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Violence in movies not related to violence in society, new study finds

Researchers found that violence is attributed to several other factors, but media is not among them

Photo (c) ImagesbyTrista - Getty Images
While many parents try to monitor the content their children are watching to avoid inappropriate language or other mature themes, a recent study found that watching violence on the big screen doesn’t correlate to viewers taking violent actions.

Researchers found that those who see violent scenes in PG-13 movies are not more likely to engage in violent behaviors in their day-to-day lives, though many have believed the contrary.

“Evidence suggests that edgier, more violent content may increase in PG-13 and PG movies over time,” said researcher Christopher J. Ferguson before the study began. “This is because PG-13 rated movies may be considered particularly marketable as action-oriented fun, but without the graphicness that parents may consider inappropriate for younger children… However, whether it is an actual problem for public health remains unknown; that’s the research gap we aimed to fill in this study.”

Getting to the bottom of it

To see how violence in movies is affecting moviegoers outside the theater, the researchers looked at several different datasets.

They examined the National Crime Victimization Survey for data on youth violence, violent crime reports from the FBI, reports on education, socioeconomic status, and poverty from the U.S. Census Bureau, and other academic studies on the subject of violence in movies.

After analyzing three decades worth of data (1985-2015), the researchers found that violence in movies does not contribute to an increase in criminal activity in society.

Violent crimes and homicides were found to decline during years when movies were becoming increasingly more violent, which is the opposite of what the researchers expected the outcome to be, especially considering the increase in gun violence in movies.

“Evidence suggest that violent and antisocial behavior result from a complicated interaction of numerous factors, but media violence does not appear to be one of these factors,” said researcher Patrick Markey. “This may be because individuals perceive media exposure differently than they do real-life exposure to violence.”

Focus on other factors

Rather than point fingers at movies with violence, the researchers suggest legislators focus on factors that have been found to influence criminal behavior, including mental health, education, poverty, and family environment.

“Our analysis of data on violent crime and depictions of violence in PG-13 movies shows no evidence of a public health concern,” said Ferguson.

“Thus, the ‘low-hanging’ fruit argument that suggests parents should reduce their children’s exposure to violent movies as a simple way of reducing exposure to risk factors for crime, may cause more harm than good. It may distract from the hard work of dealing with real pressing problems by focusing society, parents, and policymakers in an illusory simple fix.”

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