Children who watch movies that include gun violence may be more likely to use guns themselves, according to a new study.
In the study, kids who watched a movie with gun violence later played with a gun for longer and pulled the trigger more times than kids who watched a movie without gun violence, reports Live Science.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, used a real, but unloaded gun, and the children’s parents gave consent.
The study is unlike any previous research conducted on the subject, said senior study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at the Ohio State University. But the findings were not surprising, he said.
“Kids think movie characters are cool, and kids want to imitate movie characters,” Bushman told Live Science. Indeed, previous research showed that kids who see movie characters smoking cigarettes are more likely to smoke themselves, and kids who see movie characters drinking alcohol are more likely to drink themselves, Bushman said. “It would be more surprising if [kids] imitated movie characters who smoked and drank but didn’t imitate movie characters who did other things,” he said.
“We are aware that critics will seek flaws in the science and take issue with the conclusions,” Dr Dimitri Christakis, associate editor of the journal, and Dr Frederick Rivara, editor of the journal, wrote in the editorial. However, they stressed the rigor of the science and data analysis.
The study involved 52 pairs of children aged 8 to 12. The pairs were randomly assigned to watch a 20-minute version of a PG-rated movie either containing gun violence or not containing gun violence. Both movies contained action sequences. Following the movie, the pairs of children were taken to a separate room that had a cabinet filled with toys and games, including Legos, Nerf guns and checkers.
The cabinet also contained a real handgun. The gun was unloaded and modified so that it could not fire, but it was wired to count how many times the trigger was pulled.
The gun was hidden, but the children in the study could find it if they looked, Bushman said.
The researchers told the kids that they could play with anything in the room for 20 minutes, and then left the pairs of children unattended. A researcher sat just outside the room, in case the kids had any questions. In addition, parents and other researchers watched the kids in the playroom on live video.
In 43 of the 52 pairs of kids in the study, one or both of the children found the gun in the playroom; of these, 22 of the pairs handled the gun, and 14 either gave the gun to the research assistant sitting outside or told the research assistant that they had found a gun.
On average, pairs of children who watched the movies with gun violence pulled the gun’s trigger more than those who watched the movies without gun violence: the median number of trigger pulls for pairs who saw the movie with guns was three, compared with zero for pairs who watched the movie without guns. In addition, those who watched the movie with guns held the gun for a median of 53 seconds, compared with 11 seconds for the kids who watched the movie without guns.
Boys tended to pull the trigger more times than girls did, the researchers found. However, there were no differences between the sexes in how long the children held the gun.