My post earlier this month, on torture, novels, and human rights, has met with more response than my meanderings usually do: a response at Hermits Rock, and a post and a comments thread at the Valve. I’m also told that a recent book by David Griffith, A Good War Is Hard to Find, makes an argument similar to mine, and even starts by comparing the novel and movie versions of the torture scenes in Deliverance.
A few commenters at the Valve somehow figured out that I’m not a cognitive psychologist, alas. Fortunately, this morning I happened to stumble across some confirmation of my irresponsible hunches. Even though I didn’t know about it when I wrote my original post, it turns out that there is evidence that watching violence on screen changes the brain, according to "Mind-altering media," an article by Helen Philips in the 19 April 2007 issue of New Scientist:
Brain imaging and other physiological measures also reveal changes in emotional responses to violent images as a result of viewing violence or playing violent games. Bruce Bartholow of the University of Missouri, Columbia, has found that people with a history of game playing have a reduced brain response to shocking pictures, suggesting that people begin to see such imagery as more normal. Another study found that frontal lobe activity was reduced in youngsters who played a violent video game for 30 minutes, compared with those playing an equally exciting but non-violent game. This brain region is important for concentration and impulse control, among other things. A region called the amygdala, important for emotional control, was more aroused in those who experienced the violent game.
The article also references what is apparently overwhelming scientific documentation of a link between television viewing and increased aggressive behavior in children, so overwhelming that one developmental psychologist calls the ambivalence about the link in the mainstream press exasperating. The implication is that reporting on the research has been befuddled in much the way that reporting on smoking and global warming once were.
Of course this doesn’t necessarily prove the other lemma in my hypothesis, that reading novels is good for you.