Psychologists say it's a worrisome trend that we should take seriously, because there is evidence that watching violence on screen increases aggression in real life.
"Of course it's not the only factor, and it may not even be the most important factor, but it isn't a trivial factor — and it's one we can change," says Brad Bushman, an Ohio State University psychologist and lead author of the new report.
Bushman and colleagues analyzed 945 popular films released from 1950 to 2012. Each movie was among the 30 top-grossing films of that year, and they randomly chose 15 of those top 30 movies to scrutinize. Undergrads watched every film and counted every violent act — they defined a violent sequence as "physical acts where the aggressor makes or attempts to make some physical contact with the intention of causing injury or death."
They found that since 2009, PG-13 movies have featured as much or more violence than the R-rated films released those same years. And in 2012, there was more gun violence in PG-13 films than in the R-rated ones out that year....
There are a few things that might explain the remarkable rise in violence in PG-13 films. Ratings are determined by the Motion Picture Association of America — which means, Bushman says, they're "assigned by the industry." (The MPAA declined to comment on the study, but you can read more about the ratings system here.)
And a movie rated PG-13 will attract more theatergoers than an R, of course, because kids can go see it. Romer also thinks the rise in sci-fi and comic book movies has something to do with it —violence may be easier for us to handle if it's got a fantasy element to it. And violence is understandable in every language, which means violence-fueled action movies are more marketable overseas than comedies.
Image: Teens at movies, via Shutterstock