Study warns kids might be influenced by the ‘evils’ of superhero characters

2 Nov 2018

Image: © stokkete/

Some paediatricians are worried that greater amounts of violent ‘good guy’ characters in superhero films might encourage violence in kids.

Nothing draws the crowds to the cinema these days as much as superhero movies, with a new one seemingly coming out every few months. While they tend to put forward the message that good triumphs over evil, they might be affecting kids in a negative way, too.

That’s according to a team from Penn State University College of Medicine, which is due to present a study next week at a conference revealing that good superhero characters are actually more violent that the villains, and this might encourage aggressive behaviour in kids.

Breaking the two categories down into the good protagonist and the bad antagonist, the researchers analysed 10 superhero-based movies released in 2015 and 2016 and found that an average of 23 acts of violence per hour was associated with the films’ protagonists. Meanwhile, the antagonists were involved in 18 violent acts per hour.

The study also reported that male characters were five times more likely to be violent than the female ones, with 34 acts per hour versus seven.

Influencing children

The most common act of violence recorded with protagonists was fighting (1,021 acts), followed by use of a lethal weapon (659), destruction of property (199), murder (168) and bullying/intimidation/torture (144).

For antagonists, the most common violent acts were the use of a lethal weapon (604), fighting (599), bullying/intimidation/torture (237), destruction of property (191) and murder (93).

“Children and adolescents see the superheroes as ‘good guys’ and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviours and acts of violence,” said the abstract’s lead author, Robert Olympia.

“Paediatric healthcare 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.”

To help counteract the negative influence superhero films may have on children, the study’s principal investigator, John N Muller, suggested families watch them together and talk about what they see.

The researchers’ study has so far only been submitted as an abstract, but may be published at a future date.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic