Psychology - Charlton et al (2000): St Helena study

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St Helana

St Helena is one of the most isolated islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. Around 2000 kilometres from mainland Africa, it is only accessible by boat. The community of St Helena is small with a population of around 5000 inhabitants, including just over 1000 children of school age. Imagine living in a small close-knit community where everyone knows each other.

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Charlton's (2000) study

Tony Charlton and his colleagues from the University of Gloucestershire have spent many years studying the island of St Helena because it did not have any access to television before March 1995. They began their study in 1993, two years before TV was introduced, and continue their study today.

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Aim

To investigate the effects of television of children's behaviour.

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Procedure

Charlton and his colleagues began their study of children's behaviour two years before TV was connected to the island. This is a natural experiment because the researchers did not have to set up the experiment themselves - the introduction of television was happening naturally. The independent variable was television - before and after its introduction - and the dependent variable was the children's behaviour on the island.

Charlton collected data about the children's behaviour using a number of methods:

  • The researchers collected information on the children, using questionnaires and asking parents and teachers about the behaviour of children. 
  • Observations of the children's behaviour were made in the school playground, particularly the level of aggression the children displayed.
  • The researchers' content analysed what and how much the children watched on television. They were particularly interested in how much violence children watched and for how long.
  • Video cameras were placed in the school classrooms and playground to watch the children and measure the level of aggression.
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Results

Charlton found very little difference in the children's behaviour before and after the introduction of television. The island had a very low rate of behavioural problems with children before the study, and this did not significantly increase because of watching TV.

Because the population of St Helena was so small, with everyone knowing everyone else, and parents having a high level of control over their children's behaviour, the effect of television was reduced. TV did not have the impact it could have had in a less isolated environment.

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Conclusion

This study shows that TV did not have a significant impact on children's behaviour. Even if violence was watched it was not copied. This was due to high levels of community control and surveillance and parents' control over behaviour. 

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Evaluation

Strengths:

  • This study is a natural experiment, which means it has greater realism than a laboratory or field experiment. This is because the researcher does not set up the situation - it is happening naturally. 
  • Discreet cameras were used so the children would have acted naturally, because they did not know they were being watched.

Weaknesses:

  • Because of the close nature of the community it might be that the children were more aggressive after watching TV, but that parents and teachers were unwilling to report this because of the negative view researchers would have of the Island. Also, if children were aggressive in the classroom or playground this could have been controlled quickly by teachers to prevent a negative perception of the children.
  • Other psychologists have reported that the programmes watched by children contained less violence than programmes watched by mainland children. Popular programmes with high violent content, such as 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' and 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', were not broadcast to St Helena children.
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Key definitions

natural experiment: an experiment where the independent variable is naturally occurring and not set up by the researchers.

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