Media Violence Facts and Statistics

Prevalence of Media Violence

The Television Violence Monitoring Project examined the amount of violence on American television for three consecutive years, as well as contextual variables that may make it more likely for aggression and violence to be accepted, learned, and imitated. They found:
  • 61 percent of television programs contain some violence, and only 4 percent of television programs with violent content feature an "antiviolence" theme.
  • 44 percent of the violent interactions on television involve perpetrators who have some attractive qualities worthy of emulation.
  • 43 percent of violent scenes involve humor either directed at the violence or used by characters involved with violence.
  • Nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television feature no immediate punishment for or condemnation of violence.
  • 40 percent of programs feature "bad" characters who are never or rarely punished for their aggressive actions.

The report notes that many television programs fail to depict the harmful consequences of violence. Specifically, it finds that of all violent behavioral interactions on television, 58 percent depict no pain, 47 percent depict no harm, and 40 percent depict harm unrealistically. Of all violent scenes on television, 86 percent feature no blood or gore. Only 16 percent of violent programs feature the long-term, realistic consequences of violence. 1

A recent study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that from 1999 to 2001, the amount of serious violence on television decreased by 17 percent. On the broadcast networks, the amount of violence decreased by 11 percent. On premium cable, the amount of violence decreased by 65 percent, while on basic cable, violence increased by 20 percent. The amount of violence in top grossing feature films remained essentially the same.

The Link Between Violent Television and Movies and Aggressive Behavior

There is now solid evidence to suggest a relationship between exposure to violent television and movies and aggressive behavior. Researchers have found that children are more physically and verbally aggressive immediately after watching violent television and movies. It is also clear that aggressive children and teens watch more violent television than their less aggressive peers. A few studies have found that exposure to television and movie violence in childhood is related to increased aggression years later, but further research is needed in this area.

Violent Music Videos and Aggressive Behavior

A relatively small amount of research has focused on the impact of music videos with violent or antisocial themes. Researchers have found that exposure to violent or antisocial rap videos can increase aggressive thinking, but no research has yet tested how such exposure directly affects physical aggression.

Violence in Video Games

Children's use of video games has become widespread. A recent survey of families with school-age children found that 74% of families with school-age children own video game equipment, and school-age children play video games an average of 53 minutes per day. Parents are less likely to supervise their children's use of video games than they are to supervise their use of television. While most parents (88%) report regularly supervising their children's use of television, only about half report regularly supervising their children's use of video games (48%). 2

A 2001 review of the 70 top-selling video games found 89% contained some kind of violence. Almost half of all games (49%) contained serious violence, while 40% contained comic violence. In 41% of the games, violence was necessary for the protagonists to achieve their goals. In 17% of the games, violence was the primary focus of the game itself. 3

The impact of the widespread use of violent video games is a cause of concern for researchers, because they fear that the interactive nature of video games may increase the likelihood of children learning aggressive behavior and that the increasing realism might encourage greater identification with characters and more imitation of the behaviors of video game models.

To date, violent video games have not been studied as extensively as violent television or movies. The number of studies investigating the impact of such games on youth aggression is small, there have been none on serious violence, and none has been longitudinal. A recent meta-analysis of these studies found that the exposure to violent video games has a relatively small effect on physical aggression and a moderate effect on aggressive thinking. The impact of video games on violent behavior remains to be determined. 4


  1. Smith, S. L., & Donnerstein, E. (1998). Harmful effects of exposure to media violence: Learning of aggression, emotional desensitization, and fear. In R. G. Geen & E. Donnerstein (Eds.), Human aggression: Theories, research, and implications for social policy (pp. 167-202). New York: Academic Press. Cited in: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General , p. 88.
  2. Woodard, E. H. & Gridina, N. (2000). Media in the home 2000, The fifth annual survey of parents and children . Philadelphia, PA: The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
  3. Children Now (2001). Fair Play: Violence, Gender, and Race in Video Games .
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General , p. 92.