Superheroes Not Super Role Models?
Millions of American boys dream of growing up and being like their favorite superheroes. Now, a new study suggests watching and mimicking many of those modern-day heroes may not be such a good idea.
"There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday," Sharon Lamb, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston, said in a press release. "Today's superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in nonstop violence; he's aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity."
Lamb and colleagues surveyed 674 boys between ages 4 and 18 who walked through malls and talked to sales clerks. They found marketers take advantage of boys' needs to create an identity in adolescence and sell them "a narrow version of masculinity".
"In today's media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have," Lamb said.
In another study, researcher Carlos Santos, Ph.D., from Arizona State University, examined 426 middle school boys' ability to resist being tough, emotionally unavailable and detached from their friends. They wanted to know if resisting these stereotypical images affected their psychological health.
They found boys from all different ethnic and racial groups were equally able to resist these masculine stereotypes. Boys were more likely to act tough and detached from their friends as they got older. However, boys who remained close to their mothers, siblings and peers did not act as tough and were more emotionally available to their friends. Interestingly, closeness to fathers encouraged boys to be more autonomous and detached.
Santos found being able to resist internalizing macho images declines as boys transition into adolescence, and this puts their mental health at risk.
"Helping boys resist these behaviors early on seems to be a critical step toward improving their health and the quality of their social relationships," Santos was quoted as saying.
SOURCE: 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, August 15, 2010