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Violence in PG-13 rated movies not linked to violence in US society

New research suggests that policy makers should remain focused on issues that have been demonstrated to impact criminal behaviour, such as family environment, mental health, poverty and education.

Claims about PG-13 rated movie violence and its link to violence in society are not consistent with available evidence, according to study published in the Springer journal Psychiatric Quarterly. Authors Christopher J. Ferguson at Stetson University and Patrick Markey at Villanova University in the United States, examined possible associations between violence and gun use in PG-13-rated movies, and levels of gun related homicide, homicide and aggravated assault in US society.

Some previous research, including studies conducted as recently as 2018 has suggested that parents may become desensitized to violence in PG-13 rated movies. Such studies have speculated that this desensitization may make them more likely to bring their children to see such movies.

Christopher J. Ferguson said: “Evidence suggests that edgier, more violent content may increase in PG-13 and PG movies over time. This is because PG-13 rated movies may be considered particularly marketable as action-oriented fun but without the graphicness that parents may consider inappropriate for younger children. This had been called a ‘ratings creep’. However, whether it is an actual problem for public health remains unknown; that’s the research gap we aimed to fill in this study.”

To test trends in PG-13-rated movie violence against trends in violence in society, including homicides and youth violence, the authors examined several different datasets. They assessed data on PG-13-rated movies collected by other researchers during previous research, violent crime data provided by the FBI, youth violence data sourced from the National Crime Victimization Survey, and US Census Bureau data on socioeconomic factors such as poverty, education and economic stability.

Analysing data from 1985 to 2015, the authors hypothesized that years in which films were more violent would also exhibit higher rates of violent crime, and that a rise in gun violence depicted in PG-13-rated movies would be associated with changes in gun related homicides. Contrary to their hypothesis, the authors found that although movies tended to become more violent over time, rates of violence and homicides declined during the same time period. This remained the case even after the authors controlled for other variables previously related to violent crime, such as poverty, education, or economic inequality. The findings suggest that PG-13-rated movie violence is unrelated to violence in society.

Ferguson said: “Our analysis of data on violent crime and depictions of violence in PG-13-rated movies shows no evidence of a public health concern. Thus, the ‘low hanging fruit’ argument that suggests parents should reduce their children’s exposure to violent movies as a simple way of reducing exposure to risk factors for crime, may cause more harm than good. It may distract from the hard work of dealing with real pressing problems by focusing society, parents and policy makers in an illusory simple fix.”

Patrick Markey said: “Evidence suggests that violent and antisocial behaviour result from a complicated interaction of numerous factors but media violence does not appear to be one of these factors. This may be because individuals perceive media exposure differently than they do real-life exposure to violence.”

The authors suggest that policy makers remain focused on issues that have been demonstrated to impact criminality, such as family environment, mental health, poverty and education.

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