Kelly Dillon, assistant professor of communication at Wittenberg University, is making headlines with her co-authored research article examining the impact of popular culture on children’s curiosity with guns.
The article, titled “Effects of Exposure to Gun Violence in Movies on Children’s Interest in Real Guns,” is the first of its kind and was released on Monday, Sept. 25, in JAMA: Pediatrics, a monthly online journal published by the American Medical Association. Dillon co-wrote the article with Brad J. Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, and both see the research having a widespread impact in communication and media study circles, as well as on societal understanding.
“This research is essential in helping parents and educators understand how quickly mediated content showing guns can lead to deadly consequences if proper monitoring and safety measures are not in place,” said Dillon, who earned her Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. “Our hope is that our research will also help to save lives.”
In their research, Dillon and Bushman conducted a randomized experiment on 104 children between the ages of eight and 12 years. According to the article, children were tested in pairs, and findings concluded that children who viewed a 20-minute PG-rated movie containing guns played with a real gun longer and pulled the trigger more times than did children who viewed the same movie not containing guns. After the children watched the movie, they then had 20-minutes of play time in a room with a cabinet that contained a real (disabled) gun with a sensor counting the number of trigger pulls.
The reason for the experiment was to determine the immediate effects of exposure to movie characters with guns on children’s unsupervised play with guns. Data was collected from July 2015 to January 2016. Dillon said that 43 out of the 52 pairs of children found the gun in the play area. Out of the 43, 14 pairs told her about the gun or handed it to her unprompted.
Dillon was interested in conducting the experiment because more children in the United States die by accidental gun use than children in other developed countries. She stated in her article that one factor influencing children’s interest in guns “is exposure to media containing guns.” Part of her experiment pointed out that children in the United States frequently have access to unsecured firearms, and she is hoping that her research leads to Americans doing a better job on keeping firearms away from children.
Dillon teaches courses in media studies, communication technology, and public speaking at Wittenberg. Her work focuses on computer-mediated communication, specifically how users decide to intervene in online events like cyberbullying, hate speech, and the need for social support.