Violence in Film: Narrative and Contextual Importance in Subjective Response


The effects of violent portrayals in the media have been well established and documented in the field of psychology. The research conducted in this area often report results that correspond with the widespread critical notion that these depictions of violence are harmful in their effect for samples of children, adolescents, and adults, usually due to the repeatedly observed result of increased aggression among these samples when exposed to these violent acts. The methodological protocol for most of these studies is to utilize film clips, instead of films in their entirety, and to create a "synthetic" narrative situation around these violent acts that directs the sample audience to perceive that the act was justified or unjustified. Limitations both in the methodology and in the literature in this area of psychological research become evident in their disregard of the large library of research and theory that exists in film studies, most of which can be grounded in psychological theory that discusses a semiotic structure in relation to thought processes as theorized by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Slavoj Zizek. Film studies have recognized that the cognitive psychological reactions of audiences to any given film are directed by the actual, full-length, narrative structure as intended by the director. Features, such as music, voice-over narration, metaphors, close-ups, etc., are tools used to create a narrative story which ultimately defines a context, mostly subjectively, for a viewer. This study makes notes of these limitations and utilizes a methodology that exposes participants to one of four defined contexts of violence, Unrealistic Context of Violence, Romanticized Context of Violence, Social-Consequential Context of Violence, and Nonviolent all of which projected the film in its entirety. A more integrative approach was taken to response questionnaires, which utilized both subjective and objective response categories. The purpose of this methodology is to support the notion that an intended narrative will guide the audience to a response based on how it defines a context through stylistic components. This type of narrative cannot, and has not in previous studies, be synthetically created by an experimenter to create a context that is to be applied to a film clip. Results of this study will be used to discuss the implications they have on censorship and future psychological research.


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Thesis Completion





Sims, Valerie


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program



Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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