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Study: Little difference in violence between PG-13 & R rated films

Still from the movie
Still from the movie "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
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A new study has found little difference between PG-13 and R rated movies in the level of violence paired with other "risky" behaviors, like smoking or sexual activity. Researchers hope to alert pediatricians, so they can influence parents' choices about their children's media consumption.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania took 390 top-grossing movies from over the last 25 years that were rated PG-13 and examined random 5-minute segments.

RELATED: Study finds that gun violence in PG-13 films is rising

“Violent Film Characters’ Portrayal of Alcohol, Sex, and Tobacco-Related Behaviors,” published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, shows that in more than half of these teen-friendly movies, main characters act violently while simultaneously engaging in what the team calls "risky behaviors": sex, drinking or smoking.

"There are characters who are fighting each other with guns and then they start having sex and then ... she punches him in the face," Lead researcher Amy Bleakley of the Annenberg Public Policy Center said, describing a scene in the blockbuster Mr. & Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

This matters, Bleakley said, because other studies have proven that children imitate what they see on-screen. Cool characters smoking leads to a rise in early smoking and sex on screen leads to early sexual initiation.

"When younger kids especially see these PG-13 rated movies, there are behaviors that they tend to emulate," she said, "like drinking and different types of sexual activity are being paired with violence."

Thomas McInerny, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics calls this kind of gun violence a "public health issue." He said that pediatricians have been "advocating to prevent gun violence in children for decades."

He said the Sandy Hook tragedy "invigorated" the group to address this issue even more strongly. 

The Annenberg research team now plans to study the effect on children of these on-screen pairings of violence with other behaviors like sex, drinking or smoking.