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Violent Images may Lead to Stress-Related Health Problems

Update Date: Sep 04, 2012 03:13 PM EDT

Many media outlets use gruesome images as shock-value to attract people to read or watch their stories; depictions that are adopted to move people emotionally, be the feelings positive or negative, have already been proven to attract an audience.

But repeated exposure to graphic media images may have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences, says study author Roxane Cohen Silver, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior, medicine and public health.

"I would not advocate restricting nor censoring war images for the psychological well-being of the public," Silver said. "Instead, I think it's important for people to be aware that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror."

Many believe that a steady diet of violent images lead to desensitization towards the violence depicted. However, the study suggests that such exposure has the opposite affect, increasing anxiety and acute post-traumatic stress systems, as seen in people who watched more than four hours a day of 9/11- and Iraq War-related television coverage (in the weeks after the attacks and at the start of the war.

"The results suggest that exposure to graphic media images may be an important mechanism through which the impact of collective trauma is dispersed widely," Silver says. "Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones."

Bombarding people with images of the casualties and destruction following any man-made and natural disaster does indeed attract attention and a devoted awe-struck audience but, at what cost? To what extent should media moguls go to get the highest number of views? Is it worth the mental and physical health of its audience? 

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