Public Release: 

New Television Violence Analysis Suggests Public Service Announcements Ineffective

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC-CH News Services
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL -- A study of 100 public service announcements produced by the U.S. cable television industry to reduce violence among adolescents indicates that the PSAs are unlikely to be effective because of poor design, researchers say.

The content analysis by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers showed that many of the announcements used celebrities to tell adolescents not to be violent but said little or nothing about the consequences of violent behavior.

"We found that narratives that show the consequences of violence, rather than PSAs that have celebrities simply telling kids how to behave, are much more appealing to adolescents and therefore more likely to work," said Dr. Jane Brown, professor of journalism and mass communication at UNC-CH and principal investigator for the study. "Some celebrities used in the PSAs would not be believed because they have been involved in violence in their personal or professional lives."

The new research, released at a Washington, D.C., news conference Wednesday (March 26), is part of the larger continuing National Television Violence Study, which the cable television industry began in 1994 in response to concerns about violence shown on television.

UNC-CH researchers also found:

  • Violent people portrayed in the PSAs were never punished, and the messages rarely offered useful advice or concrete suggestions for alternatives to violence.

  • None of the spots addressed the use of guns in schools.

  • PSAs prominently displayed corporate sponsorship statements or logos, sometimes for as long as half the message, and wasted time that could have been spent on the messages.

"New analysis of a national survey of 2,023 adolescents showed that experience with violence differed dramatically among youngsters," Brown said. "We identified seven different segments of American kids based on their self-reported experience with fighting and weapons, and these groups also differed by gender, family background, attitudes toward violence and willingness to participate in anti-violence programs in their communities."

Future media campaigns designed to reduce violence should take into account differing experiences and attitudes about violence and create messages that directly and realistically address adolescents? fears, beliefs, behaviors and circumstances, she said.

"Anti-violence campaigns could be more effective if messages portrayed realistic alternatives to violent behavior," Brown said.

Co-authors of the PSA study are Dr. Frank Biocca, formerly at UNC-CH and now at Michigan State University, Institute for Research in Social Science staff member Gary Gaddy, and Greg Makris and Jay Bernhardt, graduate students in journalism and public health, respectively.

Among the chief findings of the National Television Violence Study was that over the past two years, virtually no change has occurred in the amount or presentation of violence on television. Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara identified 18,000 violent incidents in a sample of more than 2,000 hours of television programs.

Previous research has shown that exposure to TV violence can contribute to more aggressive attitudes and behaviors, desensitization to others' pain and exaggerated fear in viewers. Most violence portrayed on television minimizes pain and harm to victims and consequences for perpetrators who, in 40 percent of incidents examined, could be seen as attractive role models.

The universities of Wisconsin at Madison and Texas at Austin also participated in the television study.

Wisconsin researchers found that children became significantly more interested in programs when ratings on the shows said they were too young to watch them and recommended that the television industry change the current rating system. Texas investigators found that non-fiction programs such as news, talk shows and feature magazines contained significantly less violence than fictional programs -- 38 percent vs. 61 percent -- but had not reduced their violent content in the past two years either.

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Note: Brown can be reached at (202) 296-4321 Wednesday following the Washington, D.C., news conference and at (919) 962-4089 or 962-1671 thereafter.

Contact: David Williamson

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