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How PG-rated movies are desensitising kids

June 11, 2007 08:53 IST

You may think there is nothing wrong with letting your kids watch a PG-13 movie, but researchers are warning parents about the that the amount of 'happy violence' shown in them.

Happy violence is something which is 'cool, swift and painless,' and PG-13 films do not consider the consequences of violent acts, such as injury, death and the shattered lives of the people involved, warn researchers.

Homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, and boffins warn that media depictions of violence teach such acts to children that are leading to three effects -- increased aggression, fear for their own safety, and desensitization to the pain and suffering of others.

As a part of the research, Theresa Webb and her colleagues at the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center at UCLA's School of Public Health reviewed a sample of 77 PG-13 rated films.

In these, they recorded a total of 2,251 violent actions, with almost half resulting in death. Although a small subset of this content contained violence that was associated with negative effects such as pain and suffering, only one film -- Pay It Forward, in which the young hero is stabbed to death -- contained violence that would demonstrate to youthful viewers how horrific violence can be.

"Violence permeated nearly 90 per cent of the films in this study. And while the explanations and causes of youth violence are very complex, the evidence is clear that media depiction of violence contribute to the teaching of violence," Webb said.

"This is especially true in our society, where the average young person's engagement with visual media in all its forms can run to as many as eight hours a day," she added.

The researchers sampled all the PG-13 rated films from among the 100 top-grossing movies of 1999 and 2000, as established by the Hollywood Reporter.

To obtain their results, the researchers coded each act of violence and the context in which it was presented based on features known to put violence in a good or bad light.  Such features include the motivation for violence, the presence of weapons, the consequences of violence and the degree of realism -- cartoonish, fantasy violence is less influential than a hero punching the villain in the face to resolve a problem.

Thus, the violence in The Mummy, for example, is less influential than that shown in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough.

"These films are often the largest budgeted ones made by the Hollywood film industry and have also been found to be equally, if not more, violent than R-rated films," said Webb.

Webb faults Hollywood, which she says disavows any connection to education and insists that its only commitment is to transport and entertain viewers but in no way to edify or transform them.

"That is a cop-out. The science is clear that viewers do, in fact, learn from entertainment media. Indeed, popular films can act as powerful teachers engaging children and youths emotionally, even physiologically, in ways that teachers in classrooms could only hope," Webb said.

Researchers are now cautioning parents against allowing unsupervised viewing of films. The study was published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Source: ANI