The frequency of viewing wrestling on TV was positively associated with date fighting and other health risk behaviors, according to a new study, presented by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Baltimore today (Saturday, April 28).
"This study has tremendous implications," said Robert H. DuRant, professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Wake Forest and an author of the study. "It shows that exposure to this type of violence on television during this crucial period of time when a teen''s cognitive, social and physical development is still being cemented, probably affects adolescents in a negative way."
Adolescents who watch wrestling on TV are exposed to a high frequency of violence between men and women, alcohol use and hearing women referred to in derogatory terms such as "bitch," according to the study. In addition, the scenarios played out in the TV dramas often present violence as a solution to a problem.
"The level of vulgar language, verbal abuse and physical abuse modeled, with unrealistic outcomes, is astonishing," DuRant said. "For example, during one wrestling match a man dangled a woman upside down and then dropped her on her head, knocking her unconscious. In reality, I know this act would have broken her neck and probably would have killed her. In addition, the announcer of the program, speculating on what the wrestler was going to do with the woman, stated that she ''deserved it'' because she had cheated on this wrestler earlier. This teaches an adolescent that it is OK to use violence to resolve conflicts and that women deserve abusive treatment."
This study is in agreement with multiple previous studies by DuRant that have found that exposure to violence is the strongest correlate with the use of violence and weapon carrying among adolescents.
In this study, researchers asked a random sample of 2,228 North Carolina high school students, how many times they had watched wrestling on TV in the past two weeks. Among males, 63.2 percent had watched wrestling and 24.6 percent had watched it 6 or more times during the previous two weeks. Among females, 35.1 percent had watched wrestling and 9.1 percent had watched it 6 or more times.
Watching wrestling by males was associated with having started a fight with a date, been a date fight victim, gun carrying, other weapon carrying, fighting, spit tobacco use, non-prescription Ritalin use and driving after drinking. Alcohol or drug use during the last fight by the date or by the student was associated with watching wrestling more frequently, according to the study.
Of significance, is that the relationships between watching wrestling and health risk behaviors were stronger among females than among males, DuRant said.
Watching wrestling by females was associated with having started a date fight, been a date fight victim, gun carrying, carrying a gun at school, other weapon carrying at school, fighting, fighting at school, being injured in a fight, alcohol use, alcohol use at school, marijuana use, Ritalin use and riding with a drinking driver. Also, alcohol or drug use by the female student or her date was associated with viewing wrestling more frequently.
When the same students were studied six months later, the frequency that the students had watched wrestling in October of 1999 continued to be associated with dating violence and other health risk behaviors among females, but not among males.
"The bottom line is that we are affected by what we expose ourselves to," DuRant said. "This study shows that the incidence of date fighting and other violence increases when the exposure to violence increases. Now, wrestling doesn''t in itself cause violence, but when combined with overall socialization, violence on television can affect what is perceived as socially acceptable behavior."
Of the 2,228 students who participated in the study, 51.4 percent were female and 38.3 percent were of minority ethnicity.
Other authors of the study are Karen Sigmon Smith with Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Erika Borgerding, a student at Mt. Tabor High School. The Brenner Center for Child and Adolescent Health funded the study.
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