The amount of gun violence
in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985, the year the film rating category was
introduced, a new study shows.
Not only that, violent gun
scenes have become more common in PG-13 movies, where children aged 13 and
under can only see the film with a parent, than they are in R-rated movies, the
researchers added. R-rated movies require people under 17 to be accompanied by
But experts noted that the
findings do not definitively link more exposure to gun violence on the screen
to more violent behaviour among kids.
"Guns are becoming
more prevalent in films, but there is no evidence to suggest this portrayal is
related to violence in the real world," said Patrick Markey, an associate
professor of psychology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Assaults have declined
Complicating the picture,
other studies have shown that homicides, robberies and the most severe types of
assaults have actually declined in recent years even as research suggests gun
violence in films grew over the same time period, added Markey, who was not
involved with the new study.
In this latest study, the
researchers examined a database that details violent scenes in 945 films, all
selected from the most profitable 30 movies from each year between 1950 and
2012. The investigators found that 94% of 420 movies made since 1985, the year
the PG-13 rating was introduced, included scenes that they defined as violent
because a person tried to physically hurt another.
Then the researchers counted
incidents of gun violence, which they defined as using hand-held weapons that
fire bullets or energy beams.
"Maybe movies that
display gun violence should be rated R instead of PG-13," said study
author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State
University. "That's a possible policy decision that could be made based on
Accepting of violence
The Motion Picture
Association of America (MPAA) has come under fire in recent years for being
much more accepting of violence in movies than sexual content. An MPAA
spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.
The study doesn't describe
the context of the scenes of gun violence or address the consequences of gun
use, for instance. But Bushman pointed to research that suggests people become
more aggressive after just reading about guns.
However, more than 200
people from the academic world signed and sent a statement to the American
Psychological Association in September saying the group has wrongly relied upon
"inconsistent or weak evidence" in its attempts to connect violence
in the media to real-life violence.
"There's very little
good evidence linking media violence to violence in real life," said Chris
Ferguson, chair of the department of psychology at Stetson University in
Florida and one of the statement's signers. "I've conducted a number of
studies myself, and have found no evidence linking media violence to actual
youth violence. The same has been true for studies by other groups."
Ferguson added that
"youth violence is at its lowest level in 40 years, no matter what age of
child we are talking about."
Still, a recent study
suggested that while it's fairly rare for emergency rooms to treat gunshot
wounds in kids, 8% of the children who are wounded by guns die.
Ferguson called the new
study "quite alarmist", although he thinks it's likely that movies
have indeed become more violent.
"The question for me
is 'so what?'" he said. "In the face of massive declines in violence
in our society, I have trouble seeing the 'so what'. There's not much here for
parents or Hollywood to worry about."
The study appears online and
in the December print issue of the journal Paediatrics.
Learn more about movie
ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America.