A study out today in the journal Pediatrics examines movies as a potential source of the so-called “weapons effect” whereby the presence of guns can increase aggression. American and Dutch university researchers found that in a 20-year period, gun violence in PG-13 films has more than tripled. Since 2009, PG-13-rated movies have contained “as much or more violence as R-rated films,” they said, and in 2012, violence in PG-13 movies was higher than for R movies. The academics suggested that because PG-13 movies are “especially attractive” to young people, producers may be “strengthening the ‘weapons effect’ by increasingly including guns in scripts that involve violence in the films youth are most likely to see.” Further, “The presence of guns in films also provides youth with scripts on how to use guns,” the academics wrote, suggesting future research to investigate that particular aspect of movie violence impact.
Daniel Romer, a co-author of the study, told AFP, “We do not draw a direct causal link to the recent rise in school and other public shootings, but the rise in gun violence in films certainly coincides with those events.” The researchers cautioned that the effects of exposure to gun violence in films “should not be trivialized. Even if youth do not use guns, the current research suggests that because of the increasing popularity of PG-13-rated films, youth are exposed to considerable gun violence… The mere presence of guns in these films may increase the aggressive behavior of youth.”
The study culled 945 titles representing the top 30 grossers from each of the years from 1950 to 2012. Coders then identified violent sequences and found that 94% of the 420 movies since 1985 – the year the PG-13 rating was introduced – had one or more five-minute segments containing violence. Those segments were then coded for gun use with gun violence defined as shooting and hitting a living target (game hunting was excluded). In those 396 films, there were 783 segments that included gun violence.
The findings are “troubling” the academics said, drawing a comparison to previous correlations between onscreen smoking and drinking and young people’s inclination to pick up such habits. “We predict that youth will be more interested in acquiring and using guns after exposure to gun violence in films.” Brad Bushman, a co-author of the study told AFP, “It’s shocking how gun use has skyrocketed in movies that are often marketed directly at the teen audience… It appears sex scenes are more likely to result in an R rating than scenes of violence.”