Eli A. Rubinstein, 87; Studied the Effects of TV Violence on Children

Times Staff Writer

Eli A. Rubinstein, a psychologist who helped link the viewing of television violence to aggressive behavior in children through two groundbreaking studies, has died. He was 87.

Rubinstein died of complications from Parkinson’s disease May 15 at the Carolina Meadows retirement home in Chapel Hill, N.C., said his daughter, Betsy.

The first report he oversaw also was the first national examination of the effects of television violence on society. Released by the U.S. surgeon general in 1972, it concluded that watching television violence caused antisocial behavior among children predisposed to violence.

The study generated heated debate between activists seeking to limit children’s exposure to violence and critics who maintained the evidence was inconclusive.


“He was always very disappointed that the surgeon general’s report on violence did not have as much impact as the first one on smoking,” which was released in 1964, his daughter said.

Frustrated by the study’s insignificant effect on public opinion and network policy, Rubinstein proposed a follow-up report that was released by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1982.

The second study flatly stated what many caregivers already had observed: There was “overwhelming” evidence that watching “excessive” television violence caused children to exhibit antisocial behavior.

Networks challenged the idea that cartoons and comedies could cause young viewers to push and shove on the playground, but the findings were applauded by groups that had long sought a reduction in television violence.

“The report should help parents understand that that box in the living room is not necessarily a friend of the family,” Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television, told Time magazine in 1982.

Rubinstein thought that television was becoming increasingly violent, and that more people were coming to see the relationship between TV violence and behavior, his daughter said.

Another study Rubinstein co-edited, “Big World, Small Screen,” which was released in 1992, pointed out that the American people collectively spend “20 million years of human life” each year with their television sets turned on. It concluded that commercial television poorly served those who need and use it most, including children and the elderly.

He also co-edited “The Media, Social Science and Social Policy for Children” (1985), and often testified before congressional committees on the effects of televised violence and related policy issues.


Eli Abraham Rubinstein was born April 27, 1919, in New York City, an only child who was reared by his mother, Bluma.

During World War II, he served in the Navy in the South Pacific.

A graduate of City College of New York, Rubinstein earned a doctorate in psychology in 1950 from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He worked for the Veterans Administration until 1958 and then the National Institute of Mental Health until 1971.


Away from research, Rubinstein often served as the master of ceremonies at institute retirement parties, where his love of poetry and wordplay were on display. Upon his retirement, he was given a plaque that named him the institute’s “poet laureate emeritus.”

After leaving government work, Rubinstein became a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1978, he moved to Chapel Hill and became a research professor at the University of North Carolina’s journalism school.

Despite a career often spent speaking out against television, Rubinstein watched a fair amount of it, especially after his wife, Minnie, died in 1985, his daughter said.

He also let his three children watch television while they were growing up. They were each allowed to choose one hour a week.


In addition to his daughter, Betsy of Chevy Chase, Md., Rubinstein is survived by two sons, Lawrence of Rockville, Md., and Donald of Guam; and three grandchildren.