Do Superheroes Make Children More Aggressive Rather Than Heroic?

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Pow! Kablam! It’s been a long time since superheroes had their violence accompanied by these innocuous comic book-style representations. These days their actions are more likely to come with state-of-the-art slow-mo of every punch swung or bullet fired. And this is being picked up by children.

A new study has found that pre-schoolers – children between the age of three and five – don’t admire their fictional heroes for their brave deeds and using their talents to help others, but for their impressively violent skills.

The research, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that at such a young age children are missing the more complex and subtle moral messages in superhero films and TV shows and mainly comprehending just the showy aggressive and violent themes instead.

Lead author Sarah M. Coyne of Brigham Young University decided to explore what it was that preschool-aged boys and girls take away from being immersed in superhero culture, and surprisingly, it wasn’t as positive as people might think.

Coyne was the author of a similar study last year on the influence of Disney princesses on young children, finding that the “princess culture” perpetuated female stereotypes and could be damaging in the long term for young girls.

In this study, she found that children who regularly engaged in superhero culture were more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive one year later. She also found they were no more likely to aid and defend other young children against bullies, despite that being the moral point of superheroes.

"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 in a statement. "But our study shows the exact opposite. Kids pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones."

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