Superheroes encourage violence not morality, new study suggests
New research has revealed that children who like superheroes tend to mimic their aggressive behavior but don’t copy their positive characteristics, such as protecting people, to the same extent.
The study, which was carried out by researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah, found that children who engaged with superheroes such as Batman, Spiderman and Superman became more aggressive as the study progressed over the course of several months. It also found that, unlike their favorite superheroes, kids aren't any more likely to defend their peers who are being bullied.
240 preschoolers took part in the year long experiment, with their parents reporting their behavior. The study was published this week in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
“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,” Author of the story Professor Sarah Coyne said, “but our study shows the exact opposite. Kids pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones.”
The parents answered questions about their child’s level of engagement with superhero culture including how long they spent watching movies or shows and how much they identified with specific superhero characters.
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The children were also interviewed individually to answer questions about why they like specific characters. Twenty percent of the children admired some kind of violent behavior saying things like "He's big and can punch" and "He smashes and gets angry." One of the most aggressive answers was: "Because he can smash and destroy everything, and he doesn't care because he's a big bully."
However, for nearly three quarters of children the superheroes special powers were the biggest source of fascination, with answers including "Because he is big and strong" and "Because he is cool and can fly."
Coyne believes that superhero storylines are often too complex for children to fully understand so they pick up on the violence but not the overarching moral reasoning behind the character’s behavior.
The researchers say that kids don't have to completely disengage with their favorite superheroes rather their parents should try and foster a wide variety of interests.
“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,” Professor Coyne said.