May 13, 2004
Recent stories and images of tragic, seemingly inhumane deeds perpetrated in Iraq are bound to leave Americans shocked, outraged, afraid and confused.
But Arizona State University psychology and media experts say both the purveyors and recipients of such news should maintain a sense of perspective, courage and regard for the value of all human life.
"If we continue to demonize the people we are fighting against, it's only going to escalate matters and lead to more killing," said ASU regents professor David Altheide, who has spent 30 years studying the effects of mass media on the public.
Television stations and Internet sites around the country were rife with calls for vengeance Wednesday, with some citizens even advocating the mass slaughter of Iraqis in response to the beheading Tuesday of American contract worker Nick Berg.
ASU director of clinical psychology Dr. Laurie Chassin said she was initially surprised by the intensity of the public's anger, although it is consistent with some studies on violent thoughts and behavior.
"Some of the data suggests exposure to aggression triggers aggression," Chassin said.
Altheide said the media often facilitates unhealthy anger and fear. It should provide better insight into the context and consequences of shocking events, he said, rather than merely proffering a superficial "pornography of violence."
"We need to stop celebrating the slaughter of each other as if it's a noble thing," he said. "It's up to the journalists to start it."
Psychology professor Irwin Sandler said parents should take special note of the way expressions of anger and vengeance could affect their children.
"Parents have to check their own values on this and think about the message they want to send to their kids," Sandler said.
Instead of demonstrating rage and hatred over atrocities in the news, he said parents should teach the value of human life and reassure children that they are safe.
"Parents, in a way, are a resource to help kids interpret what they are hearing," Sandler said.