Violence has been featured in cartoons nearly from the start, but new research suggests the common idea that kids enjoy a little bloodlust in their animation isn't true. In fact, scenes of violence can make children enjoy a show less.
Previous studies have shown that up to 70% of children's shows feature violence, and researchers set out to test how children respond to these scenes. A team of media professors from Indiana University, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Illinois surveyed 128 children, ages five to 11, after they watched an original cartoon. EurekAlert reports:
Research assistants showed each child one of four versions of a five-minute animated short created for the study and then led them through a questionnaire. The short was designed to resemble familiar slapstick cartoons. Four different versions of the cartoon were used. Six violent scenes were added to one version, which was carried out by both characters and in response to earlier aggression. Nine action scenes were added to another version. Two other versions had lower amounts of action or violence.
They found that violence actually made boys like shows less, due to how they perceived the characters. Study author Andrew J. Weaver, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, explains:
"That was a little surprising. There is a lot of talk about boys being more violent and more aggressive, for whatever reason, social or biological, and yet we found that they identified with the characters more when they were non-violent . . . They liked the characters more and they enjoyed the overall cartoon more."
Interestingly, the amount of violent content didn't seem to affect how much girls liked the cartoons. Also, the girls said they thought the characters in the violent cartoons were boys, even though they were intended to have no specific gender. Weaver says:
"They're not going to identify with what they perceive to be male characters, whether they are violent or not ... They didn't prefer the more violent programming. They were just using other cues besides the character's violent or non-violent behavior to determine how much they enjoyed the show."
While the creators of children's television clearly think violence is an essential component, particularly in shows intended for boys, the researchers found kids are actually more interested in story elements usually associated with violence. Though children may appear to respond to characters hacking at each other with swords and being squashed by anvils, they're more interested in those scenes because they involve action. Kids may like seeing characters chase each other, but it seems they'd be just as satisfied if no one got hit with a mallet once they got caught.