Wrestling with Instinct

The official blog of John Quinn's media effects research study! Ever wondered why some people bash each others brains out in the garden after watching wrestling?........if so read on...oh and its best to read this page from the bottom upwards!!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Philosophy of Reserch

BUSNM050: Philosophy of Research

John Quinn B00016128

School of Media, Language & Music




‘The requirements of original research in my subject area’



















‘Originality’ and ‘research’; two terms that can be seen to be prolific, ubiquitous, and often interrelated within the academic world, yet, as Walliman (2005) suggests, terms that are nonetheless subject to vigorous debate with regard to their very nature. As such, to explore the requirements of originality in a particular research area, it seems appropriate to attempt to define that area in terms of its development of knowledge. This essay intends therefore, to discuss firstly, the development and nature of research within the field of media effects theory, defining broadly the area, then narrowing the focus to identify important contributions related specifically to the immediate effects of television violence. Secondly; the essay shall attempt to explore these contributions in terms of how their nature has impacted on their research methodologies, and how the resulting knowledge has been developed and advanced. Finally, the essay shall discuss the importance of such factors to originality in the research, contrasting the nature of originality in a proposed piece of research against the existing body of work.

Becher and Trowler (2001) argue that conceiving of an academic discipline can be a complex and often uncertain process. This can be seen to be particularly true for the study of the effects the mass media have on its consumers, where the argument within the academic community, as Barker and Petley (1997) point out, is already deeply split theoretically and methodologically, with arguments ranging from concrete and direct behavioural effects, to no affect at all (with many waypoints in between). As such, a review exploring how the current area of media effects research has developed shall be attempted, drawing in part from the meta-analyses of McQuail (1987) and Preiss et al. (2006).

As McQuail (1987) suggests, the study of media effect is, and has been, underpinned by the popular and pragmatic premise that our behaviour is modified by the media texts we consume/receive, through the process of active/passive mass communication. Consequently, McQuail (1987) suggests that the first investigations of the mass media (circa 1900-1930) where based not on scientific research, but rather on observations of the exploding popularity of the new media (in this case - radio and film) along with the rapid growth of the press. Where, as according to Bauer and Bauer (1960), the media were imbued with the power to shape opinion, habits, beliefs and behaviour according to the will of its controllers. McQuail (1987) further suggests that the development of thinking about the effects of the media is shaped by the circumstances of time, place and environment, such as the propagandists of the first World War, who utilised the fledgling mass media technology in a way that reinforced and furthered the popular belief in an ‘all-powerful media’ (McQuail, 1987:252).

In this vein, with, as McQuail (1987) suggests, the inclination to confirm the popular belief: scientific research into the mass media began in the late 1930’s. Drawing from the work of Bertrand and Hughes (2005), the study of the mass media can be seen to be routed in communication theory, where ‘media’ represents not only institutions, but also a means of exchanging information across space and time. As such, the initial contributions can be seen to be those of the process school of communication theory, where, in the simplest terms, communication is defined through the mechanistic model of: sender-message-receiver. In essence, a sender creates a message, which is sent via a media, to a receiver, who perceives and interprets that message. Lasswell (1948), with his original public speaking, or transmission model can be seen to exemplify the process school, describing communication through the flow of information from sender to receiver, however Lasswell (1948) also formulated a hypothesis on the function of communication in society, developing the structural functionalist approach to the study of communications.

This approach, as described by Rubin (2002) works on the assumption that the function of communication is to maintain society by generating common effects related to: the surveillance of the environment; the correlation of environmental parts; and the transmission of social heritage. However, as this form of interaction involves the activity of human beings, it can be conceived of in terms of the study of culture. As such, even at the earliest level, the study of the mass media can be seen to confirm the academic uncertainty of Becher and Trowler (2001) where division arises as to whether or not one is studying a mechanistic process of information flow, or the construction of culture.

From this beginning, as discussed by McQuail (1987), the ever growing complexity of the mass media diversified views on its processes, and rendered any single mass media theory inadequate. Rosengren (1983) suggested that this division could be split into four paradigms across two dimensions, which are presented as a scheme by McQuail (1987) (Figure 1). The vertical axis of figure 1 tracks media power from dominance through to pluralism, with the horizontal axis tracking media as the impetus for social change through to a society centred view.

The result is a set of theory developments, broadly based on the understanding of the possibility of effects of the mass media on society, which are structured and diversified by similarity, difference, and often opposition. This stratification can been seen to suggest that there is ‘no straight path of cumulative knowledge that can easily be

Figure 1

discerned’ (McQuail 1987:252), in so far as defining the area as a whole. Using Becher and Trowler’s (2001) definition of academic disciplines therefore, McQuail’s (1987) work can be seen to be suggestive of an interdisciplinary field of study, where the research is not confined to one relevant academic department, thus denying an autonomous map of knowledge or mechanism for conducting research, instead arguably a picture develops of an area divided into disciplines by ideological position.

Becher and Trowler (2001) suggest that clear disciplinary areas of study have a strong paradigmatic form that denotes academic consensus, media effects can be seen as one of those areas that deny single paradigmatic form, and has components in opposition and competition with each other, resulting in academic disagreement on how to interpret the problems and tackle the research. As such, the four paradigms of figure 1 could be considered weak enough to suggest that the study of media effects conforms to Kuhn’s (1996) distinction of a divergent area, where the overall flow of research is arguably pre-paradigmatic in opposition to the mature sciences. Therefore, and to return to the initial aim of this first section of the essay, the focus can now be narrowed to the study of the immediate effects of consuming television violence, in order to evaluate whether there is evidence of clearer and more cumulative disciplinary development.

The first contribution to be examined, and arguably the most famous contribution to the study of the effects of media violence was that of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. Drawing from Bandura and Walters (1963), social learning theory can be seen to be a form of behaviourism based on a reciprocal form of determinism where individuals learn by observing others behaviours, attitudes and the related outcomes. In this model human behaviour can be explained by the interaction of cognitive, behavioural and environmental influences with the dependant factors of: attention to that with is observed; the retention of the observations; the reproduction of the observations; and the motivation for imitation.

Social learning theory developed out of laboratory experimentation[1] where two groups of children were exposed to adults playing with various toys, and then acting violently towards a doll. One group experienced the acts in person, the other viewing the incident on television. The groups were then exposed to the doll and the instruments used to ‘assault’ it, along with a control group who had observed adults playing benignly with the doll. The results suggested that the groups learned through modelling and interacted with the doll according to the adult behaviour they had been exposed to with the group exposed to the film representation of violence reacting similarly to the group exposed in person.

After the initial work of Bandura, as discussed by Anderson et al. (2003), a tentative paradigm for randomised experimentation in media violence effect studies can be seen to emerge. In the paradigm the researchers randomly expose participants to violent (experimental) or non-violent media (control), assessing and contrasting their short-term behaviour patterns. Studies such as; Berkowitz (1962, 1965); Donnerstein and Berkowitz (1981); Bjorkqvist (1985) and Josephson (1987) all used laboratory experimentation to develop the stimulus-response model building on the complexities encountered in earlier research.

However, as argued by Gauntlett (2005), the laboratory experimentation, while providing tentative confirmation of media violence affecting behaviour, also drew criticism due to its methodology. The un-naturalistic nature of the experimentation measures forms of aggression that are substitutions for actual violence, and as suggested by Howitt (1989) can be seen to be open to experimenter demand/effect, where the unusual activities of the laboratory suggests to the participant that something is expected of them. Gauntlett (2005) further describes criticisms of the media content used, as being not directly comparable to the content normally consumed outside the laboratory, being either specially made, or un-contextualised fragments of a larger text.

Media violence effects research is not however confined to the laboratory, studies such as Feshbatch and Singer (1971) utilised field experiments in the hope of gaining a more naturalistic environment. As described by Gauntlett (2005) such experimentation utilised the same method of randomly assigning groups to violent media and non-violent media, but regulated consumption in the participants’ natural environment. However such methodology still received criticism for creating an unnatural environment, where even in a natural setting the regulation of media consumption distances the research from a naturalistic event.

Recent research into the area can be seen to utilise the methodology of the correlation study. Work such as; Bernthal (2003); Bernthal & Medway (2005); DuRant et al. (2007); Kaestle et al. (2007); Soullier (2005); Tambourini et al. (2005); Waxmonsky & Beresin (2001); and Woo & Kim (2003) utilising such methodologies as, survey, content analysis, participant observation and ethnography, suggested correlations between violent television programming and levels of aggression in the consumers. While the methodologies here, as discussed by Gauntlet (2005), can be seen to be sound in the exposition of correlations, the research has still been criticised in so far as the findings of positive correlations does not demonstrate causality.

From this brief overview, the area can be seen to have developed from social learning theory and concentrated on methodological paradigms based on random experimentation, and later, correlation studies. The general problem however for research into such effects, seems to be in successfully showing that the consumption of violent television leads to immediate behavioural effects in a naturalistic social environment. The area has been successful in demonstrating that such effects can take place in the laboratory, or under experimental conditions, and has drawn positive correlations between violent television and increased aggression in the consumer; however a truly naturalistic exposure of direct causation has eluded the researchers.

With this clearer definition of the area, the study of the effect of television violence can be seen to lie within the social sciences, a mixture of communication theory and psychology, reminiscent of Becher and Trowler’s (2001) metaphor of a patchwork quilt of knowledge, but what do these developments say about the requirements of originality in the area? Again, using the work of Becher and Trowler (2001) the lines of development seem to follow a progression of ideas, revising the existing body of work according to continual criticism from within the area. As such originality in advancing the area can be seen to have to come from modifying existing theories, taking small steps forward, as opposed to superseding the entire body of knowledge that has gone before, as in the vein of Kolb (1984) and the experiential learning cycle. In this cycle the four stages of adaptive learning (experience-observation-conceptualisation-experimentation) can be seen to lead to the development of assimilative knowledge, where the problem is conceptually interpreted and transformed through internal reflection.

This development of knowledge can be seen to conform to Pantin’s idea of an unrestricted science, where the problems that are to be investigated may lead the researcher into many different areas, as cited in Becher and Trowler (2001). This appears to complement the idea of a number of differing methodological paradigms, which are chosen in relation to the specifics of the study, such as the initial studies of the process school, which sought to understand the mechanical processes of the communication system. The subsequent development of this through the laboratory random experimentation of Bandura and Walters (1963), and the refining of this through the field experimentation of such as Feshbatch and Singer (1971), which attempted to counteract the methodological criticism of laboratory experimentation.

As such, based on Becher and Trowler’s (2001) framework, this area of study can be seen to be a soft discipline, with divergent practitioners, numerous methodological paradigms, and no clearly defined disciplinary boundaries. In this sense a sufficient contribution to knowledge can be seen to have a much wider methodological scope than that of the harder sciences such as physics, which typically have a convergent consensus on what the problem is and how to solve it. However it is possible to suggest that the area, which initially could be seen to be an applied form of research, that, according to Becher and Trowler (2001) is functional, aiming to solve problems that came from out with the academic community, is moving towards a purer form of research. A form where the development of knowledge is cumulative, reiterative and concerned with verifying disputes coming from within the knowledge its self; such a development would appear to be in agreement with Kuhn’s (1996) notion that pre-paradigmatic disciplines will over time evolve to become more convergent.

Nonetheless, an original contribution to knowledge in the area of the effects of television violence does not yet have to be, as Kuhn (1996) suggests, a unique solution to the problem, as in the mature sciences, but rather a contribution that helps the discipline mature. As Becher and Trowler (2001) suggest, this also reduces the pressure on researchers in this area, as researchers working on topics that ‘cover a broader stretch of intellectual territory’ (Becher & Trowler, 2001:106) can be seen to be more ‘rural’ working alone and within a multitude of topics, they need not be overly concerned with competition, like those in the ‘urban’ disciplines, who can be seen to be in intense competition to provide the new solution.

To turn now to the final aim of the essay, it is possible to explore whether or not a proposed study may meet the requirements of originality in the discussed research area by contrasting it to the existing body of work surveyed here. As can be seen from the discussion so far, the idea of an original contribution that will advance knowledge in the area could be derived from the modification of existing theory, inline with criticisms, transforming how the resolution of the problem itself is conceptualised. In this light a study that returns to the behaviourist development of the stimulus response model, such as Comstock et al. (1978) (Figure 2), could modify the theoretical approach to include work from the fields of; social comparison; evolutionary psychology; and the semiotics of performance, in order to expand on some of its assumptions.

Should the proposed study be concerned with a selected television text, with known instances of consumer imitation (television wrestling), then the study could modify the input/arousal box of figure 2 to be concerned with social comparison, and relate the perception of consequences and reality boxes to the semiotic interpretation of the screen performance. Thus, the study could look through correlation to see if individuals who imitate screen violence have a deficiency in their social comparison judgements. If this hypothesis is confirmed the study could then explore through interview whether or not there are embedded messages in the text that cause imitation in certain viewers.



Figure 2


It is possible to suggest therefore that such a development of theory could be seen to fit with Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning, by reflecting on an interpretation of a small section of the existing knowledge, and transforming it to develop understanding. However, it is also possible to suggest that this is not directly cumulative, as in the sense of Becher & Trowler’s (2001) pure developments of research, nor fully purposive and applied, nor functional. Argument could also be made that the research is not directly maturing the area, such as the process of developing methodological paradigms described by Kuhn (1996), but the process could be seen to fall into some of the qualifications for the requirement of originality in research made by Philips and Pugh (1994). In this light, the proposed research could be seen to be attempting a synthesis of theory that has not been made before, or indeed, bringing a technique from another area and applying it to a foreign field.

As such, the requirement of originality in ‘my’ area can still be seen to be ambiguous, and open to interpretation by whoever is making the judgement, based on their own ideological positioning. This can be seen to be especially true of the area of media effects as a whole, which, at the moment, still struggles to define itself in terms of a general consensus on the interpretation of the problem. Fortunately for study in this area however, the consequence of this dissension amongst the research community is that attempts to develop the body of knowledge are by nature less restricted than the more mature sciences, and as such there is more scope for the finding and accepting of the elusive original contribution to knowledge.





















Bibliography

Anderson et al. (2003)The Influence of Media Violence on Youth Psychological Science in the Public Interest [Hyper-Text] Vol.4 (3):81-110 [Accessed: InfoTrac] 05/01/08.

Bandura, A. & Walters, R. (1963) Social Learning and Personality Development Holt, Rinehart & Winston: New York.

Barker, M. & Petley, J. (eds.) (1997) Ill Effects: The media/violence debate Routledge: London & New York.

Bauer, R.A. & Bauer, A. (1960) American Mass Society and Mass Media, Journal of Social Issues [hyper-text] Vol.10 (3):3-66 [Accessed: InfoTrac] 01/01/2008.

Becher, T. & Trowler, P.R. (2001) Academic Tribes and Territories 2nd ed., The Society for Research into Higher Education, Open University Press: Buckingham & Philadelphia.

Berkowitz, L. (1962) Aggression: A Social Psychosocial Analysis McGraw-Hill: New York.

Berkowitz, L. (1965) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Vol. 2. Academic Press: New York & London.

Bertrand, I. & Hughes, P. (2005) Media Research Methods: Audiences, Institutions, Texts Palgrave MacMillan: Hampshire & New York.

Bernthal, M (2003) The Effect of Professional Wrestling Viewership on Children. The Sports Journal [Online] Vol.6(3) Available: InfoTrac [30th October 2007].

Bernthal, M. & Medway, F. (2005) An Initial Exploration into the Psychological Implications of Adolescents’ Involvement with Professional Wrestling. School Psychology International [Online] Vol.29 p.224 Available: InfoTrac [28th October 2007].

Bjorkqvist, K. (1985) Violent films, anxiety, and aggression Finish Society Of Sciences and Letters: Helsinki.

Comstock, G. et al. (1978) Television and Human Behaviour Columbia University Press: New York and London.

Donnerstein, E. & Berkowitz, L (1981) Victim reactions in aggressive erotic films as a factor in violence against women Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 44:710-724.


DuRant, R et al. (2006) The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students. Pediatrics [online] Vol. 118 (2) p256-272 Available: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/118/2/e265
Feshbach, S. & Singer R.D. (1971) Television and Aggression: An experimental Field Study Jossey-Bass: San Fransisco.

Gauntlett , D. (2005) Moving Experiences: Media Effects and Beyond John Libbey Publishing: Eastleigh.

Howitt, D. (1989) Pornography: The Recent debate in Cumberbatch, G. & Howitt, D. A Measure of Uncertainty: The Effects of the Mass Media Broadcasting Standards Council, John Libbey Publishing: Eastleigh.

Kaestle, C. E., Halpern, C. T. and Brown, J.D. (2007) Music Videos, Pro Wrestling, and Acceptance of Date Rape among Middle School Males and Females: Ann Exploratory Analysis. Journal of Adolescent Health [Online] Vol. 40 p.185-187 [28th October 2007].

Josephson, W.L. (1987) Television violence and children’s aggression: Testing the priming, social script, and disinhibition predictions Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 53: 882-890.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Kuhn, T. S. (1996) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions 3rd ed., The University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London.

Laswell, H.D. (1948) The Structure and Function of Communication in Society In. Bryson, L. (ed.), The Communication of Ideas Harper: New York, pp. 37-51.

McQuail, D. (1987) Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction 2nd ed. SAGE publications Ltd.: London.

McQuail, D. & Windahl, S. (1982) Communication Models Longman: London.

Philips, E. M. & Pugh, D.S. (1994) How to get a PhD: A Handbook for students and their supervisors 2nd ed., Open University Press: Buckingham & Philadelphia.

Priess, R.G. et al. (2006) Mass Media Effects Research: Advances Through Meta- analysis Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.

Rosengren, K.E. (1983) Communication Research: One Paradigm or Four? Journal of Communication [hyper-text] Vol.33 (3):185-207 [Accessed: InfoTrac] 01/01/08.

Rubin, A.M. (2002) The Uses and Gratifications Perspective of Media Effects In Bryant, J. & Zillman, D. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.

Soulliere, D. (2005) Masculinity on Display in the Squared Circle: Constructing Masculinity in Professional Wrestling. Electronic Journal of Sociology [Online] Available: http://www.sociology.org/content/2005/tier1/soulliere.html [30 October 2007].

Tamborini, R. et al. (2005) The Raw Nature of Televised Professional Wrestling: Is the violence a cause for concern? Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media [Online] Vol. 49 (2) p. 202. Available: InfoTrac [28 October 2007].

Walliman, N. (2005) Your Research Project: A Sep-By-Step Guide for the First Time Researcher 2nd ed., SAGE Publications Ltd.: London.

Waxmonsky, J. & Beresin, E. (2001) Taking Professional Wrestling to the Mat: A Look at the Appeal and Potential Effects of Professional Wrestling on Children. Academic Psychiatry [Online] Vol. 25 (2) p.125. Available: InfoTrac [30 October 2007].

Woo, H. & Kim, Y. (2003) Modern Galdiators: A Content Analysis of Television Wrestling. Mass Communication & Society [Online] Vol. 6 (4) p361-378 [28th October 2007].

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[1] For video of Bandura’s experiment go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDtBz_1dkuk

The research Process

BUSNM051: The Research Process

John Quinn B00016128

School of Media, Language & Music






Coursework Assignment: Research Problem and Research Techniques

Part A: The Research Issue

This can be a topic from your field of study that you wish to develop into a research proposal. You should identify why the issue deserves investigation, what is the current state of knowledge about this issue and what research has been undertaken in the past. Where relevant you should identify deficiencies with the previous research. Ideally you should be able to develop an argument that seeks to establish that there are gaps in our understanding with the issue in our current knowledge.

Part B: The Research Techniques

The second part should explain the proposed research techniques which will be used in the investigation and should cover the following areas:

· Literature review techniques including database searches and internet sources.
· Proposed research and collection techniques, identifying issues with the collection of data and completion of fieldwork.
· The expected new contribution to knowledge.
· The development of an appropriate outline research schedule.
As Booth et al. (1995) suggests, with out reliable research, we would be lost amongst opinions of the moment, subject to the uncertainties of popular understandings. In this light, therefore, drawing from Sharp et al. (2002), research can be seen as the ‘seeking through methodological processes to add to one’s own body of knowledge and to that of others, by the discovery of non-trivial facts and insights’ (Sharp et al., 2002:7). As such, it is the intention of this essay to identify a proposed research issue, and discuss the range of methodological techniques that could be utilised to construct a study that confirms to the definition of Sharp et al (2002). To facilitate this, the essay shall be split into two sections: (A) an identification of the research problem, highlighting: why the issue deserves study; what the current state of knowledge is; what deficiencies there are in that knowledge; and the purpose of the proposed study. (B) An explanation of the methodological approach to be applied, highlighting: how the literature would be reviewed; how the data would be collected; in what manner would the study make an original contribution to knowledge; and how the study would be scheduled.

Part A: The research issue.

Since the explosion in popularity of professional wrestling on American and British subscription television in the late 1990’s (see; Bernthal and Medway (2005); Tambourini et al. (2005); DuRant et al. (2005)), much debate has arisen, both public and academic, with regards to the effect the anti-social content of the programming has on its consumers. The most notorious of these effects can be seen to be the phenomenon of imitation. This unintentional by-product of professional wrestling, which at its most potent, exists as an organised form of entertainment known as ‘backyard wrestling’, involves, as Schnirring (200) discusses, the imitation of televised professional wrestling by untrained individuals, without adequate supervision or equipment. As such, in recent years this phenomenon has been the focus of attention for a number of researchers engaged in the study of media effects.

From even the most cursory of glances at the data presented in this existing body of literature, such as Bernthal (2003); Bernthal & Medway (2005); ITC (2001); Tambourini et al. (2005); and Waxmonsky & Beresin (2001) it becomes clear that the imitation of televised professional wrestling culture is considerable, especially amongst adolescent males. Unfortunately the potential level of harm attributable to this behaviour is the loss of life, which was tragically exposed by the 1998 child killing of Tiffany Eunick, by Lionel Tate, where Tate’s legal team argued that the incident had occurred accidentally while imitating professional wrestling. With this fact in mind, and the recent proliferation of WWE programming across the globe, the potential instances of such a phenomenon could be seen to be growing, and study into why certain individuals imitate professional wrestling worthy.

The current state of knowledge regarding the effects of consuming professional wrestling on consumer behaviour however, can be seen to be limited, both in scope and in quantity. In the existing data, very few papers suggest actual causal factors that directly relate the consumption of televised pro wrestling to imitation, preferring instead to present rather tendentious arguments that explore tenuously; problematic psychosocial associations derived form consumption, like the work of: Bernthal (2003); Bernthal & Medway (2005); DuRant et al. (2007); Kaestle et al. (2007); Soullier (2005); Tambourini et al. (2005); Waxmonsky & Beresin (2001); and Woo & Kim (2003). As such, it is possible to suggest that in the absence of an ultimate causation, the majority of the existing literature has made the consumption of the texts, the proximate cause of imitation, often suggesting that televised pro wrestling consumers have difficulty in differentiating performance from reality, resulting in the learning of damaging cognitive scripts.

However research carried out in 2001 for the Independent Television Commission (ITC) suggested that the majority of televised wrestling consumers, even the very young, do understand that the texts they are consuming are simulations. Furthermore, the data suggested that this is conveyed through the nature of the performances, where one can draw comparisons with legitimate sport in order to facilitate differentiation. This can be seen to suggest that imitation is in some manner connected to the product aesthetic, inviting further analysis of what motivates an individual to imitate what they see. This highlights a gap in the existing literature, where condemnation of the content of the programming has lead to the discussion of non causal associations between social maladjustment and consumption, to the neglect of an exploration of actual causal factors for the imitative behaviour displayed by some consumers.

In order to fully understand the arguments about the effects of consuming televised professional wrestling however, it seems appropriate to extend the background data to the general study of media effects. As McQuail (1987) suggests, the media effect debate is, and has been, underpinned by the pragmatic premise that our behaviour is modified by the media texts we consume/receive, and according to Barker and Petley (1997), this has resulted in a deeply split research community. Gaunlett (2005) suggests that studies analysing whether or not television violence leads to increased real-life aggression can be grouped according to methodology.

Gauntlett (2005) proposes six variations in the study of the effect of media violence: laboratory experimentation (Berkowitz (1962, 1965); Donnerstein and Berkowitz (1981); Bandura and Walters (1963) and Bandura (1965)); field experimentation (FeshBach & Singer (1971); Friedrich and Stein (1973); and Sawin (1990)); correlation study (Bernthal and Medway (2005); DuRant et al. (2005); and Bernthal (2003)); Longitudinal studies (Sheenan (1986); Milavsky et al. (1982); and Bachrach (1986)); natural experiments; and meta-analysis (Paik and Comstock (1994), Hearold (1986)). Of these effects studies, Gauntlett (2005) proposed a tentative paradigm, where the less naturalistic the method, the more likely the finding of direct causation of aggressive behaviour, the more naturalistic the method, the lesser the confirmation of direct causation. As such the main deficiency of this research body, much like the wrestling specific literature, can be seen to be in the finding of direct causation within the naturalistic social environment.

Therefore, the proposed research study’s purpose will be to endeavour to explore causation by attempting to understand the motivations of individuals who imitate televised professional wrestling. This initial research question will form a pilot study, gathering general data on motivations. The study would then combine this data with ideas developed from the ITC (2001) study, to explore whether or not this motivation is related to; (a) a desire to increase their social attention holding power (SAHP) through social comparison, that is facilitated by, (b) the consuming of the highly ostensive performances of the wrestlers. Which serve to reduce representations of the potentially imitation inhibiting factors of pain and injury, through unrealistic representations of the consequences of violence.

Part B: The Research Techniques.

The staring point for the proposed study would be in the reviewing of the existing body of literature. As Creswell (2003) suggests, this research stage can be seen to reduce the scope of the inquiry and provide a basis for the convincing of others that the area is worthy for study. However according to Fink (1998), in order to do this, the literature review is required to evaluate the existing literature systematically and explicitly, providing reproducible data, and as such has to be as methodologically sound as other research techniques that are to be used in the study. Drawing form Creswell (2003), should the literature review be carried out effectively, then it should provide a framework that establishes the importance of the study in relation to the deficiencies of the existing literature.

From this overview it is possible to explore how the literature may aid the development of the proposed research topic. The proposed study is intended to be qualitative and exploratory and little research has been produced previously on the motivations for the imitation of professional wrestling, therefore literature on the general process of media effects, as described by Creswell (2003), will need to be introduced early in the study in addition to specific literature on wrestling consumption, and social comparison, in order provide an orienting framework.

Creswell (2003) suggests a systematic approach to the collection and evaluation of this data. Beginning by identifying key words related to the topic, the researcher can search electronic library catalogues (such as the service provided by Talis Prism in the UWS library), focusing on journals and books. The results should furnish the researcher with an initial body of literature that can be used to set priorities for further lines of enquiry, and focus attention to specific literature paths through the bibliographies provided. Creswell (2003) suggests that the production of a literature map is an essential tool that provides a visual representation of the existing literature, which shows through hierarchy or flow chart, cumulative developments and gaps related to the topic of the research study.

Creswell (2003) suggests that this can be done by placing the topic at the top of the chart, and dividing the literature found into broad subtopics. In the case of the proposed study this could be - the imitation of televised professional wrestling, followed by: general media effects; wrestling specific; and social comparison. These subtopics can then be divided in to braches relating to specific developments, and ultimately after more subdivision, individual pieces of literature. At the end of each branch, a future research summary could be included, which could be drawn together in to a proposed research section occupying the bottom of the chart. This approach would appear to compliment the systematic requirement discussed by Fink (1998) identifying key words, subjects and actual literature, allowing for easier analysis of the findings and exposure of trends.

However, there are specific considerations to be made concerning the application of the above paradigm to electronic databases and the internet. As Fink (1998) suggests, not all academic databases utilise the same keyword structure, and as such careful attention has to be paid to the specific requirements for each database used to avoid inaccurate results. In addition to this point, Fink (1998) holds practicality and feasibility as crucial evaluative tools for conducting the review, where literature language, publication date, setting, and ranking must be negotiated before assimilating the work into the literature review.

In order to ensure that the literature review is more than a collection of synopsises, and is instead evaluative, as discussed by Fink (1998), then Creswell (2003) suggests a further model based on dividing the contents of the review according to the dependant and independent variables of the study. In this model, one could begin by providing a statement of how the review will be organised, then discuss the independent variables of the study, followed by a discussion of the dependant variables, narrowing down to studies that cover both, which should be similar (as far as is possible) to the proposed study. Finally the review can be summarised to expose the key theoretical positions and themes, and why the topic deserves further attention.

The next sage in the research process can be seen to be the selecting of a methodological approach. Due to the nature of the proposed research question, the initial research process will be exploratory, seeking to understand what motivates certain individuals to imitate televised professional wrestling, and if that motivation can be related to social comparison. This section of research is expected to be paramount to the research design and the development of a hypothesis, and indeed, the very completion of the second part will depend on the results provided by the initial exploratory research. As Blaxter et al. (2001) reports, there are a multitude of families, approaches and techniques that can be used to facilitate research, and as such a distinction needs to be made between method (the tools of data collection) and methodology (the approach/paradigm of the research).

The first distinction to be made can be seen to be one of methodology and academic culture, choosing between the paradigms of qualitative or quantitative research. To do this, as Blaxter et al. (2001) proposes, involves returning to the research question and thinking about what the purpose of the study is, and the nature of the knowledge that is to be constructed. Therefore the purpose of the proposed study can be seen to be concerned with the understanding of an individual’s behaviour form their own frame of reference, which would place the study within the realms of the qualitative research paradigm, but equally it can be interpreted as seeking causes of phenomena, which would steer the study towards the quantitative. Furthermore, the initial part of the research question could also be seen as an attempt to test the theory of social comparison as a means of initiating imitative behaviour, which would appear to indicate the first stage of the deductive paradigm typical to quantitative research. However, as the study would be measuring data which is subjective and reliant on the individual, then the production of hard, replicable experimental data could be questioned.

Blaxter et al. (2001) indicates that such problems with methodological definitions are common in the social sciences, and suggests there can often be a series of similarities in application, between the two paradigms. However, drawing from Gomm (2004), ultimately the purpose of the proposed study is to provide a rich description of motivations through understanding how the research participants view the world around them, and as such the qualitative methodology of Geertz’s (1973) ‘thick’ description could be seen to be a viable option for exploring naturalistically the phenomenon.

This would seem to place the initial research of the proposed study in the interpretive vein, of qualitative research and suggest that a suitable method of obtaining the required data could be participant observation. McCall and Simmons (1969) define participant observation as a combination of methods employed in the study of such subject maters as subcultures, a primary research approach involving the direct observation of the culture from a position within the field, along with interviewing and collection of artefacts. The end result of the process can be seen to be the provision of an analytic description of the problem studied, employing theory, systematic data collection, and if applicable, generalisations.

However, a common process in backyard wrestling cultures can be seen to be the overt display of their cultural artefacts (their performances) via video streaming platforms such as ‘you-tube’ or social networking sites. This occurrence provides ample opportunity to examine the culture from out with the field, and as the study is concerned more with why the participants behave in the manner they do rather than the nature of the behaviour, it is plausible to assume that a more effective method of data collection could be in the ethnographic interview.

As such, and drawing from Sarantakos (2005) the proposed study would utilise the method of the unstructured interview, gathering data through verbal communication in the form of open-ended questions that are adaptable enough to be reformulated in order to adapt to the flow of information provided. Oppenheim (1992) describes this as the exploratory or depth interview, heuristic in nature and concerned with understanding how the participant feels about the research topic, which should be recorded mechanically as well as transcribed. Oppenheim (1992) suggests that the raw data should be briefly summarised to highlight the key topics discussed, then the transcript and recording could be subjected to conversation analysis as Sarantakos (2005) advises. Drawing from Geertz (1973) the semiotic nature of cultural exchanges should allow such analysis to distinguish actions from social gestures, in essence separating the thin describing of the wrestling manoeuvre imitated, from the thick description of the symbolic social importance of the act.

Ponterotto (2006) provides a guide as to how thick description could be manifested into written work. Beginning with the participants, thick description requires a full exposition of demographic characteristics (psycho-socioeconomic) allowing the reader to clearly visualise the sample. The same strategy must be applied to the cultural setting, providing a context from which the reader can understand the study, also the procedure of the interview must be made clear to allow of the understanding of the interpretations made in the study. Importantly the results must reflect the voice of the participant, with as Sarantakos (2005) suggests an emphasis on the sound and nuance of the conversation as it happened being paramount in the format of the writing. With this properly done the reader can visualise the participant-researcher interaction in the same emotive tone of the original interview. Ponterotto (2006) further suggests that the discussion of the results must be written in a manner that merges the participant’s actual experiences with the researcher’s interpretation, allowing the reader to evaluate the meanings exposed and make conclusions on the interpretive data.

As the initial part of the research will essentially be a pilot study intended to generate a hypothesis, the defining of its originality in knowledge development will be directly linked to the subsequent design of the research, and difficult to pin down. Philips and Pugh (1994) however, provide a useful set of definitions of originality in research, and the originality in the pilot study phase of the research could be seen to come from the setting down of new information in writing for the first time. It is possible to suggest therefore that the development of such research could be seen to fit with Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning, by reflecting on an interpretation of a small section of the existing knowledge (that certain individuals imitate televised professional wrestling), and transforming it to develop understanding. Nonetheless, an original contribution to knowledge in the area of the effects of television violence does not yet have to be, as Khun (1996) suggests, a unique solution to the problem, as in the mature sciences, but rather a contribution that helps the discipline mature.

In this sense a sufficient contribution to knowledge can be seen to have a much wider methodological scope than that of the harder sciences such as physics, which typically have a convergent consensus on what the problem is and how to solve it. As such, and again drawing from Philips and Pugh (1994), as discussed earlier, the second stage of the proposed research will look to apply the meanings exposed in the interviews to existing theoretical positions within the media effects literature. In this way the research could develop an existing model of television effects on individual behaviours, such as that of Comstock et al. (1978) (Appendix 1) and as such, could be seen to be attempting a synthesis of theory that has not be made before, or bringing a technique from another area and applying it to a foreign field. (If indeed evidence is found in the pilot study of motivation by means of social comparison.)

Philips and Pugh (1994) outline a time-based programme of work that seems to be applicable to such studies as the one proposed in this essay. As such their model has been adapted to map out the progression of the proposed study (Appendix 2). The proposed timeline can be seen to be broken down into four main areas, firstly, the collection and evaluation of background theory, which will form the majority of the literature review, and be structured around the formation of a literature map. The next section is the focal theory element, where the background data is manipulated in order to focus the main research questions of the study. These two sections should take up the majority of the 1st academic year and lead toward the design of the pilot study. The second year should begin by moving the study into the data theory phase, where analysis of the pilot study will shape the main research design and highlight any need to return to the background and focal data stages. The majority of the data theory section will, however concern the collection and analysis from the hypothesis derived from the pilot study and should encompass just under one academic year. The final section of the research would be the contribution phase, where the data and original contribution shall be presented in writing.

This essay has intended to show that the imitation of televised professional wrestling is a social occurrence worthy of research, by highlighting the dangers of such behaviour and the general proliferation of televised wrestling texts. Furthermore, the essay has suggested that the existing literature does not provide meaningful explanations for such behaviour, and proposed a PhD study that could be seen to develop the knowledge towards a better understanding of the problem, through the systematic development of a programme of qualitative research.



















Appendix 1: Comstock et al. (1978) Model of Television Effects on Individual Behaviour.







































Appendix 2: Proposed PhD Progression.












































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Bernthal, M. & Medway, F. (2005) An Initial Exploration into the Psychological Implications of Adolescents’ Involvement with Professional Wrestling. School Psychology International [Online] Vol.29 p.224 Available: InfoTrac [28th October 2007].

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Independent Television Commission (ITC) (2001) WRESTLING: How do audiences perceive TV and video wrestling? [Online] Winchester: Independent Television Commission. Accessed: [28 October 2007] Available:http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/research/wrestling_how_do viewers.doc

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Waxmonsky, J. & Beresin, E. (2001) Taking Professional Wrestling to the Mat: A Look at the Appeal and Potential Effects of Professional Wrestling on Children. Academic Psychiatry [Online] Vol. 25 (2) p.125. Available: InfoTrac [30 October 2007].

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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Another journal article

John Quinn

MPhill/PhD – Media effects

7th November 2007 D.O.S. John Robertson




Review of the Tamborini et.al. article ‘The Raw Nature of Televised Professional Wrestling: Is the Violence a Cause for Concern?, in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media – June 2005

Summary

With regard to the title of this article, it is clear from the discussion of the results that the authors’ answers are yes; yes the violence in televised wrestling is indeed a cause for concern. Furthermore, the researchers concluded form the data collected, that the violence in wrestling is both greater in content, and different in context, from other forms of broadcast television violence, proposing that the violence in TV wrestling is unremitting, unpunished, presented as justified, yet lacking extreme harm. (Tamborini et al. 2005:216) Encouraging the conclusion that violence occurs with much grater frequency in TV wrestling, is the data from table 1. This data suggests that wrestling was the only form of US prime time broadcast television that had violence in 100% of its programming, and also indicated that TV wrestling had the highest rate of violent interactions per hour of all of the sample programming. (Tamborini et al. 2005:210)

Directly related to this frequency of violence, the table 1 data further suggested that 23% of all violent interactions in TV wrestling were extreme (containing more than 21 individual acts of violence), almost 3 times that of movies broadcast on TV, where 8% of all violent interactions were extreme. (Tamborini et al. 2005:211) One of the key findings that emerged form the study, however, was the data concerning motivation for this violence. The researchers found that 58% of the violence in TV wrestling was mandated (violent acts compelled by the rules of the ‘sport’) and accordingly questioned whether or not this form of mandatory violence, given the nature of the acts, was perceived as justified by the viewer, and that if this perception of justification reduced the consumers inhibitions against aggressive behaviour. (Tamborini et al. 2005:216)

Furthermore, the study’s finding that the remaining 42% of violence in TV wrestling was un-mandated, suggested that a large proportion of the violence in TV wrestling was not justified as the consequences of a ‘sporting’ contest, such as in boxing, and that 94% of all violence went unpunished. (Tamborini et al. 2005:216) The researchers proposed that this distances TV wrestling form sports violence, and that it should be included in the broader debate over TV violence due to the diversity of motivations for violence represented throughout the broadcasts. (Tamborini et al. 2005:217)

Turning to the inhibition of imitative behaviour related to wrestling, Table 2 of the study found that 0% of all violence represented in TV wrestling suggested consequences resulting in extreme harm, and further found that 16% of the representations of the consequences of violence resulted in an unrealistic representation of the level of harm expected. (Tamborini et al. 2005:213) From this data the researchers concluded that, whereas the realistic representation of harm resulting from TV violence may inhibit imitative behaviour, the often unrealistic, and non extreme portrayals of the consequences of violence in TV wrestling may reduce this inhibition. This train of thought was continued by the study, which found that 91% of the violence in TV wrestling was conducted by ‘natural means’ (Tamborini et al. 2005:206) (kicking, punching etc.), enabling easier imitation than other forms of TV violence that utilise different means. (Such as controlled weapons which can be hard to come by.)

This concern over the possibility of imitative behaviour came to the forefront in the study’s analysis of the data. Tamborini et al. (2005) suggested that the unique lack of realism related to the consequences of violence in TV wrestling, combined with varying degrees of fantasy-reality distinction ability throughout the whole demographic, and the frequency of representations of extreme violence, makes further examination of TV wrestling violence ‘obligatory’. (Tamborini et al. 2005:218) Due mainly to the potential for harmful outcomes related to the consumption of TV wrestling.

Discussion

The concerns expressed by Tamborini et al. (2005), relating to the perceptual difference between TV wrestling violence and other types of ‘sports violence’ seems to corroborate the findings of the earlier ITC report on qualitative research on the audience’ perception of TV wrestling. (ITC 2001) The ITC report found that the vast majority of TV wrestling viewers considered TV wrestling to be entertainment rather than sport, and that this perception was, in part, related to the unrealistic representations of the consequences of violence compared to other sports. From this data therefore, it is possible postulate that TV wrestling violence is perceived as different from other forms of sports violence, (ITC 2001 p:9) and as such one can draw a correlation to Tamborini et al. (2005) and the reduction of inhibition toward imitation as being related to the unrealistic portrayal of the consequences of the violence showcased on TV wrestling. This can be seen to be evidenced by the data from the ITC report that suggested the vast majority of young male viewers do imitate TV wrestling. (ITC 2001 p:71) However, to further illustrate this point, one could hypothesise that less boxing viewers would be inclined to imitate the actions of a boxing bout due to the graphic depictions of the actual bodily harm that are seen to be the result of the violence in boxing.

Furthermore, the ITC report concluded that the majority of TV wrestling viewers can rationally identify TV wrestling as staged; with even the very young questioning the actuality of what they see. (ITC 2001 p:12) It is possible to suggest therefore, that potential imitation inhibiting factors such as fear of pain and adverse physical consequences are reduced by; the highly ostensive actions of the TV wrestlers (ITC 2001 p:57), the absence of representations of extreme harm, the regular unrealistic representations of the consequences of violence, (Tamborini et al. 2005 p:213) and serve to encourage viewers to recreate what they see. However the ITC report also concludes that the parents of many children involved in imitative behaviour related to wrestling believe the behaviour to be an inevitable part of childhood (ITC 2001 p:73-75), of course it is possible to suggest that this is also due to the parent sharing the same perception as the child, as is indeed frequently alluded to throughout the ITC report.

Nonetheless both papers agree that the portrayal of violence in TV wrestling is a necessary area for study, due to the potential for, and actual instances of, imitation (Tamorini et al. 2005 p:218, ITC 2001 p:86) and raise significant research questions relating to the possible cause of such behaviour.


Arising Research Questions

Does the highly ostensive performance of TV wrestlers encourage copycat behaviour in audiences, and if so why?

If TV wrestling’s performances were less ostensive, would there be less audience imitation, and if so why?

Does the justification of violence through mandating in TV wrestling encourage the audience to see violence as a just means of problem solving, and if so what facilitates this reasoning?

Can TV wrestling violence be considered ‘sporting violence’?

Does the audiences’ perception of wrestling as ‘staged’ encourage them to feel that imitation is not dangerous?

When imitating TV wrestling, are the participants recreating the ostensive performances of the wrestlers, with little or no intention of harming their colleagues, or do they intend to cause actual harm?

____________________

Independent Television Commission (ITC) (2001) WRESTLING: How do audiences perceive TV and video wrestling? [Online] Winchester: Independent Television Commission. Accessed: [28 October 2007] Available:http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/research/wrestling_how_do _viewers.doc

Tamborini, R. et al. (2005). The Raw Nature of Televised Professional Wrestling: Is the violence a cause for concern? Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media [Online] Vol. 49 (2) p. 202. Available: InfoTrac [28 October 2007].

Monday, 19 November 2007

Psychological Implications

John Quinn

MPhill/PhD – Media effects

12th November 2007 D.O.S. John Robertson

Review of Bernthal & Medway (2005), An Initial Exploration into the Psychological Implications of Adolescents’ Involvement with Professional Wrestling.

Summary

This study, in response to the growth in popularity of TV wrestling (which, by 2004 was in a period of decline) aimed to discuss the implications of consuming such violence on children. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:232) The study utilised 121 male participants aged 10 to 17, gathering data on their; level of involvement with wrestling, aggressive response to shame, school maladjustment, and level of self esteem/ sense of inadequacy, by means group surveys and questionnaires in the classroom environment. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:232-234)

The study provided results that suggested that children with a higher rate of involvement with wrestling (those children who not only consume TV wrestling programming, but also consume TV wrestling’s ancillary consumer products, imitate TV wrestlers’ actions and language, and whish to incorporate wrestling to their school syllabus (Bernthal & Medway 2005:241)) exhibit; a higher degree of aggressiveness, a moderately higher degree of school maladjustment, a higher degree of clinical maladjustment, and exhibit lower self esteem, than those children with a lesser rate of involvement. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:235) Nonetheless, the results from the analysis of data indicated that the levels of each of the dependant measures targeted by the study, fell comfortably inside the average limits, and did not indicate clinical maladjustment. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:235)

The development of wrestling’s content, namely its themes, when compared to that of amateur wrestling, were seen by the researchers as potentially detrimental to the well being of children. Furthermore, the discussion suggested that themes such as violence, racism, and winning by any means necessary, when represented through the medium of professional wrestling, are especially dangerous to children, as they have difficulty differentiating reality from fact. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:236) Interestingly, the discussion continues to propose that the data from the study suggests increased clinical maladjustment in children preoccupied with TV wrestling, yet refuses to conclude that wrestling involvement results in negative outcomes in children, instead suggesting only an association. This notwithstanding, the study then postulates that future studies may find that total immersion in the TV wrestling culture is particularly harmful for children, as compared to television consumption alone.

Attention is paid, throughout the discussion, to the moral value of the messages offered by the ancillary products of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE), in relation to the psychological development of adolescents, suggesting that this increases the potential harm of TV wrestling as compared to cartoon violence. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:238) The researchers also suggested that their study concurred with earlier research, suggesting that wrestling involvement is associated with school problems and risk taking, and further proposed that schools should distance themselves form WWE, as educators are most likely are ignorant to the potential damage that may arise from immersion in WWE culture. The authors suggest the use of specific educational media to tackle the problem of wrestling’s relationship to wider violence in society. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:238-239)

Discussion

This article, intended to discuss the psychological implications of wrestling consumption on children, to the ends of alerting ignorant educators to the potential harm caused by such consumption; however it is possible to suggest that the article failed in its intentions by evaluating the evidence provided. To begin, the authors make reference to a high degree of ignorance regarding the content of wrestling amongst educators in the U.S.; yet do not provide any empirical evidence supporting this assumption, furthermore the sample consisted entirely of males to the exclusion of females, which is unrepresentative of the TV wrestling audience demographic exposed in the 2001 ITC study on audience perceptions of TV wrestling (ITC 2001:8-14).

Some indicators of inaccurate data occur early in the article, such as the categorisation of WWE Smackdown! as a U.S. cable T.V. show (Bernthal & Medway 2005:227), when in fact, it was at the time of the study, broadcast on the U.S. network TV channel UPN. A further suggestion is made that viewers of TV wrestling imitate both the actions and the vocabulary of the in ring performers, and while this may be somewhat evident when observing TV wrestling broadcasts, the statement is not linked to any empirical data. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:229) The study suggests that professional wrestling, in comparison to other sports, has little control or regulation of its integral violence, and as such treats wrestling as a form of sport. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:229) This seems to contradict the study’s earlier description of professional wrestling as entertainment (Bernthal & Medway 2005:225-226), and casts a shadow over the validity of the comparison, when one looks to the existing literature such as the earlier ITC study that suggests the vast majority of TV wrestling viewers do not perceive wrestling to be a sport (ITC 2001:12), or the findings of Tamborini et al. (2005) that propose the violence in TV wrestling can not be treated as an example of sports violence

Whereas the study intended to examine the potential negative psychological effects of adolescents involvement with wrestling culture (Bernthal & Medway 2005:230), it is possible to suggest that the study does the reverse and examines the potential of adolescents encumbered by negative psychological positions, to have a tendency toward involvement with the pro wrestling culture. This postulation is derived from the inability of the data to suggest that pro wrestling consumption is the cause of school mal-adjustment, aggressiveness, and perceived inadequacy, rather, suggesting only that there is an association between the most avid consumers and heightened negative psychological effects. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:231) Could one not in the same vein suggest therefore, that such consumers bring existing problems with them to the consumption of wrestling culture, a point which the study touches upon itself (Bernthal & Medway 2005:231), and that the narrative form of wrestling may be a symptom of their condition.

As discussed in the summary above, the article suggests that pro wrestling has changed vastly in terms of its thematic orientations over the last twenty years, in comparison to amateur wrestling (Bernthal & Medway 2005:236), and acknowledges, all-be-it inconsistently, wrestling’s status as entertainment as opposed to sport. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:225) Yet the discussion fails to mention the related thematic changes across the rest of TV entertainment, such as the similarities mentioned by Tamorini et al. (2005), preferring to contrast professional wrestling with a sport that it intentionally distanced itself form. This comparison may seem valid if it is intended to highlight to someone who may be ignorant of the change in direction of wrestling, the new narrative format of the spectacle, but seems inappropriate in so far as highlighting the genre as a particular threat. It is possible to make such a suggestion as the study itself purports that wrestling fans enjoy wrestling as it is ‘sheer entertainment’ (Bernthal & Medway 2005:226) and therefore do not see it as sport. As such, to truly evaluate the potential damage TV wrestling may cause should one not contrast the thematic content of TV wrestling with other entertainment TV content?

Another point the article makes, which is echoed in the Tamborini et al. article (Tamborini 2005:217), is that children have difficulty in differentiating fantasy from fact, yet again, unlike Tamborini et al., the article does not support this position with evidence. Therefore it is possible to look to the ITC report, which suggests that the majority of TV wrestling viewers (even young children) can interpret wrestling as fantasy, as contradictory evidence. (ITC 2001 P:12) The article further suggests that due to the rapid physical and social changes that occur during adolescence, the vulnerable proportion of the wrestling audience may be morally corrupted by unsuitable messages in WWE merchandising. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:238) Here Bernthal and Medway seem to take a somewhat subjective view of what constitutes acceptable product content, while it is possible that many parents may find some WWE slogans morally unacceptable, no evidence is presented as to whether they do or don’t.

Throughout the article, reference is made to the theoretical position that a preoccupation with professional wrestling culture is harmful (Bernthal & Medway 2005:236), yet the article does clearly set out just what constitutes a preoccupation, other than the point system for measuring wrestling involvement mentioned in the methodology. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:226) While this point system can be seen to measure an individual’s involvement with professional wrestling, it does not appear to indicate the level to which the individual is preoccupied with professional wrestling, as it fails to draw comparisons between the level of involvement with wrestling as opposed to other forms of leisure, entertainment and sport.

By far the most concerning issue raised by the study, is its inconsistency over the existence of clinical maladjustment related to wrestling consumption. When reporting the results, Bernthal and Medway suggested that children more involved with professional wrestling exhibited more clinical maladjustment (Bernthal & Medway 2005:235), yet concluded later in the same paragraph that the behavioural levels exposed in the study in no way reached those of clinical maladjustment. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:235) Nonetheless, in their discussion of the results on the next page, Bernthal and Medway stated that the data showed that heightened wrestling involvement was associated with increased clinical maladjustment, making it clear one paragraph later however; that this association is not conclusive of cause. (Bernthal & Medway 2005:236)

In short the article appears to suggest a correlation between heightened wrestling viewing and some negative psychological traits, but in no clear way suggests a cause for these traits, yet still concludes that those with a duty of care towards adolescents should distance them from the products of the WWE.

____________________

Bethnal, M. & Medway, F. (2005) An Initial Exploration into the Psychological Implications of Adolescents’ Involvement with Professional Wrestling. School Psychology International [Online] Vol.29 p.224 Available: InfoTrac [28 October 2007]

Independent Television Commission (ITC) (2001) WRESTLING: How do audiences perceive TV and video wrestling? [Online] Winchester: Independent Television Commission. Accessed: [28 October 2007] Available:http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/research/wrestling_how_do_viewers.doc

Tamborini, R. et al. (2005). The Raw Nature of Televised Professional Wrestling: Is the violence a cause for concern? Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media [Online] Vol. 49 (2) p. 202. Available: InfoTrac [28 October 2007]

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Regulators take

John Quinn

MPhill/PhD – Media effects

30th October 2007 D.O.S. John Robertson


A review of the 2001 report on the Cragg Ross Dawson qualitative research, commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC), concerning how viewers perceive TV and video wrestling



Introduction

The study, commissioned by the BBFC, ITC, and BSC, was intended to provide the three bodies, (who where at the time of publication, responsible for providing guidance to consumers and broadcasters as to the rules in respect of the showing of violence[1]) with an insight into how viewers perceive TV and video wrestling. The viewers’ perception of the product was deemed highly important to the regulatory bodies, as the nature of the broadcasts lay, in some ambiguity, between that of sport and entertainment, and as a result, the bodies were uncertain of how the violent content of the programming would be understood by the viewer. As such, a need had been identified to understand if wrestling viewers perceived the violent and anti-social exchanges shown by the programming as real, and if this perception of reality affected the appeal of the product.[2]

The data from the study was to be used to inform thinking on how the bodies could regulate this particular form of broadcasting and video distribution. The study intended to investigate:[3]

o Whether the viewer considered the violence real.

o What pleasure arose form watching wrestling.

o The demographic differences of understanding.

o The differences relating to product provider and broadcast platform

The methodology was entirely qualitative and utilised; group discussion, extended group discussion with observation, individual interviews, and paired interviews. The sample was divided into six age brackets to represent the wide diversity of audience, and biased towards the male and social groups BC1C2. The sample was controlled for levels of interest in viewing wrestling, and delivery platform.[4]

Review

The report concluded that on the basis of the study’s data, most of the wrestling consumption utilised broadcast television, and suggested that this was due to the open ended and episodic nature of TV wrestling’s narrative form, relegating video consumption to that of the ‘keep sake’.[5] The study found that dedicated fans routinely time shifted late night broadcasts of wrestling, circumventing the watershed, while casual viewers only consumed the pre-watershed broadcasts. The report seemed to suggest that as parents can often be casual viewers, they seen no need to police the time shifting of post-watershed productions.[6]

The data indicated that the WWF (now WWE) was the most popular brand of wrestling, and that due to the episodic/open ended narrative form, dedicated viewers (regardless of age) are highly motivated to consume post-watershed productions via time shifting. The report highlighted a propensity toward group consumption, resulting the generation of a robustly energetic atmosphere, with females viewing to facilitate socially inclusive conversation. (So they know what the boys were talking about)[7]

On the notion of perception of the wrestling product, the report concluded that the viewer considered wrestling to be entertainment rather than sport, and that as of 2000, wrestling was the one of the vogue forms of televised entertainment. This conclusion was derived form the viewers’ interpretation of the physical actions of the wrestlers, who seemed unconstrained by the rules and normal physical limitations associated with such actions. The report suggested that this observation lead many viewers to postulate, through comparing wrestling to other forms of sport, that some form of scripting is involved in the outcome of the matches.[8]

The data indicated that the appeal of wrestling and the associated pleasures vary according to demographic group, and identified the main attractions as; amusement related to ‘over the top antics’, appreciation of the athletic skill of the performers, excitement derived form the energetic narrative, tension derived from the narrative, sexual attraction, and the episodic structure.[9] The data indicated that males of 12 and under, along with dedicated adult male fans, were most attracted to the actual physical action of the wrestling moves, with the casual viewer preferring the storyline/atmosphere.[10] Sexual attraction was assumed to be a minor but contributory factor to the female participants viewing, while sexual titillation was identified as a growing source of appeal for all the male demographics.[11]

The report suggested that the physical action between the wrestlers (violence) is more central to the appeal of wrestling than most fans know themselves, and proposes that adults are less inclined to discuss the possibility that they are attracted to the violence.[12] From the observational data, a correlation was made between the severity of violence shown and the acuteness of the participant’s attention, were the greater the former the greater later.[13] However the study, suggested that the participants felt it was more respectable to appreciate the showmanship, and skills of the performer rather than the violence.

On the matter of whether or not the viewer perceived TV wrestling as ‘real’, the report concluded that the vast majority of consumers can rationally identify the action as ‘not real’, with the exceptions being some young children and some casual viewers, who nonetheless still question themselves as to the reality of the action. [14] The findings detail some of the perceptions that allude to the ‘staging’ of TV wrestling, namely; the occasional non-connecting punches, the implausibility of the wrestlers’ recuperative powers, the non-sporting nature of many of the bouts, and an underlying confidence that many of the occurrences in TV wrestling would not be sanctioned if it were a real sport.[15] The discussion further suggested that viewers may feel comfortable enjoying the violence due to them perceiving the action as ‘pretend’.[16]

However the report concluded that whilst viewing the texts, consumers often suspend their disbelief, momentarily treating the action as real, during TV wrestling’s most extreme moments, and stresses the perceived importance of novelty on maintaining this heightened enjoyment. [17] The study suggested that connected to this is the utilisation of the TV soap narrative form, making grudges more plausible and building up anticipation for bouts.[18]

The report could not determine how consumer’s reactions to wrestling are mediated by their level of appreciation, suggesting that this is due to the individual consumers not knowing to what extent the action is controlled themselves,[19] and furthermore, alluded to an uncertainty over how TV wrestling should be viewed in relation to other forms of mediated violence. This was attributed to the centrality of violence to the narrative in wrestling, whereas, in other forms, the violence is subservient to the plot. [20]

Nonetheless, the study highlighted a number of concerns over TV wrestling, while conceding that the majority of TV wrestling consumers perceived TV wrestling as harmless entertainment, a small minority of casual viewers were concerned about the effect more graphic depictions of physical harm may have on younger viewers[21] Furthermore the study found that the vast majority of the boys included in the sample engaged in imitation of TV wrestling – which included the re-enactment of weapons use resulting in physical harm.[22] However analysis of the data found that the majority of parents attributed this to the inevitability of children to copy what they see on television, with only a few concerned about the depictions of weapons use, with the general belief of the parents being that the children who imitate wrestling were involved in tame or innocuous play.[23] A minority of parents did however raise concerns, when prompted that the unrealistic portrayal of the consequences of violence would lead children to misunderstand the results of violent behaviour.[24]

In conclusion, the study suggested that from a regulatory standpoint, TV wrestling should be monitored on its continuing development of innovation of portrayals of violence, as this area is the one that intends on shocking the viewer into suspending their disbelief through increasingly extreme (looking) content.[25]

Discussion

From analysis of the commissioning bodies’ guidelines, what seems to have been their main concern was whether or not TV wrestling can be attributed to the normalising of violence as an easily imitated means of solving social problems, and to explore this, the study concentrated on how the audience perceives the product, and how that perception affects its appeal. What emerged form the data was that the majority of young male viewers imitated, in some form or another, the violent action shown by TV wrestling broadcasts. However interestingly, the data also suggested that the level of showmanship affects how the viewer will perceive the violence.[26] The greater the showmanship, the greater the perception of illusion, in essence, if there is a high degree of showmanship, consumers would perceive the violence of wrestling to be sufficiently ‘staged’ to allow them to enjoy its consumption. Therefore any wrestling that has suitably low levels of showmanship would appear to be ‘real’.

From the participants’ data in section D 1.2.1, it is clear that Backyard wrestling was used as an example of this lack of showmanship indicating ‘reality’, however the research team were ignorant to the existence of this type of video. Therefore, it is possible to suggest from this data that the consumer of TV wrestling can determine the difference between mainstream professional wrestling, which presents tightly controlled simulations of violence, and backyard wrestling which presents much less controlled simulations, by interpreting the level of showmanship. Mainstream wrestling utilises, larger athletes, costume, pyrotechnics, live audiences and live broadcasting, whereas, backyard wrestling utilises non of the above, and generally appears to have little showmanship as one participant notes: ‘It was fights in car parks with glass in their hands and things like that.’[27] As such it is possible to postulate that TV wrestling is differentiated from reality through its aesthetics, and that these aesthetics help the consumer to understand that the violence is illusory.

What became clear from the data is that most of the audience, even dedicated fans, were not sure as to the extent of the control of violence in TV wrestling. Many in the study believed that in-ring bloodshed was achieved by way of special effects capsule, when in reality bloodletting in TV wrestling happens accidentally (via a mistake on the part of one of the wrestlers), or is pre-planned and achieved by a competitor ‘bladeing’ themselves, that is to cut themselves along the frown lines with a small razor blade. It is possible to suggest therefore, that the misconception here encourages a less barbaric reading of TV wrestling than is actually the case, where the assumption of special effects makes more palatable the self mutilation inflicted by the wrestler. This aspect of wrestling perception appears to become cyclical, where in order to better the illusion of actual violence, TV wrestling promotes actual self harm, which is in turn, through the audiences’ perception of wrestling as ‘fake’, is seen as illusory.

The report raised the concern that such perceptions could result in the misconception in some that bleeding, along with the remarkable recuperative powers of the wrestlers, does not indicate serious injury, and that this would damage an individuals understanding of the consequences of violent action. However it is possible to suggest, from the study’s own conclusion that the majority of fans understand that wrestling is not ‘real’, that such representations are in fact key indicators of wrestling’s pretence, and serve to detach wrestling from reality.

Another point of interest, directly related to the above, was that fans appeared to become more focused on the product when the violence took a more extreme approach to the simulation of violence, but however the study did not attempt to understand why this might be the case, only noting that often innovation based on this type of action was a major contributory factor to the appeal of TV wrestling. In section D 2.2.7, the report details the results of collages made by the participants to reflect the nature of TV wrestling. Form the data collected form these collages it is possible to suggest that children constructed collages that reflected the agonic mode of group behaviour, choosing aggressive and assertive imagery, that suggests the struggle for dominance. Whereas the adults constructed collages more reflective of the hedonic mode of group behaviour with representation of slick and attractive images suggesting an appreciation of the Social Attention Holding Power of the wrestlers. [28]

Overall the study seemed to be successful in qualifying how audiences perceive TV wrestling, suggesting that the vast majority of consumers perceive TV wrestling as staged, un-damaging in terms of it normalising of violence, and that the imitation of wrestling is seen as an inevitable part of childhood, the study did however struggle to understand fully the appeal of TV wrestling. Nonetheless the study opened up through its analysis of data, some interesting areas for future research:

Research questions arising

o What is the appeal of TV wrestling?

o Why do viewers like wrestling more when it appears to become more extreme?

o Does exposure to the unrealistic representation of the effects of violence encourage the viewer to underestimate the consequences of violence?

o What drives young males to imitate the violent behaviour seen on TV?



[1] The Broadcasting Act (1996) required the ITC to provide guidance codes as relates to the rules of showing violence.

[2] Independent Television Commission, (2001)Wrestling: How do audiences perceive TV and Video wrestling , p:2 (A1)

[3] Ibid, p:3 (A2)

[4] Ibid, Appendix 1-3

[5] Ibid p:8 (C1)

[6] Ibid p:8 (C3)

[7] Ibid p:9 (C5)

[8] Ibid p:9 (C8)

[9] Ibid p:10 (C9)

[10] Ibid p:10 (C10)

[11] Ibid p:11 (C11)

[12] Ibid p:11 (C13)

[13] Ibid p:11 (C13)

[14] Ibid p:12 (C14)

[15] Ibid p:12 (C15 &C16)

[16] Ibid p:13 (C17)

[17] Ibid p:13 (C18 & c20)

[18] Ibid p:13(C19 & C21

[19] Ibid p:13 (C22)

[20] Ibid p:13 (C23)

[21] Ibid p:70 (D5)

[22] Ibid p:71-72 (D5.1)

[23] Ibid p:73-75 (D5.1)

[24] Ibid p:86 (D5.5)

[25] Ibid p:13 (C23)

[26] Ibid p:18 (D1.2.1)

[27] Ibid p:19 (D1.2.1)

[28] Ibid p:37