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Be kind to one another

No one likes a bully. So why is there an apparent rise of bullying in segments of our society? In her recently submitted senior research project, Colleen Russo ’12, a cum laude psychology major from Iowa City, explored a relationship between bullying and television programming—and the results are worth viewing.

“Previous research indicates that violence on television has been shown to account for the greatest amount of variance in children’s aggression—more than any other single factor,” says Russo. “It seemed natural to me to investigate children’s television as a possible predictor of bullying behaviors, especially since children spend an average of 4.5 hours watching television each day. That’s a huge amount of influence.”

Colleen Russo '12

The rise in verbal aggression between children, including cyber bullying, compelled Russo to focus her project on the verbal content in children’s television over time. Russo believes that her research is the first to investigate that topic.

Her project, “Be Kind to One Another: An Historical Content Analysis of Verbal Interactions in Children’s Television,” encompasses two studies that examine the verbal content of children’s television over the past two decades.

The first study analyzed all neutral, positive and negative speech instances in 15 different children’s television shows over the last 20 years. The comparisons showed that the older shows have significantly more positive content, while the newer shows have significantly more negative content.

Fame vs. Benevolence

Interestingly, previous research shows that during the previous 40 years, fame was near the bottom of the list of 17 values in terms of importance in shows watched by children. In the current decade, however, fame was rated as the number one value.

On the other hand, values of community feeling and benevolence were rated as top values in the previous decades, but were on the bottom of the list of values for this present decade. Research also shows that, according to assessments of college students, the value of empathy has dropped 40 percent over the past three decades, with the largest drop occurring after 2000.

This study also showed that parents and adults are treated significantly worse by children in the newer shows compared to the older shows, and that teachers are portrayed more negatively in the newer shows than they are in the older shows.

Russo’s second study analyzed ratings of 17 values within each of the same shows. Results showed that the value of “benevolence” is significantly more important in the older shows. The study also indicated that “fame,” as well as other values associated with bullying behaviors, are significantly more important in the newer shows.

Russo, who is heading to Vanderbilt to study for a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, wants to get the word out about this information. “It’s so relevant to what’s going on right now,” she says. “In an ideal world, I could put this in front of Disney, Nickelodeon, and other children’s television producers. And we could start to make changes today.”

The paper’s title, “Be Kind to One Another,” is a quote from the talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who Russo says, “is doing all she can to raise awareness and help put an end to bullying.” She adds, “It sounds so simple, but at the end of the day, kindness is what matters the most. And everyone deserves respect.”

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