There’s no denying that violence and negativity pervade TV, movies, and countless other forms of media. For a long time, I thought that media violence would make people more violent. You might think that, too. However, I encountered a theory that made me think about the effects of media violence in a new way.
After decades of research, University of Pennsylvania communication scholar George Gerbner discovered that media violence makes people more fearful of being the victims of violence instead of making them more likely to commit violent acts.
Gerbner’s theory is called the “mean world syndrome.” People who consume more than four hours of TV a day are more likely to think of the world as more dangerous than it actually it is. I can understand that. If you consume negativity, you’re going to think more negatively about others and the world.
I don’t know if Gerbner’s concepts of the mean world apply to my experience with the media. When I was growing up, my family watched the news to know what was going on, but we didn’t watch it regularly or for hours at a shot. The way my family uses media hasn’t really changed over time. My dad enjoys sports programs, and my mom and I love British murder mysteries. There are a few shows, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that we all watch together when I’m home from college.
When I’m at college, I watch less TV because I don’t have cable. I keep up with This is Us and a few British shows online, but that’s about it. My friends and I watch a lot of movies together. They range from Captain America: Civil War and Hacksaw Ridge to 10 Things I Hate About You. As you can see, our collective taste is all over the place.
There’s more violence in the media I consume at college than in the media I consume at home, but I don’t really think about it or notice it. Perhaps the violence in the media I consume could make me think negatively about the world, but I don’t think I consume enough of it to notice any real effects on my behavior.
How about you? Do Gerbner’s ideas about the mean world resonate with your media experiences?