Swearing in television programs and video games can lead adolescents to adopt the coarse language and can also influence aggressive behavior according to a study published in the Journal Pediatrics.
“We didn’t know this before and I was really surprised because we’ve got all these ratings for television, film and video games for profanity,” said study author Sarah Coyne, Ph.D., assistant professor of family life at Brigham Young University and researcher of media and human development.
She added that a lot of the time, the ratings are incorrect.
“I think as a society we’ve gotten really lax concerning profanity,” she added. “I think it’s in part because we hear it all over the media.”
Researchers surveyed more 222 children ages 11 to 15 from a large Midwestern middle school. 135 of the participants were girls.
The students were asked about their favorite shows and games, including how often they watch television and play the games. They were asked how much profanity they thought they were exposed to and about their feelings about profanity. Researchers determined that exposure and their stance on profanity were significantly related.
Coyne said the statistics point to a “trickle-down effect.”
“So maybe you watch television, play video games with a lot of profanity and kind of you get more used to it,” she said. “You get more desensitized to it, you become more accepting of it, then you kind of start using it in your own life and then kind of show the lack of respect for people.”
The study found aggression could be presented physically – hitting, kicking or punching. However, it could also show in the form of relational aggression like gossiping or spreading rumors about someone.
“I think that parents should be a little bit more aware of what’s out there in the programs our kids are watching, and the video games they’re playing,” Coyne added. “They could be a little more vigilant in terms of profanity exposure.
She adds that television and video games need to be more accurately labeled for profanity.