Guns in media and effects on children

Witt prof hopes study on children, guns in movies saves lives

A Wittenberg University professor’s recent study on media, guns and its effects on children is getting national attention for its findings and she hopes it can save lives.

Kelly Dillon is an assistant professor in the Communications Department. She’s co-author of “Effects of Exposure to Gun Violence in Movies on Children’s Interest,” which was published Sept. 25 in JAMA: Pediatrics, a monthly online journal by the American Medical Association. She co-wrote it with Brad Bushman, an Ohio State University professor.

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Previous research showed children who watched movies with characters who smoke or drink are more are more likely to do it themselves. So they decided to see if the same held true with guns.

“We know that gun violence in PG-13 movies has been on a steady rise for the past 10 years or so,” Dillon said.

Some PG-13 movies show more gun violence than an R-rated movie, she said.

In their study, more than 100 children watched clips from two PG movies. Some saw clips that included a gun and the others watched the same movie but without the gun. The kid were between the ages of 8 and 12.

After the 20-minute segments aired, pairs of children were placed in a room with a file cabinet with three drawers.

“One drawer was a lot of fun, age-appropriate toys — LEGOS, Jenga, Checkers. In another drawer was two Nerf guns with plenty of Nerf bullets and in the middle drawer was a 9-mm gun,” Dillon said.

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The unloaded gun was modified so it couldn’t fire but it did have an infrared sensor on it to count how many times the children pulled the trigger. Dillon compared the groups who saw the movies with guns to the group who didn’t. Everyone was surprised by the results.

“(The children who saw the movies with guns) pulled the trigger three times more on average than the children who saw the movies without guns,” Dillon said. “We also observed that children that saw the movie with guns played more aggressively and swore more. We even had one pair who pulled the trigger 35 times. A few of the times a child in that pair pulled the trigger while it was at his friend’s temple.”

They also spent nearly a minute with the gun on average whereas the children who didn’t see guns spent about 11 seconds with it on average, she said.

Many parents who watched were alarmed by the results, the Wittenberg researcher said.

“You could see the color drain from their face … They knew that the gun couldn’t fire,” Dillon said. “But seeing your child pick up a gun, look down the barrel and pull the trigger is just very disconcerting.”

Dillon hopes the research will save lives.

“Be aware of what your children are watching,” she said.

One Wittenberg student wasn’t shocked by the results.

“People are definitely swayed by media and social media,” student Sam Gress said.

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