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Study: Superheroes Reinforce Male Gender Roles

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Young boys who watch superhero shows exhibit more stereotypically masculine behaviors during play. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Young boys who watch superhero shows exhibit more stereotypically masculine behaviors during play. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS (CBS Las Vegas) – Superheroes are supposed to be a force for good. But a new study suggests watching Superman, Thor and other caped crusaders can have a negative impact on young kids. reports Live Science.

“These type of programs may be contributing to what I call the hypermasculinization of American society,” said study researcher Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University.

Coyne tells Live Science the superheroes celebrate tough, aggressive behavior. They also tell young boys to hide their emotions.

The researchers asked 134 parents to fill out surveys about their 3-to-6 year olds’ behavior, viewing habits and favorite superheroes.

After a year, they approached the same parents and asked them to answer the same set of questions. 105 finished the follow-up.

Little boys were more likely than girls to watch superhero shows and movies; about 20 percent of the boys never watched superhero media, while 20 percent watched it once a week or more. But almost half of little girls had seen superhero shows or movies only once or never, and only 2 percent watched superhero media once a week or more.

Boys who were exposed to more superheroes in media were more likely to play with pretend weapons, like guns or swords. They also engaged in more stereotypically male play, like wrestling and fighting.

Girls did not change their style of play, but those who watched more superheroes also were more likely to play with pretend weapons.

Coyne said there’s so much attention on how “Disney princesses” affect girls’ behavior, she wanted to see what influence superheroes can have. “You can’t get away from superhero culture at the preschool age,” she said. “They just love it. It’s at every birthday party.”

Coyne is interested in looking at these effects in the long term.

“Generally, we find that when people subscribe to greater gender stereotypes, it’s problematic,” she said. “You’re more likely to subscribe to a culture of dominance and violence.”

And it didn’t matter whether or not parents talked to their children about the stories they were seeing, the behavior stayed the same. “As a parent of a preschooler, I was disappointed!” Coyne said

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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