WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The frequency of adolescents viewing wrestling on TV was positively associated with date fighting and other violent behaviors, according to a study, published by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the August issue of Pediatrics.
“This study has tremendous implications,” said Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics and social science and health policy at Brenner Children’s Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. “It shows that exposure to this type of violence on television during this crucial period of time when a teen’s cognitive, social and physical development is still being cemented can affect adolescents in a negative way.”
The frequency of watching wrestling was highest among students who engaged in date fighting when either the victim or the perpetrator had been drinking alcohol or using drugs. The relationship between watching wrestling and date fighting persisted after adjusting for multiple other factors, according to the study.
“One of the more interesting things we learned while completing this research was that the relationship between watching wrestling on television and being the perpetrator of dating violence was stronger among females,” DuRant said. “Also, our study results remained consistent, when examined longitudinally, over a six-to seven-month period.”
Adolescents who watch wrestling on TV are exposed to a high frequency of violence between men and women, alcohol use and hearing women referred to in derogatory terms such as “bitch,” according to the study. In addition, the scenarios played out in the TV dramas often present violence as a solution to a problem.
“The level of vulgar language, verbal abuse and physical abuse modeled, with unrealistic outcomes, is astonishing,” DuRant said. “For example, during one wrestling match a man dangled a woman upside down and then dropped her forcibly on her head, knocking her unconscious. In reality, I know this act would have broken her neck and probably would have killed her. In addition, the announcer of the program, speculating on what the wrestler was going to do with the woman, stated that she ‘deserved it’ because she had cheated on this wrestler earlier. This teaches an adolescent that it is OK to use violence to resolve conflicts and that women deserve abusive treatment.”
In this study, researchers asked a random sample of 2,228 North Carolina high school students, how many times they had watched wrestling on TV in the past two weeks. Among males, 63 percent had watched wrestling and 24.6 percent had watched it six or more times during the previous two weeks. Among females, 35.1 percent had watched wrestling and 9.1 percent had watched it six or more times.
In males, watching wrestling was associated with having started a fight with a date, other fighting, having been a date fight victim, gun carrying and other weapon carrying. Alcohol or drug use during the last fight by the date or by the student was associated with watching wrestling more frequently, according to the study.
In females, watching wrestling by females was associated with having started a date fight, having been a date fight victim, gun carrying, carrying a gun at school, other weapon carrying at school, fighting, fighting at school, and being injured in a fight. Also, alcohol or drug use by the female student or her date during the last date fight was associated with viewing wrestling more frequently.
“The bottom line is that adolescents are affected by what they are exposed to,” DuRant said. “This study shows that the incidence of date fighting and other violence increases when the exposure to violence increases. Wrestling doesn’t in itself cause violence, but when combined with overall socialization, violence on television can affect what is perceived as socially acceptable behavior.”
Of the 2,228 students who participated in the study, 48.4 percent were female.
According to Nielsen’s ratings, wrestling is one of the top 10 cable TV programs.
Other authors of the study in addition to DuRant are: Heather Champion, Ph.D., and Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., both with Wake Forest Baptist. The Brenner Center for Child and Adolescent Health funded the study.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Wake Forest University Health Sciences and Brenner Children’s Hospital. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, rehabilitation, psychiatry and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report. Brenner Children’s was named one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation by Child magazine.