Superhero movies are more popular than ever. But new research shows that the superhero characters often idolized by young viewers may send a strongly negative message when it comes to violence.
In fact, the new study found that the “good guys” in superhero films engage in more violent acts, on average, than the villains.
For the study, researchers analyzed 10 superhero films released in 2015 and 2016. They classified major characters as either a protagonist (“good guy”) or antagonist (“bad guy”). They then used a standardized tool to compile specific acts and types of violence portrayed in the films.
The researchers tallied an average of 23 acts of violence per hour associated with the films’ protagonists, compared with 18 violent acts per hour for the antagonists.
The researchers also found the films showed male characters in nearly five times as many violent acts — 34 per hour, on average — than female characters, who were engaged in an average of seven violent acts per hour.
“Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys,’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence,” said the study’s lead author, Robert Olympia, M.D., a professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and an attending physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center/Penn State Children’s Hospital.
“Pediatric health care providers should educate families about the violence depicted in this genre of film and the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes.”
According to the study’s findings, the most common act of violence associated with protagonists in the films was fighting (1,021 total acts), followed by the use of a lethal weapon (659), destruction of property (199), murder (168), and bullying/intimidation/torture (144).
For antagonists, the most common violent act was the use of a lethal weapon (604 total acts), followed by fighting (599), bullying/intimidation/torture (237), destruction of property (191), and murder (93).
To help counteract the negative influence superhero films may have on children, families should watch them together and talk about what they see, said the study’s principal investigator, John N. Muller, M.S., a medical student at the Penn State University College of Medicine.
“Co-viewing these movies as a family can be an effective antidote to increased violence in superhero-based films,” he said.
But the key is discussing the consequences of violence actively with their children, he added.
“In passively co-viewing violent media, there is an implicit message that parents approve of what their children are seeing, and previous studies show a corresponding increase in aggressive behavior,” Muller said. “By taking an active role in their children’s media consumption by co-viewing and actively mediating, parents help their children develop critical thinking and internally regulated values.”
The study was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics