Their study, which appears in the December 2002 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health and was supported by the National Cancer Institute, examines the reach of extremely violent movies among a sample of more than 5000 5th-8th graders, who are about 10-14 years old. Students were asked whether they had seen any of 50 randomly selected movies from the top 600 box office draws released from 1988 to 1999. From this sample of 600 movies, the researchers identified the 50 that contained the most violence. These movies, all R-rated and not meant to be seen by children, contained scenes depicting such things as sadistic rape, sodomy, brutal or ritualistic murders and cannibalism. On average, these especially violent movies were seen by 28 percent of the sample.
The authors say their results suggest that better oversight of movie industry marketing practices might be warranted.
"Demand for seeing violent movies among adolescents is spurred by the advertising practices of the movie industry," says James Sargent, the lead author on this paper and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. "Through movies, adolescents are being exposed to brutal and often sexualized violence."
Sargent also suggests that parents need to do a better job of monitoring children's access to movies. "Parents wouldn't think of exposing their children to food with arsenic in it. We need to teach them to think of violent movies in the same way," he says.
The survey revealed that the most popular movies for fifth graders, who are usually about 10 years old, were I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, with both movies seen by more than 40 percent of those fifth graders surveyed. Both are rated
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