WASHINGTON — A study spanning almost two decades has concluded that teenage boys who watch even one hour of TV per day are prone to aggression and violence in later years, with such behavior dramatically jumping among teens glued to the tube more than three hours a day.
The 17-year study, conducted by Columbia U. and New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, tracked the viewing habits of 700 kids as they passed through adolescence into adulthood. Specific TV programs were not named.
Findings, published Friday in the journal Science, said 14-year-old boys who watched less than one hour of TV per a day later got into an average of nine fights resulting in injury.
Adolescent males watching one to three hours of TV per day got into an average of 28 fights as they grew; those watching more than three hours got into an average of 42 fights.
Taking boys and girls together, 5.7% of those watching less than one hour of TV per day committed actual acts of violence or aggression, study found.
Of those watching one to three hours per day, 22.5% later showed aggression or engaged in violence, whether real-life fights, assaults or other illegal behavior such as robbery.
That rate jumped to 28.8% among kids watching more than three hours of TV in a 24-hour period.
What sets the Columbia U. research apart from other such surveys was the length of time participants were studied.
Still, the TV biz was quick to downplay the study, saying it didn’t provide conclusive proof of a connection between onscreen and real-life violence.
“For every study like this that finds a connection, there are studies that conclude just the opposite,” National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said. “There have been any number of other studies suggesting that there is no correlation between TV violence and violent behavior.”
Last year, the surgeon general issued a study that said there was no direct link between violent entertainment and actual acts of violence by America’s youth.
And a study released last month by the Center for Media & Public Affairs found that the amount of violence and sex on broadcast TV is declining.
Wharton said there is much more sex and violence on cable programs than on broadcast TV.
Both cablers and broadcasters stressed that they have worked in recent years to help parents screen what kids watch through the voluntary TV ratings system and V-chip blocking technology.
“We think this is a reasonable response by the industry to help parents monitor the viewing habits of their kids,” Wharton said.
Initial interviews were conducted when the kids were 14. Followup surveys were conducted again at ages 16, 22 and 30. Parents also were queried.
Researchers considered acts of violence and aggression to be assaults, threats, fights and other criminal behavior, such as robbery or use of a firearm. Such acts were reported first-hand by the study participants or gleaned through parents or legal documents.