WASHINGTON-A study presented at the ongoing annual American Academy of Pediatrics conference showed that the "good guys" in superhero movies were on average more violent than the villains, potentially sending a strongly negative message to young viewers.

The researchers tallied an average of 23 acts of violence per hour linked to the films' protagonists, compared with 18 violent acts per hour for the antagonists.

They also found the films showed male characters in nearly five times as many violent acts (34 per hour, on average) than female characters, who were engaged in an average of seven violent acts per hour.

"Children and adolescents see the superheroes as 'good guys,' and may be influenced by their portrayal of risk-taking behaviors and acts of violence," said the study's lead author, Robert Olympia, professor at Penn State College of Medicine.

"Pediatric health care providers should educate families about the violence depicted in this genre of film and the potential dangers that may occur when children attempt to emulate these perceived heroes," Olympia said.

The most common act of violence associated with protagonists in the films was fighting (1,021 total acts), followed by the use of a lethal weapon (659), destruction of property (199), murder (168), and bullying/intimidation/torture (144), according to the study's abstract.

By contrast, the most common violent act for antagonists was the use of a lethal weapon (604 total acts), fighting (599), bullying/intimidation/torture (237), destruction of property (191), and murder (93).

John N. Muller, the study's principal investigator, suggested families watched those movies together and discussed the consequences of violence actively with their children.

"By taking an active role in their children's media consumption by co-viewing and actively mediating, parents help their children develop critical thinking and internally regulated values," said Muller, a medical student at the Penn State University College of Medicine.