Dramatic rise of gun violence seen in PG-13 movies

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1. Violent sequences in motion pictures have doubled since 1950.

2. The presence of gun violence in PG-13 rated movies has increased since 1985 eventually becoming equal to or higher than the rate of gun violence in R-rated movies starting in 2009.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Study Rundown: It is known that the mere sight of a weapon can increase aggression toward others, a response known as the “weapons effect.” Numerous studies over the years have also validated the notion that entertainment violence may increase aggressive behavior in children. In the current study, researchers were interested in examining the presence of the “weapons effect” in movies. This study focused on the rate of violence in popular films with an emphasis on gun violence in films since 1985. It was found that movies in 2012 contain more than twice the amount of violence as movies in 1950. The rate of gun violence in G/PG movies has decreased significantly since 1985, increased substantially in PG-13 movies, and shown no change in R-rated movies. This study may be limited as it only evaluated the top 30 films of each year and neglected to include the presence of guns in non-violent movie scenes. This study provides evidence that youth are potentially exposed to increasing amounts of gun violence which may lead to aggression and violent behavior toward others. Practitioners should be aware of the “weapons effect” in the media and should warn parents accordingly.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children

Study Author, Dr. Brad J. Bushman, PhD, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: School of Communication, The Ohio State University.

“We found that the amount of gun violence shown in PG-13 films has skyrocketed in recent years.  In fact, PG-13 movies released in 2011 and 2012 actually contained more gun violence than R-rated movies of the same period.  This violates the purpose of the ratings system instituted by the Motion Picture Association of America. Most importantly, the gun violence may have deleterious effects on adolescents, who constitute the main audience for PG-13 movies.  More than 50 studies have shown the presence of a “weapons effect” in which people who simply see a gun, or even a picture of a gun, are more aggressive toward others.  Health care professionals should counsel parents and teens about the potential dangers of heavy exposure to gun violence in movies.”

In-Depth [retrospective cohort study]: This study focused on violent sequences, particularly those segments with gun violence, in movies. Films from the Coding of Health and Media Project database, which include a sample of the 30 highest earning movies each year from 1950-2012, were used for analysis (n = 945). Researchers calculated the rate of violent sequences per hour for all included films. The rate of violence involving guns was determined for movies from 1985-2012. Yearly averages for violent sequences and gun violence were computed based on the rate for each film. Researchers concluded that violence has increased dramatically in the movie industry with the rate of violent sequences more than doubling over the study period (p = .004). Gun violence in all films has increased overall since 1985 (p = .021). To improve statistical power, data for G-rated and PG-rated movies was combined. It was found that gun violence in G/PG movies significantly decreased in a linear fashion (p = .015) over the period studied, while no significant changes among R-rated films were noted. The annual mean rate of gun violence for G/PG films was 1.26 segments/hour and 2.15 for R-rated films.  PG-13-rated movie gun violence increased substantially since 1985, starting at 0 segments per hour in 1985 and 1986 and eventually increasing and surpassing R-rated films after 2009.

By Brandon Childs and Leah H. Carr

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