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Superheroes and Risk-Taking: Understanding the Impact on Preschool-Aged Children

A preschool-aged child dressed as a superhero, confidently climbing a tall structure on a colorful playground. The background includes various playground equipment and trees, creating a lively and dynamic atmosphere that emphasizes imaginative play and risk-taking.
Superhero Identification and Risk-Taking in Preschoolers

Preschool years are a time of rapid development and exploration for young children. This period is marked by imaginative play and motor activities that help children understand their environment and develop crucial skills. However, this exploration also comes with risks, as injuries are the leading cause of death among preschool-aged children. A study by Casie H. Morgan and David C. Schwebel investigates the relationship between superhero pretend play, superhero identification, and risk-taking behaviors in preschoolers.

The Influence of Superheroes

Superheroes are a pervasive part of media consumed by children, and their glorified portrayals can influence young minds significantly. The study explores whether pretend play involving superheroes and the identification with these characters can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors among preschoolers.

Study Design

The study involved 105 children aged 4 to 5 years, who were randomly assigned to engage in either superhero-themed or school-themed story-based protocols. The children then participated in three identical behavioral tasks designed to assess their risk-taking tendencies. Additionally, superhero identification was measured using parent-report questionnaires and child interviews.

The study found that pretending to be a superhero did not directly increase risk-taking behavior in the short term. This suggests that simply engaging in superhero-themed pretend play does not immediately make children more prone to taking risks.

Superhero Identification and Risk-Taking:

A significant finding was that children who strongly identified with superheroes were more likely to exhibit risk-taking behaviors. This was particularly evident in children who, while pretending to be superheroes, showed a tendency to take more risks in various tasks.

Behavioral Tasks and Risk Assessment:

Across different risk-taking tasks, children with high superhero identification were consistently more inclined to engage in riskier behaviors. This highlights a broader pattern where strong identification with superheroes correlates with an increased propensity for risk-taking.

Implications for Parents and Educators

The findings from this study offer important insights into how superhero media can influence young children’s behavior. Here are several practical implications for parents, educators, and caregivers.

Monitoring Media Exposure:

Given the potential link between superhero identification and increased risk-taking, it’s crucial to monitor and possibly limit young children’s exposure to superhero media. This can help mitigate the influence these characters might have on children’s willingness to take risks.

Guided Play:

Parents and educators should guide children during pretend play. Encouraging safer play scenarios and explaining the difference between fiction and reality can help children enjoy imaginative play without attempting dangerous behaviors.

Educational Interventions:

Developing educational programs that teach children about safe play practices and the consequences of risky behavior can help reduce injury risks. These programs can use storytelling and role-playing to instill safety-conscious habits.

Positive Role Models:

Introducing children to a variety of role models, including those who demonstrate safe and thoughtful behavior, can balance the influence of superheroes. Characters from books, shows, and real-life figures who embody safety and care can provide alternative narratives for children to emulate.

The study by Morgan and Schwebel underscores the complex relationship between superhero identification and risk-taking behaviors in preschool-aged children. While pretend play itself is not inherently risky, strong identification with superhero characters can lead to more significant risk-taking tendencies. By understanding these dynamics, parents and educators can better support healthy, imaginative play that minimizes injury risks. Encouraging safe play practices and offering diverse role models can help children navigate their developmental stages more safely and enjoyably.


Morgan, C. H., & Schwebel, D. C. (2023). Superhero Pretense, Superhero Identification, and Risk-Taking in Preschool-Aged Children. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsad045


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