Effects of “The Might Morphin Power Rangers” on Children’s Aggression with Peers
C.J. Boyatzis, G.M. Matillo, & K.M. Nesbitt
Child Study Journal, volume 25, No. 1, 1995
This study investigated the effects of "The Might Morphin Power Rangers," currently the most popular and violent children's TV program, on children's aggressive behavior. Subjects were 52 elementary school children (26 boys, 26 girls), mean age 7 years 9 months, enrolled in an after-school program. Children were randomly assigned to the Power Rangers condition or a control group. The control group was observed while playing in their classroom and the number of aggressive acts by each child was recorded in a 2-minute interval per child. On the following day, an episode of "The Power Rangers" was shown to the Power Rangers group. Children in the Power Rangers condition committed more aggressive acts per interval than control group children. Expressed as a ratio, for every 1 aggressive act by control group children there were 7 by children who viewed "The Power Rangers" episode. Boys committed significantly more aggressive acts than girls. This study corroborates the causal link between TV violence and real-life aggression, and reasons for "The Power Rangers" effect on aggression are presented.
Since the classic "Bobo doll" experiments (Bandura, 1965; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963) three decades ago, which demonstrated that children imitate the aggressive actions of a model, researchers have investigated and confirmed a link between children's exposure to TV violence and their aggression in real life. (for reviews see, e.g., Hearold, 1986; Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988; Parke & Slaby, 1983). It has also been established that TV viewing is related to a variety of negative developmental outcomes that contribute to greater aggression. For example, children who watch television more than their peers have been found to be more restless and have less self-restraint (e.g., Singer, Singer, & Rapaczynski, 1984), adopt a view of the world that is negative and "scary" (e.g., Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980), are more tolerant of aggression in real life (e.g., Drabman & Thomas, 1974), and ultimately grow up to engage in more criminal activity, get arrested more often as adults, and are more likely to physically abuse their own children (Huesmann, 1986; Huesmann, Eron, Lifkowitz, & Walder, 1984). Children have also been found to imitate directly the aggressive behaviors of television characters (see, e.g., Bandura, 1965; Heller & Polsky, 1976). thus, television violence not only leads to many negative and aggressive outcomes, but it provides specific new forms of aggression for children to emulate.
The present study investigated the effects of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," currently the most popular children's TV program, on children's aggression. It is also a highly visible and available show, as in many TV markets the show airs 5 or 6 times a week. "The Power Rangers" is a racially diverse group of friendly adolescents who are ordered by their elderly white leader, Zordon, to transform or "morph" into superhero-type characters in order to battle monsters sent to the earth by the evil Rita Repulsa, a shrill Asian woman intent on taking control of the planet. One of the program's prominent qualities is its violence, both in terms of its frequency and severity. The violence occurs, not only in the clashes, which make up much of each program, between the Powers Rangers' and their evil counterparts, but in other aggressive behaviors that are frequently modeled in non-fighting scenes, such as when the teenagers practice martial arts. The National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV), which has analyzed the violence in TV programs since 1980, has stated that "The Power Rangers" is the most violent children's program it has ever studied, averaging 211 violent acts per hour (Kiesewetter, 1993). The NCTV has also reported that most of the aggression in the show is severe, and the sort that would be classified as hostile rather than instrumental (e.g. Feshbach, 1970), that is, most of the violence in the show is intended to harm or kill another character.
There are several reasons why, according to a framework of social learning theory (e.g., Bandura & Waiters, 1963) and the research it has inspired, we predicted that "The Power Rangers" would increase children's aggressive behavior. "The Power Rangers" airs frequently, thereby creating opportunity for repeated exposure to its violence, and repeated exposure has been linked to greater real-life aggression (e.g., Huesmann, Lagerspetz, & Eron, 1984). Because the Power Rangers are the heroes and "good guys" of the program, their high prestige and status could increase children's imitation of their behaviors (e.g., Bandura & Waiters, 1963). Also, the majority of Power Rangers are boys, and their aggression (compared to the girls') is usually highlighted in the show. Thus, there are many aggressive role models in "The Power Rangers" for boys to identify with and emulate. Research has found that the more that children, especially boys, identify with aggressive TV characters, the more aggressive they are rated by their peers (Huesmann et al., 1984). There are, thus, numerous reasons to expect that children, in particular boys, will become more aggressive after watching "The Power Rangers."
The present study is valuable because, as far as we can tell, it is the first assessment of the effects on children's aggression of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," whose popularity and visibility make it an especially potent influence on children's behavior.
The subjects in the study were 52
elementary school children (26 boys, 26 girls) ranging in age from 5 to 11
years old with a mean age of 7 years, 9 months. The sample was ethnically
diverse, and all children were enrolled in a public elementary school in
For the purpose of analyzing aggression in this study, observers operationally defined and coded aggression when children displayed verbal aggression (e.g., speaking or yelling in an insulting or threatening manner) or physical aggression (e.g., hitting, shoving, kicking, rolling into or tripping other children) that was aimed directly and intentionally at people. Some instances of aggression centered around objects, such as throwing objects at each other (e.g., throwing cups from a kitchen set at each other) or taking objects away from another child without that child's consent. Accidents and unintentional contact, such as accidental trips, were not recorded as aggression, nor were acts such as throwing balls in the air.
A videotape of a randomly chosen episode of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" that aired in November, 1993, was used in this experiment. The program was roughly 22 minutes long. According to our analysis of the episode (using the above criteria), there were 140 aggressive acts in the program.
Children were randomly assigned to the "Power Rangers" condition or a control condition (which did not view the program), resulting in 27 children in the control group and 25 (two were absent on the observation day) in the Power Rangers group. Thus, this study had an independent groups, post-test design with simple random assignment to ensure equivalent groups. On the first day of the study, each of the control group children, chosen in random order, were observed while engaging in their regular play inside their classroom for a 2-minute interval per child and the number of aggressive acts by each child was recorded. On the following day, the "Power Rangers" episode was shown to the children in the Power Rangers condition. After viewing the program, the children were told to engage in their regular play in the classroom and their aggressive acts were recorded exactly as in the control group.
Two observers (the first two authors) obtained reliability on a total of 40% of the sample. The number of aggressive acts committed by the first five children were tallied and then the observers compared the number of aggressive acts they recorded for each child. Following the first five children, the observers did reliability checks systematically on every third child. There was 99% agreement between the observers across all observations; the high reliability was caused in part by the discrete, easily identifiable nature of the children's aggression. In cases of disagreement the observers averaged their totals.
A 2 (condition) x 2 (child sex) between-subjects analysis of variance revealed that children in the Power Rangers condition committed significantly more aggressive actions per 2-minute interval (M = 1.6) than did children in the control group (M = .22), F(1,48) = 6.017, p < .02. This difference is especially clear when expressed as a ratio: For every 1 aggressive act by control group children there were 7 aggressive acts by children who viewed "The Power Rangers" episode.
There was also a main effect for children's sex, as boys (M = 1.59) committed significantly more aggressive acts than girls (M = .08) did, F(1,48) = 8.022, p < .01. There was also a significant interaction between condition and children's sex, F(1,48) = 6.854, p < .01, due to boys in the Power Rangers condition (M = 2.79) showing more aggression than children in any of the other conditions. Control group boys committed few aggressive acts (M = .31), and girls showed virtually no aggression in the Power Rangers (M = 0.0) or control (M = .14) condition.
This study demonstrates that viewing "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" leads to greater aggression by children, especially boys. The results of this study corroborate prior research on the effect of violent TV content on children's real-life aggression (e.g., Hearold, 1986; Huesmann et al. 1984; Joy, Kimball, & Zabrack, 1986). It should be noted that TV violence, including that in "The Power Rangers," does not influence all children similarly. In this study, boys were particularly susceptible to the aggression-inducing effects of "The Power Rangers."
One manifestation of the boys' emulation of the Power Rangers' violence was their precise imitation of the characters' acts, such as flying karate kicks. Although we did not systematically assess the intensity of aggression displayed by children, boys in the Power Rangers condition displayed more severe and hostile aggression than the aggression by control group children. A typical (and instrumental) aggressive act by children in the control group was taking another child's crayons.
The finding that boys were influenced more by the aggressive content of "The Power Rangers" corroborates research on boys' greater imitation of modeled aggression (e.g., Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963; Huesmann, Lagerspetz, & Eron, 1984). Among the several plausible explanations for the greater impact on boys' aggression, one is that children's programs that are high in fantasy and aggression (like "The Power Rangers") feature a predominance of male characters (e.g., Fernie, 1981). Also, the more that children, especially boys, identify with aggressive TV characters, the more aggressive the children are (Huesmann et al., 1984); most of the Power Rangers are boys, and it is often their aggression that is made most salient in the show. Thus, there are more role models (and highly aggressive ones, at that) in "The Power Rangers" for boys to emulate. Further, the Power Rangers are the heroes of the program and, thus, their high status increases the likelihood that children will imitate them (e.g., Bandura & Walters, 1963). Added to these TV-specific reasons for boys' aggressiveness is the obvious gender socialization (e.g., Block, 1984) that fosters boys' aggression.
As far as we can tell, this is the first experimental assessment of the effects of "The Power Rangers" on children and, therefore, this study needs to be replicated, ideally with larger samples and with children tested individually (i.e., viewing "The Power Rangers" alone and then playing with peers who did not view the video) rather than as a group. Also, in future studies the observers should be "blind" to the experimental condition of the children to avoid any potential of observer bias. Nevertheless, this study has many strengths. Children in the present study were observed in a natural environment (their school) and the aggression measured here was part Of their ongoing behavior with peers (as compared to unnatural behavior in a laboratory setting). Further, this study's design avoids the shortcomings associated with correlational investigations. The children were randomly assigned to their conditions to obtain equivalent groups, and all conditions other than exposure to the "Power Rangers" program were equal for both groups. Also, children in both groups were observed in a random order by the experimenters. Thus, this study offers a valid, naturalistic assessment of the impact of "The Power Rangers" on children's aggression. It should be noted, however, that viewing the videotape may have created an expectation to behave in a particular way in the children; this is plausible because the children at that school did not frequently view videotapes.
Future researchers may investigate short- and long-term effects of repeated exposure to the "The Power Rangers." Because the program airs many times a week in many TV markets, children's repeated exposure to its violence may be a particular cause for concern, as televised violence is most likely to cause aggression when there is regular exposure to it (e.g., Huesmann et al., 1984). Researchers could also study how the program affects children's anxiety, as some work (e.g., Pena, French, & Doerann, 1990) has found that contemporary superhero programs, compared to programs from past decades, feature characters with more anxiety and concern about others' hostility toward them, as well as higher hostility toward others and more references to others as being bad or unfriendly.
Researchers might also investigate how exposure to "The Power Rangers" affects children's prosocial behavior and conflict resolution techniques. These latter variables may be especially worth studying because although the Power Rangers occasionally offer positive verbal messages (e.g., "Fight only in self-defense," "Express your anger responsibly"), the program highlights the use of violence to settle conflicts and disputes. The findings of the present study suggest that such positive messages are not suppressing children's aggressive behavior. The characters' moral exhortations (e.g., "If at first you don't succeed . . .") are typically embedded in a context of violence. Such attempts to communicate prosocial messages -- by placing a moral amidst violence -- are likely to fail, as the prosocial pleas are probably insufficient to override the excessive visual violence (see, e.g., Liss, Reinhardt, & Frederiksen, 1983). Further, aggression may be a likely result of viewing the program even though it offers some moral, prosocial messages because "visual presentations of aggressive acts, independent of plot and dialogue, may be sufficient to engender aggression" (Huesmann et al., 1984, p. 771). In addition to attending to the salient visual features of the show's violent action, children are also likely to be engaged by the dramatic sound effects (Calvert & Gersh, 1987).
Our ongoing research is investigating the effects of "The Power Rangers" on children's prosocial acts and aggression, as well as measuring correlations between children's viewing of "The Power Rangers" and their teachers' and peers' judgments of their aggressiveness. Another important determination is whether the violence in "The Power Rangers" is responsible for children's increased aggression or whether children's aggressiveness is the result of a more general arousal. We are now comparing children's behavior after viewing different kinds of action programs -- with violence and without -- to test this issue.
Despite the need for more research on the effects of this highly popular children's program, it is an important and alarming discovery -- from an experimental design in a natural setting with a valid measurement of aggression that children's aggression was immediately and markedly greater following exposure to but a single episode of "The Power Rangers."
Portions of this research were presented
at the UCI Social Ecology Research Conference,
Correspondence should be addressed to:
Chris J. Boyatzis
Department of Child Development
California State University-Fullerton
Fullerton, CA 92634-9480
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By Chris J. Boyatzis, Gina M. Matillo, & Kristen M. Nesbitt
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