MONDAY, Aug. 7, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Watching professional wrestling on TV encourages aggressive behavior in teens when they date.
And these violent tendencies are more pronounced in girls who watch more wrestling.
Those are the conclusions of a new study by Wake Forest University researchers, who reported their findings in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"Both among male and female students, the frequency with which they watched wrestling was associated with a number of indicators of violence and weapon-carrying," said lead author Robert H. DuRant, a professor of pediatrics and social science and health policy at Brenner Children's Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
"Of particular concern was that the frequency of watching wrestling was associated with being both the perpetrator and victim of date fighting," DuRant said. "This association was stronger among female adolescents than among male adolescents," he added.
In the study, DuRant's team asked 2,228 North Carolina high school students how many times they had watched wrestling on TV in the past two weeks. Among boys, 63 percent said they'd watched wrestling, and 24.6 percent had watched it six or more times during that period. Among girls, 35.1 percent said they had watched wrestling, and 9.1 percent had done so six or more times during the two-week period.
Boys who watched wrestling were more likely to start fights with their dates, be a date-fight victim, and carry a gun or other weapon. They also said they drank alcohol or used drugs during their last fight, the researchers found.
For girls, watching wrestling led to higher rates of starting a fight with a date, being a victim of a date fight, carrying a gun at school, fighting, fighting at school, and being injured in a fight. And like boys, these girls said they drank or used drugs during a fight, the study found.
"The more children and adolescents are exposed to violence, the more likely they are to engage in violence -- and media plays a part," DuRant said.
Part of the problem with professional wrestling, DuRant said, is that women are often degraded and appear as both the victims and instigators of violence. And this has a spillover effect for teens who watch wrestling, he said.
In addition, he noted, women in wrestling programs are often referred to in derogatory terms. "The message you hear is that violence against these women is often justified. This is a constant message the kids are receiving," he added.
DuRant admits that watching wrestling by itself is not the sole cause of violent behavior among teens. "It is one causal factor in the overall socialization of these kids. It's another media source that has a negative effect," he said. "Watching wrestling is just another nail in the coffin."
Gary Davis, vice president of corporate communications at World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., called the study a rehash of an earlier report by the same researchers.
"The researchers could not find a direct causal relationship between watching wrestling and health-risk behaviors," Davis said. "The study ignored other factors that might lead to the types of behaviors discussed in the study. Its findings, therefore, are less than conclusive."
"In contrast to the findings of this flawed study, many of our fans attest that watching World Wrestling Entertainment programming has been a positive experience for them and their children," Davis added. "Many teens viewing our programs credit them with furthering their self-esteem and confidence. Parents point to using WWE programs as incentives for academic achievement. An overwhelming majority of the parents who watch our programming do so with their children. More than half of these parents consider watching our programs with their children as important family time. As always, WWE encourages parents to be actively involved with their children in what they view on television and on the Internet."
One expert thinks the new study reflects the impact of media on promoting violence among teens.
"This study is consistent with hundreds of other studies on violent media and aggression," said Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
Bushman said he also thinks there is something different about the minority of girls who watch wrestling. "The women who are attracted to that type of entertainment may not be representative of the average woman," he said.
Bushman added that he thinks that about 10 percent of the cause of violence among teens is due to violent media. The majority of influence comes from a child's experience at home, school and with friends, he said.
However, teens look to the mass media for images to emulate. "They look to the mass media to decide what a real man is like or what a real woman is like," Bushman said. "What they see if they look at wrestling is that real men and women solve their problems with aggression and force."
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry can tell you more about TV violence and children.