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What Animated Cartoons Tell Viewers About Assault

NCJ Number
Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: 2008 Pages: 181-201
Hugh Klein; Kenneth S. Shiffman
Date Published
21 pages
Relying on a content analysis of a medium to which young people are regularly exposed beginning at an early age and extending over many years (i.e., animated cartoons), this study identified the types of messages this exposure provided about violence, specifically simple assault.
The study found that simple assault was the single most common type of violence shown in cartoons. Although the prevalence of hitting, punching, and slapping has declined over time, there was a significant resurgence noted from the 1970s onward. Although simple assaults have declined, however, cartoon scripts have shown an increase in nonviolent, aggressive content. When nonviolent, aggressive content is coupled with the simple assault portrayed, the study concludes that the aggressive content of animated cartoons has not changed significantly over time. On balance, there is no particular pattern associated with the characteristics of the perpetrators or victims of assaults. Rarely did victims experience any adverse effects from being assaulted. The overall message is that simple assault is not very serious, since it rarely causes any significant harm to its victims. Reasons for the assaults involved anger, revenge, and inherent mean-spiritedness. This suggests to viewers that assault and aggression is a common way to respond to negative feelings toward others. Counterprogramming is warranted, since this has been shown to be effective in combating negative or undesirable media content. The cartoons chosen for the study sample were selected randomly from among all cartoons produced between the years 1930 and the mid-1990s by all of the major animation studios. The study relied on a content analysis in examining the types of messages that cartoons provide about hand-related violence. Pilot-tested, fixed-format coding sheeting was used in the content analysis. 2 figures, 8 notes, and 35 references