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Is the Superhero Culture More Villain Than Hero? Kids Tend to Focus on Aggressive Behavior, Study Says

Jan 12, 2017 07:53 AM EST

Superheroes encapsulate a number of admirable qualities: kindness, compassion, selflessness and defending the weak, among others. One hopes that children who are exposed to what's called the "superhero culture" would be inspired by these positive traits and apply it into real life.

According to a report from Eurekalert, the prevailing superhero culture actually magnifies aggression in children, instead of the many positive traits exhibited by the protagonists.

Brigham Young University family life professor Sarah M. Coyne led the study that was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. One of her findings is that children who are exposed frequently to superheroes are more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive after a year. These kids are also not more inclined to defend other kids who are picked on by bullies, nor more likely to be prosocial.

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

The study tapped 240 children who were individually interviewed. They identified 10 different superheroes, named their favorite superhero and explained why they chose that superhero. Their responses provided valuable insight for the researchers.

Ten percent of the kids who identified specific characteristics of the superheroes noted the defending abilities of their favorite superhero such as, "Because he shoots webs and he saves people." Meanwhile, 20 percent associated violent skills with their favorite superhero. Some examples of such responses are "He's big and he can punch", "He smashes and gets angry", and "Because he can smash and destroy everything, and he doesn't care because he's a big bully." One even named Captain America as his favorite because "he can kill."

The other 70 percent named skills benign in nature like ability to fly or strength.

However, Coyne doesn't think it's necessary to cut off all exposure to superheroes.

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

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