Monday, March 20, 2006

Mean World Syndrome

Violent deaths, violence nearly resulting in death, violence for violence sake, and that’s just on TV shows, movies, and video games (are they still called video games?).

Those things do happen all too often in real life and we do see the results in our office, but those things happen much more frequently in our media, “consumed” in ever increasing amounts in our society. Media violence, particularly consumed via the TV, results in many psychosocial effects on individuals and our communities/society. Those effects were nicely summed up in a recent Psychiatric Times article as Aggression, Desensitization, and Fear.

Today, I want to touch on the Fear effect or “mean world syndrome” (phrase by George Gerbner). Many individuals after repeated exposure to media violence (particularly “news stories”) develop a distorted view of the world and their vulnerability or risk. They see the world as more violent, more risky, than it really is. I know a guy, who otherwise doesn’t intimidate easily and whose appearance, I think, would make him unlikely to be targeted, who is afraid to go into Chicago because he believes it’s so dangerous, anywhere/everywhere in the city. Many people are certain they will be a victim of a violent crime, despite the reality that a violent crime occurs to less than 1% of the population. There are people who are certain that every child is going to be stolen off the street by strangers, when in fact this occurs less than 100 times a year in all of the U.S. (this excludes those taken by family).

Many individuals are convinced the world is more like what they see on TV than what they experience in their day-to-day life. It is important to be cautious and make good choices, but this “mean world syndrome” can lead to serious problems. The “syndrome” can cause us to become “paralyzed”, to withdraw, to refuse to relate to others, to fear others, to undermine our natural tendency toward “community” and its benefits for individuals and society.

The “syndrome” can also cause violence, a “get them before they get me” pre-emptive mentality, escalating not diminishing violence with all its consequences.

Tomorrow I’ll “hit” the other ramifications of being bathed in media violence.

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