Physiological Responses to Violent and Nonviolent Movies
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BARNETT, M.T. (1998). Physiological Responses to Violent and Nonviolent Movies. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Physiological Responses to Violent and Nonviolent Movies

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
One of the most debated and controversial issues in relation to the media is the amount of violence portrayed on a day to day basis. The physiological effects of groups viewing violent and nonviolent movies were looked at to see if viewing violent movies causes an increase in physiological responses. Approximately 41 participants were used, comprised of both male and female college students. Each group took a baseline of responses including pulse, temperature, and stress level from 0-100. The groups then viewed a short film clip. One group`s was violent in nature and the other was nonviolent in nature. The groups then took a second set of responses. The results of the experiment, using a 2X2 factorial ANOVA showed that there are some differences between the two groups, with the pulse rates decreasing in a group viewing nonviolent films, and increasing with violent. These results could show a relationship with how individuals that are viewing violence and then being violent themselves could be curbed by limiting the amount of violence they view. This information could be especially valuable for children, with many children viewing violence on a day-to-day basis.

One of the most debated and controversial issues in relation to the media is the amount of violence portrayed on a day to day basis. Throughout the past 20 years, it seems that the amount of violence in the media has grown immensely. The National Coalition on TV Violence (1994) states that NCTV guidelines do not include accidents, emotional displays, horseplay, slapstick, threats, and sports activities as acts of violence. They also state that an average of 9.5 violent acts per hour appeared on prime time TV in 1989-90 and Saturday morning network programming featured 20 violent acts per hour in the same time. In addition, they state that by the age of 18, a typical child has witnessed estimate 200,000 acts of violence, including 25,000 murders. Violence in America seems to be part of the zeitgeist of the past few decades and the ceiling that it is regulated by, such as NC-17 or R ratings. They have yet to curb the amount of violence seen on primetime television or on the big screen throughout the country on any given night. The result of these violent movies seems to have a strong correlation with the amount of crime that has engulfed cities across America. Many groups, such as the NCTV are trying to do something about it because they believe that media literacy is very important to bringing about peace in our nation. It may not be the direct answer to this difficult question, but it may be a beginning to one. Horror movies for years have been the forerunner in violence. They are the essence of violence in the media on a grand scale. Whether violence has an adverse impact on us psychologically or not, it must be assumed that it has some impact on us somehow. Art Silverblatt (1995) argues that media violence cannot be said to have a direct impact on viewer actions but that such messages (from violence) reinforces that the world is a violent and generally unsafe place, an effective solution to problems, that violence is safe, glamorous, gratifying and often has no apparent consequences. In a study done by Howard Berenbaum (1993) the relationship between the ability to identify one`s emotions and the kinds of emotion-arousing experiences that people prefer. He determined that subjects having a difficulty identifying their emotions were more likely that those without such difficulty, to prefer negatively valenced movies relative to positively valenced movies. This study showed that one`s emotions are a contributing factor in the type of outlets we choose to spend our time when not working, but rather relaxing or doing what we assume relaxing. Some people enjoy watching violent movies don`t feel that just because they watch them it will cause them to be violent also. A study dealing with this topic was done by Gelkopf, Kreitler and Sigal (1993). They explored the therapeutic affects of humor on hospitalized schizophrenics. They found that the group viewing humorous movies only resulted in a reduction of perceived verbal hostility, anxiety and depression. The results from this study seem to show that positive, more mild movies seem to have a positive effect on us psychologically. Much of the research that has dealt with this topic seem to be focused on one side, either positive movies and their outcomes, or the possible negative outcomes of subjects viewing negative movies. There are few studies that compare two groups, one viewing positively valence movies and another group watching negatively valenced movies. The physiological responses of the two groups could be looked at to see whether or not there is a difference in them. By doing this, we could trace the beginning of the cycle of effects that violence has on individual, possibly leading to violence that that individual will exert. Most of the studies to this time have not dealt precisely with physiological responses to these such factors. The physiological responses could play an important role in determining the individual`s responses to stimuli that is negative. This information could prove useful in the future in detecting a person`s vulnerability to violence. Other outside factors will, of course be playing an important role also and these are hard to keep out. The two studies explained before are examples of how this information could be used in a positive way to help increase the difficult understanding about the mind and how it effects us. Gender could play a role in the interaction, and will be looked at in some detail for comparison. In this study, I will attempt to establish a relationship between increased physiological responses and viewing movies with violence and a no change or decreased level of physiological responses to those that view nonviolent movies. Gender differences will be looked at also to compare different groups and their responses.


In this study, I examined the physiological responses of two groups of subjects. This information was recorded on a paper questionnaire (see appendix). Approximately 41 subjects, from two psychology courses in Northwest Missouri were used. The groups were comprised of both male and females, 31females, 10 males. The ages of the individuals varied, from 18 and higher. The group viewing the violent movie clip was warned beforehand that they would be viewing violence and that they could exit the experiment at any time.

The materials used this experiment were a pencil/paper questionnaire (see appendix), two videotapes, a television, thermometers and a videocassette recorder. The movies that were viewed are the motion pictures Sream and Forrest Gump.

The procedure in the experiment went as follows: one group recorded their sex, starting temperature, starting pulse, and stress level from 0-100. They were shown how to take a proper pulse. The "violence" group then viewed the opening clip from the Scream movie. The Scream group was warned beforehand that they would be viewing some violent acts and were free to exit the experiment at any time. After viewing the clip, they then recorded a second temperature, pulse and stress level. The other group not viewing the violent movie followed the same procedures but did not of course view the violent movie. They viewed a clip from the movie Forrest Gump, lasting approximately the same amount of time. After each session, the participants were able to ask any questions and make any comments.

A 2x2 between subjects ANOVA was calculated comparing the effects of the movie watched, and sex of the person, on temperature. The main effect for movie watched was not significant (F(1,36)=1.623, p>.05). The main effect for the sex of the person was also not significant (F(1,36)=.724, p.>05). The movie and sex interaction was also not significant (F(1,36)=.663,p >.05). Thus, it appears that neither the movie watched nor the sex of subject had a significant effect on the temperature of the subject. A second ANOVA was calculated comparing the effects of the movie watched and sex of the person on stress. The main effect for movie watched was significant (F(1,36)=.000,p<.05). There was no significant main effect for sex of the subject (F(1,36)=.512,p>.05). There was also no interaction between the two (F(1,36)=.996,p>.05). Thus, the movie watched did have a significant effect of stress. The sex of the subject did not have an effect on the stress. A third ANOVA was calculated comparing the effects of movie watched and sex of the person on pulse rates. The main effect for the movie watched was found to be significant (F(1,36)=.000,p<.05). There was also a main effect found for the sex of the subject (F(1,36)=.020,p<.05). Thus, the sex and the movie type did have an effect on the pulse levels of the subjects. The temperature of the males that viewed the movie Forrest Gump had an increase in temperature that averaged 2.5. Females that viewed Forrest Gump had an increase of 2.56 degrees. The males that viewed Scream had a decrease in temperature by an average of 1.2 degrees, while the females dropped 1.7 degrees. The stress levels of the males that viewed Forrest Gump had a decrease in stress by an average of 6.25, while the females that viewed it had a decrease average of 4.34. The males that watched Scream had an increase in stress of 6.0 for males, and 7.87 for females.The pulse rates for males that viewed Forrest Gump had a decrease in pulse of 7.0, females 2.73. The males that viewed Scream had an increase in pulse of an average of 3.8, females 10.62. Females had a far greater increase in their pulse rates after viewing the violent movie.

The data found are similar to that found in the studies discussed before, with positively portrayed movies having a more positive affect than negatively portrayed movies. Although those studies were done over an extended period of time, the short-term affects, as hypothesized, the type of movie watched did have some effect on stress levels as well as the pulse rates. The sex of the subject and movie type did have an affect on the pulse rates, but which movie watched and gender did not have an affect on temperature (a lowering of one`s temperature is considered stress). There was a surprising difference found in temperatures. The males that viewed the movies had little or no differences in stress, while the females dropped considerably after viewing Forrest Gump. There were several limitations in the experiment. First, the number of males was significantly smaller (31 females as compared to ten males) than was needed to get results that are more valid. Also, there were many subjects that had seen the movies that were shown. This could have a profound effect on the stress levels after viewing the films, either good or bad, depending on the situation. The study does seem to have external validity and results should be very similar to the results found in this study. Future research might include taking even more responses, such as blood pressure or galvanic skin response. Studies done on children over a longer period could also prove valuable. This information could prove useful in determining if violent movies have a long-term effect on the behavior of people.

Berenbaum, H. (1993). Alexithymia and Movie Preferences. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics,59 173-178. Gelkopf, M. Kreitler, S. Sigal, M. (1993). Laughter in a psychiatric ward: Somatic, emotional, social and clinical influences on schizophrenic patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 181, 283-289. National Coalition on TV Violence (June-August 1991), Violence in Cartoons Increases. NCTV News,12, 7. Silverblatt, A. (1995). Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Praeger:London, 278.

Please record the following information. Be as specific as you can on temperature pulse and stress level.

Sex (circle one only) M F

Starting temperature _____Starting pulse _____Stress level (0-100) _____

Now record the following information after viewing the short video clip.

Second temperature _____Second pulse _____Second stress (0-100) _____

Submitted 12/3/98 12:55:21 PM
Last Edited 12/3/98 1:18:16 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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