Too Young To Admire Bravery, They Are More Likely To Favour Their Violent Skills

If you think that watching superheroes who defend, protect and help the weak can inculcate positive traits in children, you are likely to be wrong.

A new study has found that preschoolers do not admire these fictional characters for their bravery, but instead, favour their violent skills.Researchers from Brigham Young University in the US found that this age group is unable understand the moral message and only comprehends aggressive themes. Thus, early exposure to superheroes can trigger aggressive behaviour like bullying in children.

“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,“ professor Sarah M Coyne said. “But our study shows the exact opposite. Children pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones,“ she said, adding that children who frequently engaged in superhero culture are more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive a year later. She even found the children less likely to be prosaically and were no defenders of kids being picked on by bullies.

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 iden tified with various superheroes.Children were also individually interviewed, identify their favorite superhero and explain why they liked that superhero the best.

Of those who specified characte ristics in superheroes, 10% noted some defending ability of the superheroes: “Because he shoots webs and he saves people.“ Twenty percent of these children associated their favourite superhero with violent skills. For example, “He's big and can punch“ and “He smashes and gets angry .“ Some were milder, while others suggested blatant aggression. “Because he can smash and destroy everything, and he doesn't care because he's a big bully.“

Another child stated that Captain America was his favourite superhero “because he can kill.“ The remaining 70% of skills-related comments by children were benign in nature: “Because he is big and strong“ and “Because he is cool and can fly.“

The findings do not suggest that parents need to totally disengage their children from superheroes, researchers said. “Get your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and let superheroes be one of them,“ Coyne said.

She said that one of the reasons why children only grasp the violent behaviour of superheroes is that the programmes are not created for preschoolers, even though the current study found that many preschoolers still regularly watched superhero media. These programmes contain complex storylines that interweave violence and prosocial behaviour, and preschoolers do not have the cognitive capability to pick out the wider moral message that is portrayed. The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.