Let me tell you a story. When I was about eight or nine I had a friend. Yes, really. And he had pretty much all the toys I coveted. And at the time, those toys were Dinky cars - a fleet of the things, in just about every model Dinky ever manufactured. I used to love toy cars. I had a few myself, but my meagre pocket-money would never run to more than three or four but he - let's call him 'Dick' - had hundreds of the things. We used to 'play out' then; it was the seventies. I'd go calling for my friends, like 'Dick', and we'd be in each other's bedrooms brrming cars along he floor and inventing elaborate games involving - in his case - multiple pile-ups, mass attention of the emergency services and ultimately, the destruction with hammers of toys I could only dream of owning. I pretty soon gave up taking any of my own toy car collection to his house. In fact, I pretty soon stopped going round to his house at all.
Where 'Dick' got his violent tendencies I'll never know, but seeing the wanton destruction of toys I could only dream of owning left me with a rather strong aversion to seeing toys - any toys - being badly treated. (It also excused a few minor acts of 'liberation' from his bedroom, but no matter. 'Dick', if you're reading, I still have your Shelvoke & Drewery Dustbin Wagon safe, without so much of a scratch on the paintwork. If you've still got the box it must be worth a fortune.)
Fast-forward a few years (ok, more than a few) and I've been pleased to see the care with which Charlie plays with his toy trains. Until recently. Suddenly, out of the blue, we've had a spate of railway disasters the like of which the island of Sodor can seldom have ever seen. Thomas is lucky to have got away without busting his boiler; Percy, though, may not have been so lucky. And I've been puzzled by it. Maybe, I thought, all children go through such a stage. Perhaps my memory of doing so has faded? Or maybe I missed out on a 'disaster' movie phase of childhood play?
But then I began to take more notice of the DVD that Charlie has been watching recently. It's innocent enough: more 'Trouble on the Tracks' than 'Terror at Tidmouth Sheds'. And I remembered Albert Bandura, and his Bobo doll experiment. Basically, Badura sought to show that children who were shown some form of violence on film went on the play more violently with their toys. And what happens in 'Trouble on the Tracks' (not the real title!) is this: Thomas comes off the rails; he crashes into a line of troublesome trucks; he careers through the buffers; he pulls down Cranky the Crane. It's all innocent enough... then there was trouble, narrates 'man-of-a-couple-of-voices' Michael Angelis, while the lovely girls' choir trill a song about 'Surprises' coming in 'all shapes and sizes' and the crash-sequence gets repeated. The Fat Controller appears like God Almighty to pass judgement; the mess is cleared and the trains go on their merry way. On television, that is. In the 'real' world of our living room they bash into each other at breakneck speed; dustcarts crash the level-crossing gates and rubbish is strewn everywhere; Percy and Thomas are set on yet another unavoidable collision cause.
Am I witnessing my very-own playing out of Bandura's famous prophecy? Who knows. I'm not sure that the causal link has been established. But what do you think? Does seeing 'violence' on TV, in films or even childrens' DVDs begat violent behaviour? Has anyone noticed anything similar? Or is Charlie showing signs of the dysfunctional behaviour of 'Dick' all those years ago?
Like most things, there's more to the so-called link between what you see and what you do than meets the eye. But here, for any budding psychologists out there, is Albert Bandura to tell you more.