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Superheroes May Cause Children To Be Aggressive, Not Altruistic

Update Date: Jan 17, 2017 09:50 AM EST

Children who are exposed to superheroes were likely to be aggressive, according to a new study. The aggression portrayed was categorized as physical, relational and verbal.

Published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the new study titled "Pow! Boom! Kablam! Effects of Viewing Superhero Programs on Aggressive, Prosocial, and Defending Behaviors in Preschool Children," evaluated 240 pre-schoolers and kindergarten at four different sites across the western U.S. Among the subjects, 49 per cent were male students.

Parents were asked to report their children's favorite superheroes, how often they watch movies and how strong their children identify with the character. Children also answered sample questions.

On their second evaluation, researchers found out that kids who are more engaged with superheroes were more likely to be more aggressive in terms of physical, relational and verbal aspect. Physical aggression includes hitting and kicking; relational includes hurting feelings through behaviours like ignoring, while verbal aggression includes name-calling.

On the other side, children who are not following any superheroes were found to be more helpful and likely to defend others. Researchers said that children cannot distinguish aggressive from the altruistic behaviour of the superheroes.

Parents also tend to support their children's love for superheroes hoping that they will learn to be more helpful. However, children "may be particularly at risk for the negative effects of media violence exposure when the superhero medium is emphasized," the researchers noted.

The only thing that registers in the mind of the children is the superheroes' aggressive behaviour. Their engagement is not related to the children's pro-social behaviour.

According to the researchers, the aggression portrayed by the superheroes are usually glamorized, justified and rewarded. In contrast, the character's positive motivation is portrayed subtly, with delayed cause and effect and less glamorized.

Sarah M. Coyne, lead author of the study, does not advise to children to avoid watching superheroes altogether. She encourages parents to talk to their children about the positive and negative aspect of the superheroes' actions.

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