The findings are obvious to most observers, but nonetheless, a new study finds that violent movie characters are also likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and engage in sexual behavior in films rated appropriate for children over 12.
"Parents should be aware that youth who watch PG-13 movies will be exposed to characters whose violence is linked to other more common behaviors, such as alcohol and sex, and that they should consider whether they want their children exposed to that influence," said study lead author Amy Bleakley, a policy research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.
The study, which was published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, sought to find out if violent characters also engaged in other risky behaviors in films viewed by teens.
The researchers analyzed almost 400 top-grossing movies from 1985 to 2010 with an eye on violence and its connection to sexual behavior, tobacco smoking and alcohol use. The movies in the sample weren't chosen based on their appeal to children, so adult-oriented films little seen by kids might have been included.
The researchers found that about 90 percent of the movies included at least one moment of violence involving a main character. Violence was defined as virtually any attempt to physically harm someone else, even in fun.
A main character also engaged in sexual behavior (a category that includes kissing on the lips and seductive dancing), smoked tobacco or drank alcohol in 77 percent of the movies.
It's not clear what this means for children who watch popular movies, however. There's intense debate among experts over whether violence on screen has any direct connection to what people do in real life. Even if there is a link, the new findings don't specify whether the violent characters are glamorized or portrayed as villains.