New research shows that avid violent video games players reacted to emotionally-charged imagery in the same way as non-players. This suggests that violent video games don't reduce the ability to empathize.
A theory known as the General Aggression Model suggests that prolonged exposure to violent images can desensitize people to violence. The failure to react negatively to violent imagery can lessen empathy and lead to violent behavior.
Previous studies have found evidence to suggest that violent video games can cause a short-term decrease in empathy and an increase in aggression. However, there is no evidence yet that these can turn into long-term effects.
Another report supports the findings described above. In 2015, the American Psychological Association found that violent media is a risk factor in the development of aggressive behavior. Violent media also decreases empathy and “pro-social behavior”. However, the researchers on this study say that there isn't enough evidence to suggest that these games lead to criminality.
Because of the popularity of violent video games like Call of Duty, researchers from Germany sought to find a correlation between violent imagery and violent behavior. They were also concerned about the rising number of people who report “compulsive video game consumption”.
To collect data, the researchers gathered a group of 15 avid gamers and 15 people for a separate control group. The gamers had been playing at least two hours of first-person shooter games per day for at least four years.
First-person shooter games depict combat situations wherein the player sees all the action from a first-person perspective.
The 15 people in the control group, meanwhile, reported no experience in violent video games. They also reported that they do not play any other video games on a daily basis.
The study's lead author, a psychiatrist, found no mental or neurological disorders in any of the participants. The 15 gamers also abstained from playing games for at least three hours before the experiment.
In the experiment, the researchers showed what they described to be “emotionally provocative images” to both groups. An MRI machine monitored the participants' brains to record brain activity while looking at the images. Some of the images depicted negative and neutral social interactions between two people, while others depicted negative and neutral situations involving one person.
The results of the experiments show that the both groups reacted to the images in the same way. Those who play violent video games daily reacted normally to images that elicit negative emotions like anger and anxiety.
The researchers admit that their findings are not meant to be considered as definitive. They are also calling for more research on the matter, and they plan to continue their work. “The next step for us will be to analyze data collected under more valid stimulation, such as using videos to provoke an emotional response,” says Dr Gregor Szycik, a researcher on the study.
More research is needed to come to a conclusive answer to the problem posed by playing violent video games.
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