The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling out “good guy” superheroes on their excessive movie violence. During a presentation in Orlando, Florida on Monday, researchers shared their findings that protagonists in superhero films commit 23 violent acts per hour as compared to the 18 per hour committed by the “bad guys.”

While analyzing ten superhero movies released between 2015 and 2016, researchers documented specific violent acts initiated by each character and sorted them by using a standardized tool. This sounds like the kind of data a lot of fans of the genre would love to collect–with a big bowl of popcorn by their side! After all, the violence doesn’t seem to be deterring a whole lot of fans when you consider that the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time, Avengers: Infinity War, has raked in over $2 billion worldwide. Indeed, comic book protagonists are praised for their courage, awesome powers, as well as their sense of justice and righteousness.

Here is a tally of the superhero-initiated violence researchers observed:

  • Fighting was the most common violent act associated with protagonists, totaling 1,021 incidents.
  • Next in line, “good guys” using lethal weapons accounted for 659 violent acts;
  • Coming in third, researchers noted 199 incidents of property destruction;
  • Superheroes murdered adversaries 168 times;
  • And “good guys” bullied/intimidated/tortured others a total of 144 times.

All of the incidents listed above outnumbered the same acts committed by the “bad guys.”

The results of the study concern members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, especially because of the “strongly negative message” the superhero characters are modeling to youngsters who idolize them. Countless kids are drawn to, say, the Incredible Hulk who smashes objects and people in proportion to his anger; Batman who uses intimidation, combat training, and gadgets to stop criminals; and Wolverine who slashes adversaries with his razor-sharp claws.

“Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys,’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behavior and acts of violence,” said the abstract’s lead author, Robert Olympia, MD, a professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine & Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine. “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,” he said.

The study’s principal investigator, John N. Muller, MS, urges families to view such films together and, then afterward, shine a light on the characters’ actions. Most importantly, parents should discuss the consequences of violence with their kids.

“Co-viewing these movies as a family can be an effective antidote to increased violence in superhero-based films,” Muller says.

When children watch “good guys” bullying, clobbering and slashing others, and parents don’t take the time to help their kids reflect on the complexities that these actions raise, then “there is an implicit message that parents approve of what the children are seeing,” Muller argues. As previous studies revealed an increase in kids’ aggressive behavior after viewing violent media, he hopes to encourage critical thinking skills in children as well as promote self-regulation.

The study also revealed that male superhero characters participated in almost five times as many acts of violence as the female characters. The ratio of male-initiated violence per hour to female-initiated violence per hour was 34 to 7.

So, what do you think about the research? Are the authors of the study right on target in questioning the gratuitous amount of violence that the “good guys” enact in the name of entertainment? Or are they overthinking matters, as the protagonists are always fighting against evil forces and trying to save the world from utter destruction? Please share your thoughts.

 

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