A new study finds that children who are "highly engaged" with superheroes were more likely to be aggressive a year later. Researchers twice evaluated 240 preschoolers and kindergartners at four sites across the western US, analyzing their levels of three types of aggression at both points: physical (hitting, kicking), relational (hurting others' feelings through behaviors like ignoring), and verbal (name-calling). Parents reported on their kids' favorite superheroes and just how big of a fan their kids were—how often they watched movies or shows featuring superheroes, for example, and how strongly the kids identified with their favorite hero. The children also answered questions. In the end, researchers found that kids who were more engaged with superheroes were more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive at their second evaluation.
Also troubling: The children were not found to be emulating superheroes in other ways, such as by being more likely to help or defend others, Pacific Standard reports. "Children in early childhood may be particularly at risk for the negative effects of media violence exposure when the superhero medium is emphasized," the researchers conclude. They theorize that at such a young age, it may be tricky for kids to "disentangle" the aggressive behaviors superheroes demonstrate from the altruistic, "pro-social" behaviors. They also speculate that exposure to superheroes may be more problematic for children than exposure to other types of aggression in media because parents tend to "endorse and support" a child's love of superheroes, in the hopes that their kids might learn to help others, Psych Central reports. (Want better behaved kids? Turn off violent TV.)