Hollywood Uplink – December 2005: Who Says “Movies Don’t Influence Behavior”?

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December 2005

        Issue: 14:12

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Who Says “Movies Don’t Influence Behavior”?
By Dick Rolfe, Chairman – The Dove Foundation

“Smoking in movies is a risk factor for smoking initiation among US adolescents. Limiting exposure of young adolescents to movie smoking could have important public health implications.” So says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Our results provide strong evidence that viewing smoking in movies promotes smoking initiation among adolescents,” concludes the Department of Pediatrics, Dartmouth Medical School.

What could have caused these two worthy medical organizations to offer such “biased” findings…especially since the experts in Hollywood have proclaimed for years that anti-social portrayals in movies don’t impact the behavior in audience members in the slightest? Any filmmaker will tell you categorically that social conduct influences movie content, not the other way around.

According to a November 7th story by Reuters, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School asked 6,522 children aged 10 to 14 to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected box office hits released in the United States from 1998 to 2000.

Even after considering other factors known to influence smoking, the study found that adolescents with the highest exposure to movie smoking were 2.6 times more likely to try it compared to those with the lowest exposure.

The November issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that, according to a study paid for by the National Cancer Institute, about 10 percent of all adolescents had tried smoking. However, 38 out of every 100 adolescents who tried smoking did so because they saw smoking portrayed in movies.

How does it happen that teens are so easily influenced by actors on the big screen? “Part of the reason that exposure to movie smoking has such a considerable impact on adolescent smoking is because it is a very strong social influence on kids ages 10-14,” said James Sargent, a pediatrics professor at the school and lead author of the study.

What impact does good parenting and teaching good values in the home have compared with exposure to smoking in the movies? “Because movie exposure to smoking is so pervasive, its impact on this age group outweighs whether peers or parents smoke, or whether the child is involved in other extracurricular activities, like sports,” replies Sargent. He concludes, “No child is immune to the influence of smoking in movies.”

If this is true of smoking, what does it say about the movies’ impact on other social behaviors, like premarital sex, or drug and alcohol use? There are a myriad of studies that draw parallels between the frequency of exposure to such behavior in movies and similar behavior exhibited in the lives of adolescents and teenagers.

A desire to belong is one of the primary motivators on their social needs list. We have only to look back to our own youthful days and remember the importance we placed on clothing trends, popular hangouts, and winning approval from the “right” crowd.

As adults, we must face the fact that our children are influenced by many factors outside the home. It’s not enough to teach good values. It is also important to discourage exposure to bad behavior in movies and television programs where consequences like cancer, and drug, alcohol or tobacco addiction are rarely, if ever, shown. One way is to guide and monitor their movie attendance.

Humorist Erma Bombeck offered some practical advice. She said, “I would never allow someone in my television set that I wouldn’t invite into my home.”


The Dove Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2005 The Dove Foundation. All rights reserved.