Researchers from The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported they analyzed 855 hit movies made from 1950 to 2006, and found the number of explicitly graphic suicide scenes tripled over those years.
Also, films rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) PG-13 ("Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13") and R ("Restricted - Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian") have not differed in how suicide is portrayed since 1985, a year after this intermediate cautionary rating was added between PG ("Parental Guidance Suggested - Some material may not be suitable for children") and R, according to the study, published this month in the Archives of Suicide Research, downloadable here.
Following up on earlier research linking suicide modeling in the media to an increase in teenage suicides, this new work demonstrates the erosion of differences between MPAA's PG-13 and R movie ratings in the way suicide and violence are depicted, a trend that should raise strong parental concerns, The Annenberg Public Policy Center's written statement cautions:
Lead author Patrick E. Jamieson stated,
“While we cannot establish a causal connection here, it is interesting to note that the tripling of U.S. teen suicide since1960 coincided with this increase in movie suicide portrayal. We know as well that exposure to movie portrayed suicide correlates with thinking that one cannot get effective treatment for mental health problems."
Of the MPAA rating system (G, PG, R, X) adopted by the industry in 1968, co-author Dan Romer remarked in the written statement,
“The MPAA ratings board apparently thinks that the portrayal of graphic suicide is acceptable for youth ages 13 and older. But parents should be warned about this content so they can decide for themselves whether it’s a good thing for their children to watch.”
Responding by e-mail to a request for additional background information and resources, Jamieson referenced a 1999 UK study on the effects on kids of fictional TV media suicide, and wrote,
"Media suicide contagion is real. The definitive source on media suicide contagion with references, the 2001-2002 media suicide recommendations were endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIMH, The Surgeon General’s Office, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center."
Updated, easier-to-use media suicide recommendations were released this year, he added.
Through the Annenberg-Robert Wood Johnson Coding of Health and Media Project (CHAMP), the center studies the influence on children and teenagers of all electronic media that entertain, educate and report news -- movies, television, radio, websites, videos, video games, radio, DVDs and VHS -- and fosters the sharing of research and findings with industry and government policy makers, scientists and the public.
In April 2010, Annenberg released a study that showed all types of violent content in PG-13 movies had increased..
In related news:
In November 2003, the Reuters news agency and Oxford University organized a symposium that issued a report about the effects of media portrayal of suicidal behavior, with recommendations how to avoid pitfalls and prevent problems.
ScienceDaily reported earlier this year, Iowa State University researchers found TV ad violence amplified aggressive thinking in kids, and an international research team found seeing and experiencing violence normalizes aggression for children.