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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 8, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa - 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 of the same type of content as those that are rated PG-13.

Amy Bleakley, a senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center for Public Policy, said the PG-13 rating, determined by the motion picture industry, doesn't always stop the kind of material parents may think it does.

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

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

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

"We know that when kids see just tobacco on screen, they're more likely to initiate smoking," she said, "and when they see alcohol on screen they're more likely to drink, and so on, 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's study on film ratings, recently featured in the journal "Pediatrics," is available online at pediatrics.aapublications.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA