MONDAY, Dec. 9, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Violent movie
characters are also likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and
engage in sexual behavior in films rated appropriate for children
over 12, according to a new study.
"Parents should be aware that youth who watch PG-13 movies will be exposed to characters whose violence is linked to other more common behaviors, such as alcohol and sex, and that they should consider whether they want their children exposed to that influence," said study lead author Amy Bleakley, a policy research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.
It's not clear what this means for children who watch popular
movies, however. There's intense debate among experts over whether
violence on screen has any direct connection to what people do in
real life. Even if there is a link, the new findings don't specify
whether the violent characters are glamorized or portrayed as
And the study's definition of violence was broad, encompassing
89 percent of popular G- and PG-rated movies.
The study, which was published in the January issue of the
Pediatrics, sought to find out if violent characters also
engaged in other risky behaviors in films viewed by teens.
Bleakley and her colleagues have published several studies
warning that kids who watch more fictional violence on screen
become more violent themselves.
Their research has come under attack from critics who argue it's
difficult to gauge the impact of movies, TV and video games when so
many other things influence children. In September, more than 200
people from academic institutions sent a statement to the American
Psychological Association saying it wrongly relied on "inconsistent
or weak evidence" in its attempts to connect violence in the media
to real-life violence.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed almost 400
top-grossing movies from 1985 to 2010 with an eye on violence and
its connection to sexual behavior, tobacco smoking and alcohol use.
The movies in the sample weren't chosen based on their appeal to
children, so adult-oriented films little seen by kids might have
The researchers found that about 90 percent of the movies
included at least one moment of violence involving a main
character. Violence was defined as virtually any attempt to
physically harm someone else, even in fun.
A main character also engaged in sexual behavior (a category
that includes kissing on the lips and seductive dancing), smoked
tobacco or drank alcohol in 77 percent of the movies.
These co-occurring behaviors were less common in G-rated movies.
Movies rated PG-13 and R had similar rates of risky behaviors,
although R-rated films were more likely to show tobacco use and
Bleakley said the Hollywood ratings system, which has been
criticized for being more concerned about sex than violence, should
consider cracking down on movies that show a "compounded portrayal"
of risky activities.
Bleakley said that, although the study doesn't mention this,
non-violent characters in the same films engaged in about the same
levels of sex, drinking and smoking. "Violent characters are being
portrayed virtually the same as any other character in these
films," she said.
Some experts disagree that the study provides cause for
Patrick Markey, an associate professor of psychology at
Villanova University, said the study relies on speculation, not
facts, regarding the potential risk to kids of these on-screen
Markey also pointed to the decline in U.S. crime rates over the
past 30 years, even as depictions of violence in movies appear to
Christopher Ferguson, chairman of the psychology department at
Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., accused the researchers of
They are following "an old-school 'monkey see, monkey do'
thought on human behavior that is increasingly falling into
disrepute," he said.
"There's no evidence that this is a public-health concern, nor do the authors of this study provide any evidence of a public-health concern," Ferguson said.
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