The findings showed that children who frequently engage with superhero culture are more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive.
The children were also not more likely to be defenders of kids being picked on by bullies and were not more likely to be pro-social. “So many pre-schoolers are into superheroes and so many parents think that the superhero culture will help their kids defend others and be nicer to their peers,” said Sarah M. Coyne, Professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, US.
“But, our study shows the exact opposite. Kids pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones,” Coyne said. In addition, these superhero programmes often contain complex storylines that interweave violence and pro-social behaviour — associated with reduction in cognitive and emotional responses in kids.
This reduction in response to the victims of violence on the TV screen, computer or tablet, could lead to a lack of empathy for the victims of violence on the playground or at school, the researchers stated. For the study, the team included 240 children who along with their parents responded about the level of engagement with the superhero culture and found that most of the kids associated their favourite superhero with some type of violent skills.
The study does not suggest that parents need to totally disengage their children from superheroes. But, if the exposure is not moderated, then “the superhero culture can become consuming, especially if kids are watching the movies, playing with the toys, strongly identifying with the characters, dressing up, etc,” Coyne noted. The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
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