ORLANDO, Fla. — Your favorite superheroes may put their lives on the line to rid the world of evil, but they might not be the great role models for young children that they’re often made out to be, it seems. A new study finds that when it comes to superhero movies, it turns out our revered purveyors of good actually tend to engage in more violent acts than their villainous rivals.
The study found that the good guys were even committing murder more than their evil nemeses.
“Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys,’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Olympia, in a statement to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “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.”
Researchers watched 10 superhero movies released in 2015 and 2016, and recorded any instance of violence portrayed by characters, classifying it based on whether it was at the hands of a protagonist or antagonist. The research team also noted the specific type of violence, such as fighting, destruction of property, or even murder.
They found that the superheroes engage in an average of 23 violent acts each hour, compared to 18 instances of violence by villainous characters. In total, the authors counted 2,191 acts of violence by the protagonists across the 10 films, and 1,724 from the antagonists. As far specific acts of violence, the good guys were most often engaged in fighting (about 46 percent of their violent acts), followed by use a lethal weapon (30 percent), destruction of property (9 percent), murder (8 percent), and bullying/intimidation/torture (6.5 percent).
Conversely, bad guys were seen most often using a lethal weapon (35 percent of the time), followed by fighting (34.8 percent), bullying/intimidation/torture (13.7 percent), destruction of property (11.1 percent), and murder (5.4 percent).
There was also a significant difference when it came to gender: male characters (good or bad) were involved in nearly five times as many violent acts than female characters.
Researchers say that instead of parents simply throwing on a movie for their kids and then leaving the room, it may be healthier for them to watch superhero films with their children, and then discuss some of the more troubling scenes.
“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,” says the study’s principal investigator John N. Muller, 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.”
The study’s results are being presented on November 5, 2018 at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition in Orlando.