Gun Violence in Movies

A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals how parents determine what makes intense gun violence in PG-13 movies acceptable for teens. The lead author was Daniel Romer, research director of the APPC. The authors of the study also included Kathleen Hall Jamieson, APPC director; Patrick E. Jamieson, director of APPC’s Adolescent Health and Risk Communication Institute; Azeez Adebimpe, an APPC postdoc fellow; and Robert Lull, a former APPC postdoc fellow at California State University, Fresno.

The study, “Parental Desensitization to Gun Violence in PG-13 Movies,” was published online in the journal Pediatrics on May 14 and will be in the June issue. It measured responses of 610 parents in the United States to scenes of gun violence in popular PG-13 movies to determine how upsetting they were to watch and at what age parents would consider it appropriate for teens to view those scenes.

Previous research suggested that parents were growing emotionally desensitized to violence on film in response to the increase in gun violence, especially in PG-13 films.

The study found that parents were not emotionally desensitized to gun violence but were far more willing to expose their teens to such scenes if they found the violence to be “justified.” Violence that is perpetrated in self-defense or to protect loved ones was considered less upsetting and more appropriate for teens than unjustified violence. Nevertheless, most parents thought that even justified gun violence was more appropriate for children starting at age 15 rather than 13, as the PG-13 rating category suggests.

Since 1984, when the PG-13 rating was introduced, scenes of gun violence have doubled in movies. The rating was introduced as a way to warn parents about emotionally upsetting content for younger viewers. A PG-13 rating from the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) currently means that parents are strongly cautioned as some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The result of this most recent study suggests that parents would favor a new rating, PG-15, that would more accurately warn of the violent content in some movies.