Smith, S.L. (2001). Children’s comprehension of and fear reactions to television news. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California at Santa Barbara, 2001). Dissertation Abstracts International, 61 (8-A), 2975.

Abstract: Public concern over children’s exposure to television news has increased in recent years, in part because of the amount of crime and violence in such programming. Yet little research exists on children’s reactions to TV news. The purpose of the present dissertation was to examine children’s comprehension of and fear reactions to television news from a developmental perspective. A pair of studies was conducted, each using a different methodology, to assess the impact of television news programming on child viewers. Study 1 is an in depth interview with children about their reactions to television news. The results from Study 1 revealed that older children were more likely to understand as well as be frightened by television news than were younger children. Both age groups were able to recall and describe news stories that made them feel upset. However, developmental differences were observed in the types of stories younger and older children recalled as scary. Younger children were more scared by stories about natural disasters, whereas older children were more scared by stories about crime and violence. Finally, there was some evidence that repeated exposure to television news affects children’s perceptions of how much crime occurs in distant communities. Although elementary school children reported being frightened by TV news in Study 1, little systematic information exists about the specific features of news stories that may be causing this upset. Therefore, Study 2 is an experiment designed to examine how two particular aspects of a news story might influence children’s responses: video footage of a crime scene and location of the criminal event. The results revealed that the location of the crime story had a significant impact on children’s fright reactions. However, these responses were moderated by a child’s age. Consistent with developmental predictions, older children were more likely to be frightened by and perceive themselves personally vulnerable to a story about local as opposed to nonlocal crime. Unexpectedly, children were less frightened by the crime story when it included video footage. Overall, the results from this dissertation are consistent with previous research on developmental differences in children’s fear responses to fictional mass media in general and television news in specific. The theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed and directions for future research are delineated. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)