aggressive they will be later in life as well."
Another expert agreed.
"For children who are first learning how to properly behave, exposure to aggressive and violent behavior featured on many programs and cartoons is counterproductive," Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, said in a statement. "Parents must seek to create curious, intelligen
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