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Violence Common in Nursery Rhymes

Classic Tales Compared With Violence on British TV
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Nov. 17, 2004 -- Do Little Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill, and the Incy Wincy Spider need a rating system especially when it comes to categories for violence? Traditional nursery rhymes have more than 10 times the number of violent scenes per hour as British TV, according to a new study.

Researchers including Patrick Davies, MD, of England's Bristol Royal Hospital for Children compared violence in nursery rhymes with violence shown on five British TV channels.

They studied data on TV violence shown over two weeks between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., when kids were most likely to be watching.

There were 1,045 violent acts on TV during that time, with 51% of programs containing violence.

The experts also tracked down the most popular audio compilation of nursery rhymes. They analyzed violence in 25 tales including Humpty Dumpty, London Bridge Is Falling Down, and Rock-A-Bye Baby, and recited the stories to a toddler, whom they called their "fourth researcher."

"Television has 4.8 violent scenes per hour and nursery rhymes have 52.2 violent scenes per hour," say the adult scientists.

Forty-one percent of the nursery rhymes contained some kind of violence, whether accidental, aggressive, or implied.

The result of violence was shown or mentioned twice as often on TV as in nursery rhymes. That means kids are often left to imagine the outcome of nursery rhyme violence. The possibilities they imagine "may be more disturbing than having the outcome spelled out," say the researchers.

"That noises in the dark are caused by the resident monster under the bed is well known to any child, but adults are more likely to blame passing wind or other natural phenomena," they write in the December issue of the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The study doesn't call TV harmless. Instead, it indicates -- with a wink and a nod -- that it's misguided to only blame violent behavior by children on TV.

The problem predates TV and probably has many causes, say the researchers.

"Reinterpretation of an ancient problem through modern eyes is difficult, and laying the blame solely on television viewing is simplistic and may divert attention from vastly more complex societal problems," they write.

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