Television Violence and Guns for Brazilian Children

Associated Press reported:

In 2002, Sao Paulo police killed 825 suspects and felons in this state of 38 million inhabitants, according to the State Public Security Department. That's more than double the police killings of suspects and felons across the entire United States for the same year, which FBI figures put at 339.

The number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2002 in Sao Paulo state totaled 144, the public security department reported. The number for the whole United States was practically the same -- 148, according to the Washington-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Violence is almost endemic throughout Brazil, not just in Sao Paulo, its most populous state.  In 2002, there was an average of 22.31 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in Brazil, according to the Justice Ministry. That compares with just 5.6 per 100,000 in the United States, according to the FBI.

Where does the culture of violence come from?  There is no clear answer.  One standard candidate for causal agent is violence on television.  In a previous article titled Violence On Demand, the subject was about whether Brazilians believe that there was too much violence shown on television even as they show that they could not refrain from watching those programs.  According to social learning theory, children learn by imitation and therefore continued exposure to violent and agressive acts on television cause them to accept violence as normative.  There is some evidence of social imitation of aggression in laboratory settings, but it is far from clear that those results can be transplanted into real life situations.

The purpose of this article is to examine another aspect of social learning.  Specifically, we are interested in toy guns and ammunition that are purchased for children.  There are some parents who vehemently refuse to purchase any toys with aggressive intent (guns, knifes, swords and even baseball bats) for their children.  Still, these parents are often upset to find that their children can transform any common object into these weapons of violence when they play.  Thus, a stick becomes a sword, and so on.

We will now refer to some survey data from the 2004 TGI Brasil study.  This is a survey of 5,312 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old conducted in Brazil during the first half of 2004.  During the survey, the respondent is shown a list of toys (such as balls, bicycles, cars, dolls, electronic games, puzzles, robots, teddy bears, guns, etc.) and asked to check those that they have purchased in the past 12 months.  

According to the survey, only 2.1% of the respondents have purchased toy guns during the past 12 months, either for themselves or as presents.  The next chart shows the breakdown by socio-economic level, education and age/sex groups.  The purchasers of guns are either teenagers or people of typical parental age.  On the average, they are also less affluent and less educated.

(Source: 2003 TGI Brasil)

There is an interesting tie-back to the subject of violence on television.  Among these survey respondents, 50% of the completely agreed with the statement: "There is too much violence on television."  And among among those who completely agree with this statement, 1.7% of them have purchased toy guns within the past 12 months compared to 2.1% among everyone.  There is at least a consistency in terms of wariness about toy guns and violent television.

(posted by Roland Soong, 8/26/2004)

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