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Original Investigation
September 25, 2017

Effects of Exposure to Gun Violence in Movies on Children’s Interest in Real Guns

Author Affiliations
  • 1School of Communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
  • 2currently with Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio
  • 3Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
JAMA Pediatr. Published online September 25, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.2229
Key Points

Question  What are the immediate effects of exposure to movie characters with guns on children’s unsupervised play with guns?

Findings  This randomized experiment included 104 children aged 8 to 12 years who were tested in pairs. Children who viewed a PG-rated movie containing guns played with a real gun longer and pulled the trigger more times than did children who viewed the same movie not containing guns.

Meaning  The connection shown in this experiment is a compelling start to a broader conversation on the various factors that can increase a child’s interest in guns and violence, including gun violence in movies.

Abstract

Importance  More US children die by accidental gun use than children in other developed countries. One factor that can influence children’s interest in guns is exposure to media containing guns.

Objective  To test whether children who see a movie containing guns will handle a real gun longer and will pull the trigger more times than children who see the same movie not containing guns.

Design, Setting, and Participants  One hundred four children aged 8 to 12 years recruited through advertisements were randomly assigned in pairs to watch a 20-minute PG-rated movie containing or not containing guns in a university laboratory. Children then played with toys and games in a room for 20 minutes while being video recorded. A cabinet in the room contained a real (disabled) gun with a sensor counting trigger pulls. Recordings were coded for the time spent holding the gun and in aggressive play. Data were collected from July 15, 2015, through January 1, 2016, and analyzed using generalized estimating equations (Tweedie log-link for time spent holding the gun; Poisson log-link for pulling the trigger).

Main Outcomes and Measures  The 2 main outcomes were time spent holding the gun and the number of trigger pulls. Control variables included sex, age, trait aggressiveness, exposure to violent media, interest in guns, and number of guns at home.

Results  Among the 104 study participants (62 boys [59.6%] and 42 girls [40.4%]; mean (SD) age, 9.9 [1.5] years), the adjusted median number of trigger pulls among children who saw the movie containing guns was 2.8 (interquartile range [IQR], 0.2-2.8) compared with 0.01 (IQR, 0.01-0.2) among children who saw the movie not containing guns (adjusted odds ratio, 22.3; 95% CI, 6.0-83.4; P < .001). The adjusted median number of seconds spent holding the gun among children who saw a movie containing guns was 53.1 (IQR, 35.5-53.1) compared with 11.1 (IQR, 10.7-16.7) among children who saw the movie not containing guns (adjusted odds ratio, 3.0; 95% CI, 0.9-9.9; P = .07). Qualitative analyses on 4 pairs from each condition found that children who saw the movie containing guns also played more aggressively and sometimes fired the gun at people (ie, self, partner, or passersby on street).

Conclusions and Relevance  Children in the United States frequently have access to unsecured firearms and frequently consume media containing guns. This experiment shows that children who see movie characters use guns are more likely to use guns themselves.

Trial Registration  clinicaltrials.gov Identifier NCT03220412

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