‘Superhero Culture’ Magnifies Aggressive and not Defending Behaviors in Children, says New Study

By | Jan 13, 2017 06:07 AM EST
Needs parental supervision

Children don't have to completely disengage with superhero culture. (Photo : Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

Preschool-aged boys and girls exposed a lot to superheroes on TV, the internet and other media might grow-up with personality traits that aren't exactly "super heroic."

A new study claims that exposure to superhero culture didn't always allow the many positive traits of superheroes to manifest itself in preschool boys and girls.

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"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," said family life professor Sarah M. Coyne from Brigham Young University who authored the study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

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

Coyne found that children who frequently engage with superhero culture are more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive one year later. She even found the children were not more likely to be defenders of kids being picked on by bullies and were not more likely to be prosocial.

In the spring of 2016, Coyne authored a study on the effects of "Disney Princess Culture" on young children, finding the perpetuation of stereotypes could have damaging effects. The research received national and international media attention.

Like her recommendations about Princess Culture, Coyne echoes the same sentiment with "Superhero Culture." These findings don't suggest that parents need to totally disengage their children from superheroes.

"Again, I'd say to have moderation. 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."

Findings like these give parents the opportunity to have a conversation with their children.

Coyne tells parents to not be afraid of pointing out the positives as well as the negatives of the media their children are consuming.

Coyne theorizes a reason why children may latch on to the violent behavior and not the prosocial behavior of superheroes is due to the complexity of the superhero media.

The vast majority of superhero programs are not created for preschool children, even though the current study found that many preschoolers still regularly watched superhero media.

These programs contain complex storylines that interweave violence and prosocial behavior, and preschoolers do not have the cognitive capability to pick out the wider moral message that is often portrayed.

Participants in the study consisted of 240 children whose parents responded about the level of engagement their children had with superhero culture.

Parents were asked how often their children watched superhero media and how much they identified with various superheroes. Children were also individually interviewed; asked identify 10 popular superheroes; identify their favorite superhero and explain why they liked that superhero the best.

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