There are few things quite as ubiquitous in pop culture as the Disney Princess. Much has been made about how these characters might influence young girls in unfortunate ways, but how do they impact young boys? Boys are exposed to the Disney princess movies as much as the girls are, so what does it mean for them? One study seems to imply that while there are potentially negative side effects in the princess culture for girls, it may actually be a benefit for boys, making them more social, helpful and cooperative.
Sarah Coyne, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, surveyed nearly 200 children over a one-year period to gauge their exposure to Disney Princess-related goods. According to The Washington Post, 87 percent of the boys in the study had been exposed to some form of princess-focused media. Interestingly, the study also found that the boys with a higher exposure to the media demonstrated more "prosocial" behavior. They were more likely to share toys or otherwise help out at school. In addition, the boys were less likely to shun things viewed as "girly," which the researcher believes has the potential to help them relate with others as they grow older.
While the Disney princesses, especially the earliest examples, may not be the best role models for young women (as many are focused on the need to find a man a little too much), they are, nonetheless, the main characters of these stories. For the boys who enjoy the movies, it makes sense they would be more open to things otherwise seen as made for girls. The Disney princess may help balance out the wide variety of male protagonists in most other media, giving the kids a more balanced view.
One thing that's not clear here is any indication of which princesses these kids were exposed to. The children in the study were preschoolers, so it's possible that their exposure to the Disney princesses may be weighted toward more modern examples. Characters like Merida and Elsa are significantly different than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and are, in fact, intentional twists on the more traditional tales. If kids see Kristoff's speech about how insane it is to fall in love in one day more often than they see that exact thing happen in earlier films, does that have a significant impact?
The researchers plan to revisit the same group of children in five years. Then, they'll be able to get an idea how well these differences are taking hold. Disney's next princess is on her way to the screen, with Moana is set for a November release.