Research has long shown evidence linking media violence with aggression in children and adolescents, and a new study finds the portrayal of gun violence on the screen has a similar effect.
The new results, published last week in the journal “JAMA Pediatrics”, came from a controlled experiment conducted by researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
As part of the experiment, the researchers examined 104 children ages 8-12 and randomly assigned pairs to watch one of four 20-minute sections of a movie.
The pairs would either watch a 20-minute edit of the 1991 film “The Rocketeer,” one with guns and one without or they would watch a 20-minute edit of the 2004 film “National Treasure,” one with guns and one without.
Before the film, the children filled out three surveys answering questions about how often they expressed aggressive behavior such as kicking, hitting or arguing; how they felt about guns and questions about their favorite movies, TV shows or video games.
After watching the assigned film, the children answered additional questions about their opinions of the film. Then, they had 20 minutes to choose toys or games from a cabinet in a room.
In addition to the games, Legos, Nerf guns and other toys in the cabinet, the children also had the option of picking an unloaded and disabled .38-caliber gun, which had an infrared sensor that stored how often the trigger was pulled.
- Most children found the gun, but only 27 percent told the research assistant.
- At least one of the children in 22 pairs handled the gun.
- Children who watched films with guns were no more or less likely to find or handle the gun than those who watched films without guns.
- A child was 22 times more likely to pull the trigger if he or she watched a film with guns compared to a child who watched films without guns.
- A child who watched a film with guns handled the gun for a median 53 seconds.
- A child who watched a film without guns handled the gun for a median 11 seconds.
“The results from this experiment suggest that exposure to gun violence in movies increases interest in guns in the real world,” researchers Kelly Dillon nd Brad J. Bushman wrote. “We believe that these data are a compelling start to the conversation on the various factors that can increase children’s interest in guns and violence.”
The authors also wrote about the rising gun violence in films targeting young viewers. Still, the study authors acknowledge some limitations, such as a small experiment sample size and the fact that most of the children involved came from suburban or urban backgrounds, whereas families in rural areas are more likely to own guns.
The authors call upon future research to conduct such experiments in a more realistic study.