Why Does On-Screen Violence Affect Me?


Every day there’s an onslaught of graphic images that hit a person whenever they go on social media sites, play video games, or watch movies/TV. Avoiding violent or aggressive pictures, figures, or scenes can seem nearly impossible at times. Unfortunately, that makes trying to avoid the fallout from being exposed to violence and aggression almost impossible.

The Difference Between Violence and Aggression

The words violence and aggression are used interchangeably. However, they don’t mean the same thing. Violence and aggression describe types of acts, but there is a significant difference. Violence isn’t aggression. 

#1. What Is Aggression?

Aggression is behavior motivated by the intent to cause harm to another person who wishes to avoid that harm. Aggression can be physical, verbal, and relational. Although aggression can result in a physical or verbal attack on another person, sometimes the attack may be defensive or impulsive and lack harmful intent.

#2. What Is Violence?

Often considered a physical expression of aggression, violence may be predatory, impulsive, reactive, or defensive. Violence is an expansive concept that includes physical, mental, or emotional harm. A person who becomes violent escalates an act of aggression.

Acts of violence occur differently, meaning there are different types of violence, including: 

  • Physical:

    When a person applies force against another person, they are physically violent. For example, punching someone is an act of physical violence.

  • Psychological:

    You may not recognize psychological violence immediately. Examples of psychological violence include any form of verbal abuse (insults, humiliation, or discrediting you). Two other forms are manipulation or isolation from friends or family. In some cases, the person doing this is a friend or family member.

  • Sexual violence:

    Any act that violates your right to decide whether or not you engage in a sexual act is sexual violence.

  • Patrimonial or economic:

    Patrimonial or economic violence is when someone takes possession of your money, property, or personal documents. They intend to keep them away from you or destroy them.

  • Symbolic violence:

    Stereotypes, signs, or symbols are examples of symbolic violence.

  • Gender-based:

    Physical or psychological acts of violence against a person or group because of their gender or how they identify is gender-based violence.

Knowing the types of violence is vital to recognizing how on-screen violence affects your behavior and mental health.

Am I at Risk of Becoming Violent or Aggressive?

Researchers have found evidence that exposure to on-screen violence does have short and long-term effects on your brain. The studies show that exposure to media, games, or internet-based violence can:

  • Increase aggressive thoughts:

    A person can become intent or obsessed with the idea of stabbing, poisoning, or harming another. These thoughts are dangerous and could potentially lead to violence.

  • Intensify feelings of anger:

    On-screen media that shows anger or acts out angry feelings can encourage you to do the same in your life. For example, you can normalize yelling at people as an appropriate means of communication over time.

  • Cause physiological arousal:

    Your heart rate, breathing, and other body functions respond to acts of aggression or violence. Unfortunately, some will connect violence or aggression with becoming aroused.

  • Lead to hostile or aggressive behavior:

    Maybe you associate aggressive behavior as a means to an end. However, threatening or intimidating someone to get what you want isn’t healthy.

  • Create desensitization to violence:

    The constant stream of dangerous behavior can decrease your ability to feel another person’s pain or suffering.

  • Form a lack of empathy:

    Empathy is when you can identify or understand a person’s feelings or situation.

  • Lead to decreased kindness:

    Exposure to violence can cause a decrease in acts of kindness or helping others.

Violent media depicts acts of aggression and violence as a norm rather than a socially unacceptable behavior. As a result, if you notice any of these symptoms caused by exposure to violence and aggression, you can address the issues with a therapist.

Can I Stop Violent or Aggressive Behaviors?

The answer is yes. When you admit you have violent or aggressive behaviors, you can learn to replace dangerous thoughts or actions with healthy ones. By engaging in therapy, you can discuss your triggers and potential influences from your past that may also trigger your aggression or violence. 

For example, as a child or teenager, you may have spent hours playing video games. The scenes that depicted violence or aggression were as influential on your brain as those showing healthy behaviors. Likewise, the social, video game or entertainment influences in your life help shape how you view relationships and cope or react to unpleasant situations. 

You can talk with a therapist about how to stop or limit your exposure to on-screen violence. With their help, you can form a treatment plan to replace more aggressive or violent games, shows, or social media sites with healthy ones. 

On-screen violence can affect your mental and physical health. The constant and often unavoidable presence of violence and aggression in social media or video games changes people’s behavior. Research has shown that you can normalize destructive behaviors. The normalization of violence or aggression can seep into how you treat others or your behaviors in relationships. In some instances, you may lose the ability to empathize or recognize how your actions cause physical or psychological pain. However, you can learn to understand and replace dangerous behaviors with healthy, non-violent behaviors. SokyaHealth’s commitment to your well-being includes how we bring therapy to you. Because we consider your needs, we offer teletherapy. Now, no matter where you are — at work, home, or vacation — you can talk with your therapist. A vital aspect of helping you understand and replace harmful behaviors is incorporating self-care into your therapy. We believe in you. For more information, call (877) 840-6956.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.