Comic books shadow how we react to threats

11/15/05

In times of social danger and economic turmoil, many psychologists believe that people become more aggressive, more conventional, and less interested in feelings and emotions. A new study published in the latest issue of Political Psychology finds that comic book characters do these things as well. In times of higher threat, i.e. the events of 1979 which included the Iran hostage crisis, comic books contained more aggressive imagery, focused on male characters, and were less introspective. The authors reviewed comic books published between 1978 -1992 frame by frame to judge the amount of violence and conventionalism drawn, the number of women and minorities in speaking or subordinate roles, portrayal of wrongdoing by the authorities, and the amount of reflection (thought in balloons rather than dialogue). In general, the authors found that women spoke less and a significantly greater number of panels were devoted to aggression during high threat periods.

The authors reviewed eight Marvel comic books that are still published today. These titles included four titles that featured more conventional heroes that represent American virtues like U.S. patriotism (Captain America) and the everyman (Spider-Man). The other four heroes were less conventional with themes such as persecution by society (X-men) and a vigilante who lives in an "amoral urban hell" (Daredevil). When compared against their own sales, the unconventional titles sold more copies during the low-threat times compared to the high-threat times; whereas the conventional hero sales remained flat. "As an aspect of popular culture, comic books have always reflected the historical time period in which they were produced," author Bill Peterson explains.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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