Changes in LEGO Toys Show Disturbing Trend, Say Researchers

Researchers study the rise of violence in the toys sets by LEGO, the world's largest toy manufacturer.

LEGO Star Wars droids

LEGO, the world's largest toy maker, has been making increasingly more violent toys, according to new research from New Zealand scientists at the University of Canterbury.

The toys feature a growing number of weapons and sets with violent, war-like themes.

“The LEGO company’s products are not as innocent as they used to be,” said the study’s lead researcher Christoph Bartneck. “The violence in Lego products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play.”

Researchers proposed that even if children have other influences on their lives, like TV, computer games and online play, physical toys such as LEGO bricks are still an important presence. By analyzing Lego bricks from product catalogues over the period of 1978-2014, they concluded that the violence of products increased significantly. In fact, weapons are now part of about 30% of Lego kits and about 40% of all catalogue pages contain some form of violence.

LEGO parts with weapons

Interestingly, while the Denmark-based LEGO has been around since 1949, the first weapons in a Lego set were included as part of a 1978 Castle theme. The study does see an influence from Lego’s release of sets based on popular film properties like "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings". Researchers see a clear relationship between the general rise of violence in children’s entertainment and what LEGO is offering.

LEGO weapon count

Researchers conclude that the makers of games and movies “push the limits of what violent media is allowed to be released to prevent their audience from getting bored”. Thus they make increasingly violent products. Similarly, toy manufacturers are engaged in the same type of arms race for attention-getting new products, competing not only against each other, but with TV, film and video games. The cycle continues and shows no signs of abating.

For it’s part, LEGO sees their products to reflect “conflict play”, which they consider a natural part of child development. Their policy actually states that “LEGO products aim to discourage pretend violence as a primary play incentive. The designs are meant to enrich play with engaging conflict scenarios where aggression might be used for the purpose of overcoming imaginary evil.”

But as researchers point out, their products go way beyond such a goal and this policy sounds more like corporate speak that is meant to elude responsibility.

The peer-reviewed study is published here in PLOS One.

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Excavation of a triceratops skull in South Dakota.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

A new franchising model offers business opportunities to those who need it most

A socially minded franchise model makes money while improving society.

Technology & Innovation
  • A social enterprise in California makes their franchises affordable with low interest loans and guaranteed salaries.
  • The loans are backed by charitable foundations.
  • If scaled up, the model could support tens of thousands of entrepreneurs who are currently financially incapable of entering franchise agreements.
Keep reading Show less

Gamification: can video games change our money habits?

Fintech companies are using elements of video games to make personal finance more fun. But does it work, and what are the risks?

Pixel art scene

Mind & Brain
  • Gamification is the process of incorporating elements of video games into a business, organization, or system, with the goal of boosting engagement or performance.
  • Gamified personal finance apps aim to help people make better financial decisions, often by redirecting destructive financial behaviors (like playing the lottery) toward positive outcomes.
  • Still, gamification has its risks, and scientists are still working to understand how gamification affects our financial behavior.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored by Million Stories

Want to save more money? Start playing video games.

Playing video games could help you make better decisions about money.