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Study: Little Difference in Risky Behaviors in PG-13, R Movies

PHOTO: A study in the journal "Pediatrics" shows some remarkably similar risky behaviors displayed by characters in PG-13- and R-rated movies. CREDIT: Tim Psych
PHOTO: A study in the journal "Pediatrics" shows some remarkably similar risky behaviors displayed by characters in PG-13- and R-rated movies. CREDIT: Tim Psych
January 6, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - Many parents would never think of allowing their young teen to see an R-rated movie, but a fresh study shows those films have much the same type of content as those rated PG-13. Researcher Amy Bleakley said the PG-13 rating, determined by the motion picture industry, does not always stop the kind of material that parents may think it does.

"We found that there is really no difference between PG-13 and R-rated movies with regard to the extent to which this content is featured - except with tobacco and explicit sex, which is more common in R-rated movies," Bleakley said.

The study found that in 400 of the top movies from the past 15 years, 80 percent of the time a main character was involved in violence and also a second risky behavior - such as drinking, smoking or sexual activity - whether the film was rated PG-13 or R.

The big question, in the wake of this study, revolves around how children process what they see at the movies, and whether they are more likely to act out on a broad range of risky behaviors, she said.

"We know that when kids see just tobacco on-screen, they're more likely to initiate smoking, and when they see alcohol on screen, they're more likely to drink, and so on," she said. "But we don't know the effect of these clustered behaviors. So that's our next step. We want to try and find that out."

Bleakley is a research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Her study on film ratings was recently featured in the journal "Pediatrics." The full study is available at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX