In a study that confirms long-held beliefs about sex, violence, and the coolness of parents, a new survey finds that adults who are repeatedly shown movie scenes of sex and violence become increasingly desensitized to both, leading to an increased likelihood they will allow their children to see them. The study, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, involved taking 1,000 parents and showing them “bloody or erotic” clips from movies such as Die Hard, Casino Royale, and 8 Mile back to back—much like any grown-ups party. It’s unconfirmed, yet believed that they also had beers, and even stayed up past 10 p.m.
However, this party differed slightly in that the parents were asked after every clip to name the age they thought would be appropriate for viewing them, in a purely hypothetical world where they still had control over that. And researchers found that, after repeatedly viewing scenes of sex and violence, those recommended age limits only became more and more lenient, confirming what many have long suspected: Sex and violence are so cool that watching them only makes you cooler.
Of course, given that the study was published in the Pediatrics journal, no one came out and said that. Instead, the main takeaway was that parents’ repeated exposure to sex and violence creates an atmosphere of permissiveness that could have negative social effects on their children—particularly if they’re big babies whose parents still read Pediatrics to learn how to raise them. In fact, the study was conducted as a companion piece to the Center’s previous findings that PG-13 movies have far more gun violence than those with an R-rating, as those same researchers sought to find why no one seemed to care about that. As they discovered, it’s because the more parents are exposed to it, the more they become badasses who can totally handle guns, boobs—whatever, man.
Toward the beginning of the study, respondents said that an average age of 16.9 years old was appropriate for violent content, while a worldly, grizzled 17.2 years old was just right for sex scenes. But by the survey’s end, parents had reached a state of being chill about letting their 13.9-year-olds watch violent movies and 14-year-olds being exposed to sex, reasoning that an extra 35.6 days of experience had surely readied them for on-screen eroticism. And in addition to arguing that desensitization is real, the findings provide scientific proof that kids who want something from their parents should just keep at it until they wear them down.
In its conclusion, the study also expressed concern that this same desensitization may be affecting those who rate movies for the MPAA, as though there is any sound, scientific reason for that board’s decisions.