Preventing Violence by Teaching Non-Violent Problem-Solving

Decades of social science research has shown that since violence is mostly a learned behavior, non-violence can also be learned.

Findings

Psychologist Albert Bandura's early research revealed that children's aggressive acts were partly influenced by what they observed (Bandura, 1965). In general, the more aggressive the people or films that children observe, the more aggressive the children act. Learning by watching and imitating others, rather than through one's own personal experiences, is called social learning. Later research has shown that viewing violent acts on TV and in the movies affects people in other negative ways: (1) It decreases viewers' concerns about victims' suffering, (2) it decreases viewers' sensitivity to violent acts, and (3) it increases the likelihood that viewers will emulate the aggressive acts depicted in the show or movie. Young children are especially vulnerable to the effects observed violence.

Psychologists have recently applied these findings towards teaching non-violence to young children and their caregivers. Their research reveals that since violence is learned, nonviolent ways of interacting with the world can also be learned.

Significance

Children are bombarded with violent messages and media. In 1998, the National Television Violence Study reported that 60% of television shows include violent acts. Since people--especially children-learn much of what they know through observing others, such high levels of exposure to violence are cause for alarm. Techniques for teaching children positive, nonviolent ways of dealing with everyday problems are therefore in critical demand.

Practical Application

Adults and Children Together Against Violence (ACT Against Violence) is a nationwide violence-prevention project that applies social learning theory and insights from developmental psychology. Unlike many violence prevention programs, ACT Against Violence targets very young children (ages 0 to 8) by addressing their caregivers and teachers. ACT includes a national multimedia campaign and a community-based training program. The multimedia campaign spreads the message that adults' words and deeds-especially aggressive and angry words and deeds-strongly influence children's words and deeds. The community-based training program teaches professionals who work with teachers and caregivers how to implement violence prevention skills for themselves and for their children. These skills include anger management, effective discipline, conflict resolution, and wise media consumption. Both parts of the project teach adults how to be positive, nonviolent role models for the children in their lives.

ACT Against Violence has been extremely successful in reaching adults. The first ACT television and radio ads were released in early April 2001, and in less than a year, had reached millions of Americans. The toll-free telephone service receives more than 100 calls per week, and approximately 20,000 copies of the booklet "Violence Prevention for Families of Young Children" have been distributed.

Cited Research and Resources

Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models' reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 1, pp. 589-595.

ActAgainstViolence 


American Psychological Association, May 28, 2003