A study of 22 James Bond films has found that the amount of violence depicted has doubled since the original Bond movie was released in 1962.
The study’s authors have said the finding raises concerns but other experts on popular culture say there is no firm evidence linking film violence with acts of violence.
The study, published in the journal Pediatric Forum, involved researchers watching all but the most recent film, Skyfall, as it was yet to be released when the research was conducted.
The researchers defined violence as “as any scene in which there was an intentional attempt by any individual to harm another”, including failed attempts but excluding accidental acts that lead to harm.
“Violent acts were further divided into whether the violence was trivial (e.g. an open-handed slap) or severe (punching or kicking, attacks with weapons). Mass scenes of violence, in which it was unclear how many people were engaged in a fight and how many were actually harmed” were also noted, the study said.
Portrayals of violence were twice as common in 2008’s Quantum of Solace than they were in 1962’s Dr No, the study said.
“This was due to an increase in severe rather than trivial violent imagery. The findings support our hypothesis that movies, in general, have become more violent,” the authors concluded.
Study author Bob Hancox, from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine from New Zealand’s University of Otago, said that previous studies had linked media portrayal of violence to health risks in children.
“Violent crime may well have gone down, but there may be a lot of reasons for this – bullying in school being taken seriously, campaigns on domestic violence, changing society. Despite this, violence remains a major social problem,” he said.
“We lock up many thousands of (mostly young) people for anti-social and violent behaviour. Anything that is contributing to this problem is important.”
Dr Hancox said parents could think more about what their children are watching and “at a society level, we could raise awareness of the potential harms, adjust the movie classification system to reflect the violence.
However, Dr Lauren Rosewarne, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne said there was still no firm evidence yet to show portrayals of violence led to acts of violence.
“This idea that there is a direct link and that we should be alarmed about it – if it was that easy to prove do you not think that governments would be clamping down on it?” she said.
“There is simply no way to prove that one factor is more influential than another. I want more information before we are talking about legislative changes and crackdowns.”
Dr Rosewarne said people with concerns about film violence were getting more exposure in recent years.
“I would say Bond films actually look quite tame and that could be because Bond prides himself on being a sort of elegant assassin,” she said.
“They are not bloodthirsty, they are not splatter films.”
Andy Ruddock, Senior Lecturer in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies at Monash University also warned against concluding that the only effect of media violence is to make people more violent.
“I’ve written a lot about a scholar called George Gerbner whose main argument was that media violence made people afraid and passive. Others have written that this sort of violence actually makes people feel safer – as it usually features evil people being brought to justice,” he said.
“It isn’t just a question of how much violence there is, it’s also a matter of who’s doing it to whom, onscreen. Gerbner also argued that screen violence was essentially a story about male power.”
Gerbner also examined what violence teaches people about what the world is like and how this helped shape attitudes, said Dr Ruddock.
“The idea that it’s a man’s world, or that other people can’t be trusted, that sort of thing. So, in the end, it isn’t just a matter of how much violence there is, but also what this violence teaches, on a political level,” he said.
“The researchers' reporting of the evidence of violence is accurate, it’s just that there are other sorts of effects too.”