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New study says TV violence makes people more afraid of crime—but just in a general, ”I don’t want to die” way

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In a report that proves statistically that all those procedurals depicting terrible, deplorable misdeeds are doing a really fantastic job, a new study claims that Americans’ fear of crime is related to the level of violence they see on TV. However, it also claims theirs is a more vague, generalized fear of the crime that’s “out there”—not the fear that there’s specifically more crime out there these days, or that it’s specifically in their city.

The somewhat-confusing research was conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which looked at 475 hours of representative TV shows from the 1970s through 2010 while logging the incidents of violence per episode—beginning with series like Hawaii Five-0, Kojak, and Adam 12, then all the way up to CSI and Criminal Minds, in this, the so-called Golden Age of TV Rapes and Murders. Those numbers were then compared to a Gallup poll that also began in 1970, which asked people whether they were afraid to walk their neighborhood at night (back when people did that), and whether they thought there was more or less crime than a year ago.


It turns out that, despite violent crime rates falling over the decades, the public’s professed fear of crime rose, along with the increased rates of TV violence. According to the study, the average number of violent scenes per TV hour clocked in at a staggering 6.5 in 1972, before falling to a low of 1.4 in 1996 (Thanks, Nash Bridges!), then rising again to 3.7 in 2010. And it found that, with each additional violent sequence per hour, the Gallup poll gained an extra percentage point in the number of people who said they were afraid of that nighttime stroll the were supposed to be taking for some reason, possibly because there isn’t anything good and violent on television.

Of course, this study pointedly did not include cable dramas—researchers explained that they weren’t really a factor in 1970—and that certainly would have skewed the numbers and helped 2010 kick 1970’s ass, in turn creating more fear. It also didn’t differentiate between types of violence, and it’s worth noting that a violent scene in 1972 usually consisted of someone taking a bullet by clutching their side and falling over. In other words, there seems to be a lot of other data that could account for why people’s fear of crime has steadily increased, seeing as “TV crime” went from hoods with dangly earrings popping off terrible shots at Cagney & Lacey, to you not being able to turn on a broadcast network without seeing a charred corpse that was forcibly inserted inside another charred corpse. Then Ted Danson makes a wisecrack and goes to lunch.


Still, the study confidently concludes that it’s confirmed the longstanding belief that TV violence affects the public fear of crime—a fear it says has been totally blown out of proportion by the shows you watch. Next time you’re getting stabbed, just tell yourself you can’t believe everything you see on TV.