For years now, violence on TV or cinema screens (and now games) has created debate regarding the possible influence on children and teenagers.

A study done in the early ’60s on children’s responses after watching an adult kick, insult and push a Bobo doll showed that such behaviour is absorbed by them. (Bobos are large, inflatable rocking dolls.) The children, individually exposed so as not to influence each other, were able to watch adults be rewarded or punished for abusing the doll.

This was a social learning study hypothesizing that people learn largely by observing, imitating, and modeling. It showed that boys and girls learn not only by being rewarded or punished, but also from watching another person being rewarded or punished. These well-known Bobo doll experiments resulted in more studies regarding the effects of observational learning, and are evidence of how young people can be influenced by watching violence on TV/computer screens.

What happened in these studies was that kids witnessing a person’s bullying of the dolls then copied that behaviour. This imitative aggression was more prevalent in boys than in girls. The experiments showed that when children saw adults being admonished for bullying the doll, there was less copycat behaviour, but regardless, some aggression was still evident. When the adults were seen to be rewarded with candies for bullying the dolls, the children imitated the actions much more.

The Bobo doll experiments were important, because they resulted in much further study related to observational learning.

Read this recent article regarding violent video games possibly resulting in three murders in northern Canada.

You can find many debates on the topic if you look online.

Here are some links to get you started:

Psychology Classics All Psychology Students Should Read: The Bobo Doll Experiment, Albert Bandura