Sex Roles [sers] pp722-sers-458868 January 31, 2003 12:30 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 48, Nos. 1/2, January 2003 (
Gender, Race, and Aggression in Television
Commercials That Feature Children
Mary Strom Larson
Television commercials in programming aimed at young children were content analyzed. Over
one-third of the commercials that featured children contained aggression. More than half
of the aggressive incidents occurred in commercials that featured only White children, thus
offering them many models for possible imitation or for later use in cognitive scripts. The
predominant type of aggression was “fortuitous,” i.e., aggression not caused by a character.
These unmotivated acts of aggression may cultivate in children fear of a “scary world.” Further,
this level of aggression may desensitize children to aggression in their own lives.
KEY WORDS: children and television commercials; children and aggression; children and gender; chil-
dren and race.
Concern about television violence is not new.
Study of the issue became particularly serious follow-
ing the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcom X,
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and
the resultant creation in 1968 of the National Com-
mission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence
Since that time (Wilson et al., 1997) research has
consistently pointed to three main conclusions. First,
viewing television violence is related to increased
aggression toward others by viewers. A second
conclusion in the report is that viewing violence is
related to “desensitization” by which viewers tend to
become indifferent to real-world violence. And, third,
viewers tend to become fearful of the real world.
These conclusions have also been reached by other
groups, including the American Medical Association
(Findings on Families, 1997), the American Academy
of Pediatrics (Committee on Public Education,
2001), and the American Psychological Association
To whom correspondence should be addressed at the Department
of Communication, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
60115; e-mail: email@example.com.
The effects of television violence on children
have been of particular concern. Many consider chil-
dren to be more vulnerable than adults to the im-
pact of the images on television (Huston, Zillman,
& Bryant, 1994), and professionals have expressed
concern that children are exposed to a great deal of
television. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation
Report (Rideout, Foehr, Roberts, & Brodie, 1999),
children, in general, watch television approximately
38 hr per week, and children aged 2–7 years watch
television approximately 25 hr per week.
In this article sought to describe the nature and
amount of aggression in commercials that feature chil-
dren and are aired during children’s television pro-
gramming. This is an important project for several
reasons. One is that the study concerns the behavior
of the child characters. This is important because we
know that the models that viewers perceive as simi-
lar to themselves are more likely to motivate imita-
tion than the models that are dissimilar to viewers
(Bandura, 1986, 1994). Viewers appear to identify
with media characters that share characteristics such
as gender, ethnicity, and age. The actions of the media
characters may be perceived as behaviors that are ap-
propriate and/or effective (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991).
In addition we know that from a very young age,
children are particularly attracted to commercials.
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation