Movie trailers may be brief, but gruesome images can haunt kids

October 12, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The violent and gruesome horror film movie trailers that air during various television commercial breaks, should have parents running scared, says a Purdue University communication expert who studies the effects of frightening images.

 "These trailers are designed to heighten and highlight the most gruesome images of the film, but how these advertisements can affect children is often ignored," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. "My concern is that parents who normally would be attuned to frightening images are not prepared for this type of exposure while watching the baseball playoffs or weekend football games with their children. Instead, parents are scrambling for the remote to turn the TV away from these gruesome images and their emotional shock. Even brief exposure can really upset a child."

This is a problem in terms of media distribution and not giving parents proper warning that these images may appear during regular programming, Sparks says. Parents need to be aware and prepared that these movie trailers can appear at any time.

Sparks has four recommendations:

* If there is accidental exposure for a preschooler, the best approach is to distract the child. It's not helpful to proactively discuss it with children under the age of 5 because they are not processing such concepts at that level.

* If older children are exposed, parents should discuss it with their children and explain that it is not real and what they saw was created by special effects.

* Parents should keep the remote within reach and be prepared to turn the channel quickly.

* Mute the sound during commercial breaks. The sound is meant to capture people's attention, and by muting the sound it may reduce possible exposure.

Sparks also can talk about the science of a good scare, mass media effects involving media violence and the appeal of media violence. His research also has focused on belief in the paranormal. 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Glenn Sparks is available for phone interviews and can be reached at 

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