In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, we're more focused than ever on what causes people to behave violently, and violent television shows get a big share of the blame. The trouble with studying how violence on television affects real-life violence is that it's hard to measure.
According to Dr. David Ostroff, chairman of the department of television and communication at the University of Florida, one thing that's changed historically is how we study this potential link. "In the past, researchers tried to see if watching a violent TV show caused people to immediately behave more violently, but more modern studies are concerned with the long-term impacts of violent imagery on television," he says.
Ostroff explains that maybe you don't watch an episode of "Breaking Bad," and then go on a shooting spree, but you might be more likely to react violently in a stressful situation, because you've been desensitized to that type of behavior or think it's an acceptable reaction, and there seems to be research to back this up.
A long-term study between 1977 and 1992 looked at 557 children from five countries and their TV viewing habits and revisited them as young adults. The study found that early exposure to TV violence as children was a predictor of aggressive behavior later on. This was true even when the study controlled for socioeconomic factors, parenting styles and children who showed aggressive tendencies early on [source: American Psychological Association].