MONDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Is TV turning our kids into
fountains of four-letter words? Maybe so, says a new study that
finds a link between foul-mouthed inner-city children and
profanity-ridden shows and video games.
However, the research doesn't confirm that exposure to
trash-talking adults directly leads to swearing among kids, nor
does it explain why non-aggressive cussing might be a bad thing.
And the actual size of the possible effect is unknown, although the
study's lead author called it "moderate."
"As a society we've gotten pretty lax concerning profanity. We're desensitized to it," said the author, Sarah M. Coyne, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University. "This study shows that it does matter. It matters where they hear it, and parents should maybe be a little more vigilant about profanity exposure in the media."
Several studies have shown that the use of profanity has grown
over time, Coyne said. Its use, she said, matters. "It can be
offensive, and a lot of people will use it to hurt people. If a
peer uses it toward you, there's a physiological reaction that
occurs. If you look at it in those terms, it is problematic."
Coyne said she was inspired to launch the study by research that
has suggested kids who watch violent TV and movies are more likely
to be aggressive. It's a difficult thing to prove definitively,
since it could be that kids who are more aggressive in the first
place are naturally drawn to violent programs. The most reliable
way to do such research would be to randomly assign some kids to
watch violent programming and others to not, but that would raise
ethical qualms if it were to be done over a long term.
For the study, investigators surveyed 223 adolescents (87 boys
and 135 girls) in an inner-city middle school in the Midwest. Their
average age was about 12.5 years. Among other things, the
researchers asked them about their favorite TV shows and video
games, and how often they use curse words.
Those who watched TV shows and played video games with more
profanity were more likely to use such language, the researchers
found. But the study's design didn't allow researchers to
definitively say whether the exposure directly caused the kids to
cuss more. Nor could they specify how much of a difference the
exposure may have made in terms of the greater odds that a kid
would use profanity.
It's also not clear whether boys or girls were more likely to
use foul language, and the study didn't examine when the kids used
Commenting on the findings, Douglas A. Gentile, an associate
professor of psychology at Iowa State University, said the study
fills a hole in existing research about children.
It also shows the power of television, he said. "You learn from
whatever you look at. Whatever you see you'll learn something about
it, even if you don't know it."
That works for educational programming, he said, and for other
types of viewing, too, such as shows with profanity. "Part of what
you learn is what's appropriate," Gentile added.
The study is published in the November issue of the journal
child development from the U.S. National Library
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