Hollywood superheroes, such as Hulk, Wolverine and the X-Men, may be making children more aggressive, according to a new study.
Parents are happy to encourage kids, buying them Batman and Superman costumes, without considering the impact.
Now research has discovered that one year after first engaging with superhero culture it isn’t the virtues, such as protecting the weak, that kids adopt, but the negative traits.
They are much more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive and they are no more likely to stick up for other kids being picked on by bullies.
Professor Sarah Coyne, a mum of three with another on the way, said: “So many preschoolers are into superheroes and so many parents think that the superhero culture will help their kids defend others and be nicer to their peers.
“But our study shows the exact opposite. Kids pick up on the aggressive themes and not the defending ones.”
The social scientist from Human Development department of Brigham Young University in the US examined the behaviour of 240 children who engaged with superhero culture to see how they reacted to certain characters.
The children were then asked to identify 10 popular superheroes, their favourite and why they liked them.
Only 10% noted the defending ability of Spiderman’s character saying for instance “he shoots webs and saves people”.
Whereas 20% linked their hero with some type of violent skill. One child said of their hero: “He’s big and can punch” and “He smashes and gets angry.”
Others suggested blatant aggression saying “Because he can smash and destroy everything, and he doesn’t care because he’s a big bully.”
Another child stated that Captain America was his favorite superhero “because he can kill.”
The remaining 70% of skills-related comments by children were benign in nature: “Because he is big and strong” and “Because he is cool and can fly.”
Prof Coyle believes children pick up the violent behaviour rather than other traits because superheroes aren’t created with pre-school age kids in mind, and they don’t have understanding to identified the wider moral messages.
Despite the findings, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Coyne believes there’s no need for parents to disengage their children from superheroes all together, and that it’s important to reiterate the positives.
She said: “I’d say to have moderation.
“Have your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and just have superheroes be one of many, many things that they like to do and engage with.
“It is nearly impossible to avoid the superhero culture in America.
“I currently have a three-year-old son who likes Spiderman even though he has never seen the movies.
“He dresses up as Spiderman occasionally and will go around pretending to shoot webs.
“The point of the study is not to ban superheroes as they can be a fun and magical part of childhood.
“However, the superhero culture can become consuming, especially if kids are watching the movies, playing with the toys, strongly identifying with the characters, dressing up, etc.
“This study is all about balance. For example, my son is almost equally as likely to pretend he is Elsa ( the Princess from Frozen) and belt out the lyrics to ‘Let it Go.
“It’s about finding balance and ways to talk about superheroes that focus on the positive aspects.”