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People act more unethically after exposure to violence, BYU study says

People act more unethically after exposure to violence, BYU study says

(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)


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PROVO — People are more likely to cheat for monetary gain after watching a violent movie or reading a violent book, according to a new study from Brigham Young University.

Researchers said the finding suggests exposure to human violence in print or video media leads people to act more unethically, supporting several other previous studies. The BYU team said this study is significant because it shows consuming violent media does more than just increase aggressive behavior towards others and can negatively impact businesses.

"We hope this provides another piece of evidence to the debate we're having within western society of the effects of media on behavior," BYU professor and study co-author Josh Gubler said in a statement. "We hope this information informs parents and communities as they make decisions about what types of media they consume."

For the study, researchers carried out three different experiments involving a total of 1,000 participants. In one study where participants were instructed to edit sentences to get paid, those who were assigned to edit violent content were 24 percent more likely to cheat by reporting that incorrect sentences were correct in order to earn money faster, according to researchers.

One interesting finding is that while both men and women were equally likely to cheat after exposure to violent print media, only men's ethics were affected by video content, according to the study. To test the influence of video media, participants were paid to watch and evaluate movie clips. Researchers said the men who watched violent clips from movies were more likely to lie and say they watched all of their clips in their entirety to get paid.

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In addition to the experiments, researchers examined observational data from various companies to determine whether exposure to violence in real life affects ethical decision making.

"Companies headquartered in locations marked by greater human violence are more likely to fraudulently misstate their financial statements and exhibit more aggressive financial reporting," the study's abstract reads. "Combined, our results suggest that exposure to human violence has significant and real effects on an individual's ethical decision making."

Multiple studies in recent years have suggested that violent media has a negative impact on society, according to BYU. A 2009 study from the University of Michigan and Iowa State University found people who recently watched a violent film took 26 percent longer to help an injured woman, while it took those who played a violent video game five times longer to help someone in need.

"We have whole industries that glorify violence — in video games, in media, in Hollywood — and then, on the opposite side, we have a significant body of research showing very serious effects to this," BYU coauthor David Wood said in a statement. "There is a disconnect between what science is saying and what we choose to do in society."

The BYU study was published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

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Natalie Crofts

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