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Jennifer Harriger and Pepperdine Alumni Author Study on Portrayals of Masculinity in Children's Animated Movies

November 4, 2021  | 1 min read

Professor of psychology Jennifer Harriger recently collaborated with Seaver College alumna Madeline Wick (’17), now of Florida State University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology alumna Himja Trivedi (’21), and Seaver College alumna Kaitlin E. Callahan (’20), now of California Lutheran University, on an article entitled “Strong Hero or Violent Playboy? Portrayals of Masculinity in Children’s Animated Movies.” The article was recently published in the journal Sex Roles.

The study analyzed the 30 top-grossing animated movies for children, including films such as Kung Fu Panda and Despicable Me, to examine themes of masculinity expressed by male characters, both humanoid and non-humanoid. The researchers watched the 30 movies and coded various positive and negative themes of masculinity. Themes included assertiveness, muscularity, objectification of women, and bravery, among others.

“The most common themes reported across the movies included violence, inspires fear, and risk taking,” the study shares. “Although more positive traits associated with masculinity, such as leadership and assertiveness, were also present in the movies, we argue that violence and inspiration of fear are characteristics associated with toxic masculinity and may have negative implications for young viewers.”

In looking at the research results, the study suggests that parents monitor the media their children consume for messages of toxic masculinity and seek ways to enhance children’s media literacy.

Jennifer Harriger is a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. She teaches Foundations of Psychology, Lifespan Developmental Psychology, Child Clinical Psychology, Psychology of Gender, and Body Image and Eating Disorders. Her research focuses on the development of weight stigma in young children as well as body image and disordered eating in children, adolescents, undergraduates, and athletes. 

Read the full publication in the Sex Roles digital publication.