BOWIE, Md.(USA Today/WUSA9) -- Gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, and now exceeds the level found in R-rated movies, a new analysis finds.
With that increase, big-budget Hollywood movies may be adding fuel to aggressive attitudes and behaviors in young moviegoers, says a new study in December's Pediatrics, published online today.
Researchers also found that after 1984, when the PG-13 rating was introduced, gun violence declined in G- or PG-rated films; remaining flat in R-rated films; and increased dramatically in PG-13 films. PG-13 is short for "Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13." R-rated movies are restricted to audiences age 17 and older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Since 2009, the level of gun violence in PG-13 films has been as high as or higher than in R-rated films and has exceeded that level since 2012, the analysis shows.
For parents, these findings are important because PG-13 rated movies are "the ones that target children, and the violence that is shown contains guns," says Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. And these films are more accessible to young people than ever before, on the Internet and cable TV, says Bushman.
There have been "hundreds of studies showing that exposure to media violence ... increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behavior," and decreases feelings of empathy and compassion, he says.
Studies also have shown "the near presence of a weapon can make people more aggressive," he adds.
The new study analyzed a database of 945 films sampled from the 30 top-grossing films for each year from 1950 to 2012. Analysts coded each film for the presence of violence and guns during five-minute segments.
The Motion Picture Association of America has "been allowing violence to slowly but surely creep up in PG-13 to be equal to what's in R," says Daniel Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and a study co-author. If more films with gun violence were rated R, it would show that the industry recognizes the potential harm and that parents should have that information, he says.
The Motion Picture Association declined to comment on the study.
Most pediatricians, psychologists and child psychiatrists agree that exposure to depictions of gun violence is unhealthy for children, says pediatrician James Sargent of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.This research offers "more evidence that the (MPAA) system fails in its mission to warn parents and protect children," he says.
David Horowitz of Media Coalition, Inc., a First Amendment rights group, challenges the study's conclusions about the effects of media violence and its argument that gun violence in films makes young people more violence-prone.
"At the same time that we're seeing more images of violence or images of guns, actual indicators of real world violence have gone down," says Horowitz. "Crime rates have dropped drastically, crime rates for minors and violent crime rates, all of these indicators of what they are suggesting are the implications of the results of this study don't really show in the real world."