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School-age children are particularly susceptible to operant conditioning, including learning by observation, or modeling. Children who imitate those they admire (parents, teachers, sports and entertainment figures) derive reinforcement from “being like” their heroes. A potent source of models for the school-age child, like the younger child, is television. By watching television, for example, children learn a great deal about the various roles they may play during their lives, including gender roles, parental roles, and friendship roles. Unfortunately, many of the behaviors modeled on television reflect undesirable stereotypes and antisocial behaviors that may cast a shadow on the child’s future social development. The good news is that prosocial behaviors, when they are modeled on television, are just as influential and apt to be imitated as are antisocial behaviors.

For this activity, I’m going to ask that you watch several hours of kid-friendly television, noting the incidence of aggressive behaviors (defined as overt use of force against others) and differences in how males and females are portrayed. Then answer the below questions:

  1. Was there a difference in how often males and females played lead roles in the various programs? If so, what impact do you feel this has on school-age viewers?
  2. How often was aggressive behavior modeled by males and females? When aggressive behavior occurred, which sex was more likely to use physical force? nonphysical force?
  3. How often were prosocial behaviors (helping, praising, sharing) modeled by females? males?
  4. What were the consequences of aggression in the programs you watched? Was aggressive behavior reinforced? Was there a gender difference in the consequences of aggression?
  5. What were the consequences of prosocial behaviors in the programs you watched? Was prosocial behavior reinforced? Was there a gender difference in the consequences of prosocial behavior?
  6. What differences did you observe in how males and females were portrayed in the various categories of TV programs?
  7. What other values, prejudicial attitudes, or stereotypes were reinforced in the programs you watched?
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