Video Nice is the sequel to the article Video Nasty https://www.newtonhypnosis.com/video-nasty/
If violent video games and TV shows can influence aggression, what would happen if we could harness this effect to calm people down?
Prisons have traditionally used programmes like woodworking classes and art therapy to keep inmates occupied and away from trouble – no easy task considering the reasons most of them are there in the first place.
In China, compulsory re-education has been the rule since the communist revolution. Endless classes in political awareness, social responsibility and the good of the many outweighing the good of the few philosophy, has proved remarkably successful. In the West, there are simply not enough resources to make this work, let alone political will. In the UK, inmates are for the most part swept under the carpet, out of circulation, out of sight and out of mind until their release.
But new research suggests that getting prisoners to watch nature programmes can significantly reduce aggressive and antisocial behaviour, at least while they are still incarcerated.
A team of researchers in the United States, led by Dr Patricia Hasbach, studied the mental health of prisoners at a correctional institution in Oregon. Part of the study involved inmates who watched films about the natural world during their recreation time. The films covered a variety of subjects such as flora, forests, the oceans, aquaria and even a burning log fire [although we are not told if the arsonists were allowed to watch this last one.]
As with all experiments, the researchers also employed a control group – of the 48 prisoners in the cellblock, only half were shown the nature videos. Over the course of a year, the prisoners with access to the nature films received a quarter fewer disciplinary episodes than those who did not. Incidences of actual violence and aggression fell by 26% in inmates who had regular exposure to the films, compared with those who didn’t.
It is thought that watching nature programmes helps them ‘re-connect’ with nature itself, something already known to improve mental health and wellbeing in humans.
Both psychologists and ramblers recognise that feeling and being at one with nature is good for physical health and psychological wellbeing. Obviously, direct contact with nature would be better, but given the unfortunate circumstances, even indirect contact seemed to provide [at least temporary] relief from stress and inevitable feelings of antagonism and hostility.
The prison staff reported back to the researchers on a regular basis and agreed the videos were a useful [targeted] intervention for prisoners displaying warning signs of aggressive behaviour.
Inmate surveys and interviews also indicated that negative emotions and behaviours such as aggression, distress, irritability and nervousness reduced following the viewing of the videos and that the effect lasted for several hours.
The importance of the study is self evident – the results reduced violent outbursts by 26% and could provide a model for other prisons, even high security establishments where they keep the real rubbish, to reduce stress, aggression and violence.
Dr Hasbach’s research was presented to the American Psychological Association in Denver, Colorado in August 2016 and reported in the magazine Popular Science.
It is impossible to ignore the effect of television and film on the human psyche – especially in cases where the viewer, whether law-abiding citizen or criminal scum may be suggestible and therefore susceptible to imagery. In another unrelated experiment, students who watched the Superman movie were found more likely to help others and even engage in acts of kindness afterward.
Maybe if we were to accept a responsible censorship of the portrayal of violence in video games, TV shows and film, we might enjoy a less violent world. Even news bulletins that show actual violence or the aftermath of violence engender copycat acts of violence. Given the chronology of school mass shootings in the United States and lone wolf terrorist attacks in Europe and you might begin to get the idea.
Electronic media and information technology means we now have everything at our fingertips, but of course, there has been a price to pay for this. Violence encourages violence, whether it is witnessed in real time or in decades old news reports. These studies, meticulously executed and recorded prove the point and we must start to take note. The academics with their notebooks and keen eyes should be given a louder voice – there should be a connection between their findings and the political elite who guide our futures.
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