Violent characters in movies often are portrayed engaging in multiple risky behaviors, an example that could influence susceptible youth to take similar risks, according to a study in the January 2014 issue of Pediatrics, “Violent Film Characters’ Portrayal of Alcohol, Sex, and Tobacco-Related Behaviors,” published online Dec. 9, 2013.
Researchers analyzed and rated content of top-grossing movies from 1985 through 2010. Three-quarters of the movies involved a violent main character engaging in at least one other risk behavior—most often related to alcohol and/or sex. Movies rated PG-13 and R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) depicted these multiple risks at similar rates. The analysis also found that the MPAA, which assigns ratings to films by considering age-appropriateness of content, allows as much violent content in PG-13 as in R-rated films. Depictions of tobacco use decreased dramatically in these films over time, while alcohol use declined slightly.
According to the authors, the portrayal of multiple risk behaviors is concerning because violent films appeal to certain teens—particularly those who are “sensation seekers”— and behaviors modeled by these movie characters can encourage such youth to try drugs, tobacco, alcohol or sex. The researchers note that the MPAA may not be sensitive to the problem of compounded depictions of risk when assigning ratings to films.