Are LEGO Sets Really Becoming More Violent?


I came across this piece of article from The Guardian citing a research conducted by the University of Canterbury that analyzes the supposed increase in violence with LEGO’s themed sets and pieces over the years. I have to admit, the research title itself is quite provocative and triggers a wide spectrum of responses, both in and out of the LEGO community.

Entitled as Have LEGO Products Become More Violent?, the study aimed to determine how violent LEGO sets and pieces have become by gathering a pool of observers to ‘rate’ an image or still photo of a particular LEGO set as seen from their catalogs beginning 1950.  According to the researchers, they found out that the perceived violence (or the way other people saw those catalogs) in LEGO products has increased significantly. Secondly, the research aimed to determine the number of ‘weapon’ elements that LEGO has come up with since the sword, halberd, and lance element were released in 1978. For AFOLs or parents who might be interested in reading the entire research, you may find it here.

Though the research has an air of authority in it, the inquisitive student in me couldn’t help but feel that there seems to be something missing in this study. I’ll try to be concise as much as I can with my observations, without sacrificing the gist of what I would like to come across. Allow me to note three things that I noticed about this research:

  • Though they mentioned a ‘disclaimer’ saying that “our study does not aim to investigate the effects the depiction (direct, implied, or potential) of violence in LEGO products has on children”, proving that the depiction of violence has increased among LEGO themed sets over the years, creates the false impression to the general public that LEGO’s plastic bricks contributes to violent behavior among children. The way I see it, it would be helpful if the researchers were able to prove first that using toys such as LEGO may actually result in violence (direct, implied, or potential as they have said it) among children, before claiming that LEGO’s toys are violent. You don’t get readily excited for the prospect of having a barn filled with chickens, if you only have a dozen or more eggs in your basket.


  • Rating violence depicted in television and other mainstream media using an established checklist may not necessarily be applicable in rating ‘perceived’ violence in still images as allegedly found in LEGO brochures. As the research team pointed out, “We were unable to identify a suitable measurement for assessing the violence in still images. We therefore adapted the violence coding scheme from the study conducted by [Turner and Goldsmith]. As the coding scheme was originally designed to rate television violence, we simplified it to fit our study by removing aspects of the coding scheme that were irrelevant to the rating of still images”. The researchers removed ‘mode of verbal aggression’ and ‘duration of the act’ as criteria in determining violence in still images since it is impossible to use them in such a way – and that is where the problem lies. When we start to use a criteria that has been considered valid for one research, and began to change or tweak it to measure another and claim that we have similar results, then we might not end up on the same page. Similarly, witnessing or watching violence in movies and television is more potent in terms of causing harm to children than by simply looking at still images of a LEGO catalog. That being the case, I might as well lock away all those catalogs, and out of my child’s reach. Below are some of the images of LEGO sets that were deemed ‘violent’ by the researchers.

44001 legoCatalogPage

  • An increase in the number of ‘weapon’ pieces in a LEGO set doesn’t prove an increase in the frequency of violent behavior among children, as much as an increase in the number of LEGO brick-built guns that fans have made will result in aggressive and abusive actions later on. It makes me scratch my head in wondering if I can really blame the problem on this one…


To be fair, I believe that LEGO can pick up a thing or two about this study. Perhaps they might come up with more sets later in the future that foster cooperation to reach a certain goal. Or perhaps one that allows kids to work with one another to overcome a particular obstacle. LEGO must be more creative in coming up with such possibilities.

So going back to the question: are LEGO sets really violent? I might say yes, if someone can actually demonstrate to me that looking at the picture below will make me feel and act ferociously.


But for now, I guess I will not put away those catalogs yet.



Source: The Guardian

Author: Albert Balanza

Teacher, student, dad, AFOL, psych geek & everything in between. :)

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