'Power Rangers' too potent, study says

March 07, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- After spending two afternoons watching elementary school children play, two undergraduate California State University researchers in Fullerton have a warning for parents: Allowing your children to watch "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" can be dangerous to other youngsters' health.

The student researchers reported that children exposed to a "Power Rangers" episode immediately responded by harassing playmates with karate kicks and shoves.

Children who were not allowed to watch the single episode of the Fox television mega-hit did nothing worse than take other youngsters' crayons in the hour after the show, the observers found in their two-day study last fall.

"One of the scary things about violence in the media is it gives children new ideas about how to be aggressive and be violent," said Assistant Professor Chris Boyatzis, a member of the Cal State Fullerton Child Development Department who oversaw the study. The show "transmits specific forms of violent behavior that the kids may not know [before they watch]."

What millions of children see each week on "Power Rangers" is five teen-agers "morphing" into Spandex-clad super heroes who use karate chops and magic swords to conquer monsters sent to Earth by "Rita Repulsa, the Empress of Evil."

The show's creators at Saban Entertainment deny that it makes youngsters violent, saying that each episode concludes with a positive message and that children who watch the live-action show know the fight scenes are just fantasy.

Mr. Boyatzis acknowledged that his students' observations merely validate "hundreds" of earlier research studies showing that violence on television can lead to violent behavior in real life. But he said that the "contribution of our study is that we're looking at 'Power Rangers,' which is the hottest thing right now."

In October, undergraduate researchers Kristen Nesbitt and Gina Matillo split 52 after-school day care students into two groups.

They showed one group of the 6- to 11-year-olds a 23-minute episode of "Power Rangers" that contained 140 aggressive acts, according to their count. Then the researchers watched the children play indoors, just as they do each afternoon as they await their parents.

The next day, the researchers watched the second group playing with the same toys in the same room, but without having first seen "Power Rangers."

The students watched each child in the two groups for two minutes apiece, logging every act of aggression. They found that the children who had just watched "Power Rangers" were aggressive six times more often than the children who had not watched the show.

Mr. Boyatzis and his students are writing up their findings for submission to a psychology journal.

"Power Rangers" grabbed headlines last year when it became the nation's top-ranked children's program and parents scrambled to find "Power Rangers" action figures in the midst of a Christmas shortage.

Mr. Boyatzis said he is one of those who has not joined the craze. "I have a daughter who's 7 1/2 . I've never let her watch it, and I probably never will."

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