All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

David Schwebel

Advisory Committee Members

Craig Anderson

Kristi C Guest

Timothy R Levine

Sylvie Mrug

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


The preschool years represent a time of rapid human development, hallmarked by exploring one’s environment through gross and fine motor movement, touching and tasting physical objects, and imaginative pretend play. This exploration is developmentally appropriate, but also presents risks. Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for preschool-aged children, and common injuries reflect exploration and risk-taking exhibited during play. Pretend play may be particularly risky if children imitate risky models like superheroes. Superhero media is extremely popular among young children, leading many children to identify closely with superheroes. Frequent exposure and subsequent identification with superheroes is concerning because media glorifies superheroes, boosting social learning effects on children and creating a situation where children may attempt to demonstrate superhuman abilities. Injuries may occur. The current study examined the relations between pretend play, imagination susceptibility, superhero identification, and children’s risk-taking. Participants included 105 children aged 4-5-years-old and their caregivers and were randomly assigned to either a superhero- or school-themed, story-based protocol. Both protocols included three identical previously-validated behavioral tasks (Abilities Test, Picture Sort, Activity Room) to assess risk-taking. Imagination susceptibility was measured using a child behavioral assessment. Superhero variables were measured using parent-report questionnaires and child interviews. Results suggest pretending to be a superhero may not immediately increase risk-taking behavior, iv imagination susceptibility demonstrates minimal impact on risk-taking behavior, and superhero identification may impact risk-taking behavior in this age group. As superhero media continues to remain popular, future research should identify risk factors and strengthen prevention strategies in the domain of risky play in young children.



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