Study: Superhero culture encourages aggression in kids - - The News for South Mississippi

Study: Superhero culture encourages aggression in kids

Children pick up on aggressive themes of superhero media rather than moral or social messages, according to a new study. (Source: Brian Dewey/Flickr) Children pick up on aggressive themes of superhero media rather than moral or social messages, according to a new study. (Source: Brian Dewey/Flickr)

(RNN) – A new study says that kids who frequently engage with superhero culture are more likely to be aggressive.

Published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, the study consisted of 240 children whose parents responded to questions about the level of engagement their children had with superheroes.

Included were questions about how often their children watched superhero media and how much they identified with various superheroes.

Family life professor Sarah Coyne and her team from Brigham Young University at Utah found that children with high levels of reported engagement in superhero culture were more likely to be both physically and relationally aggressive one year later.

Physical aggression includes behaviors such as hitting, kicking or biting others, while relational aggression involves excluding others and threatening to withdraw friendship.

Further, the researchers found that children with frequent engagement in superhero culture were not more likely to defend kids who were being bullied nor were they more likely to be prosocial.

“So many preschoolers are into superheroes, and so many parents think that the superhero culture will help their kids defend others and be nicer to their peers,” Coyne said, “but our study shows the exact opposite. Kids pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones.”

Coyne says one of the reasons children imitate the violence of superhero culture rather than its more positive aspects is because superhero media is often too complex for preschoolers to understand.

Most superhero programs are aimed at older children or adults and have storylines that mix violent and prosocial behavior, so preschoolers don’t recognize the wider moral message at work.

The professor compared the results of the superhero study to a study she authored last spring on Disney princess culture, which found children were more likely to display stereotypical feminine behavior after exposure to Disney princess media.

As with the princess study, Coyne says parents don’t need to worry about completely removing their children from superhero culture. Instead, she suggests moderation.

“Have your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and just have superheroes be one of many, many things that they like to do and engage with,” she said.

Coyne also says concerned parents can use superhero media as a chance to have a conversation with their children about the positives and negatives of this culture.

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