Violent Video Games Have No Effect On Players’ Empathy, Study Finds: A new study has found there’s no link between the long-term playing of violent video games and changes in empathic neural responses.
Violent video games have long been a hot button issue when it comes to studies of antisocial behaviour such as violence, aggression and empathy. For a while it felt like those who opposed video games such as Counterstrike, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Battlefield were on the march, but recent scientific research has swung the debate the other way.
Now, another study has come out in defence of video games. Published in Frontiers of Psychology, the new paper used psychological questionnaires and MRI scans to focus on the question of empathy. It found that gamers had the same neural response when viewing emotionally provocative images as non-gamers.
Previous studies have sometimes suggested the opposite — that video games desensitise us to emotional stimuli — but the overwhelming majority of these papers looked at it from a short-term perspective, where subjects would play the games immediately before or during the experiment.
Doctor Gregor Szycik at the Hannover Medical School in Germany wanted to take a longer-term approach to the question. The study was born out of Szycik’s observations of both the increasing popularity and “quality” of video games, and the rising number of patients exhibiting compulsive video game consumption.
For the study, Szycik and his colleagues gathered together male gamers who played first-person shooters such as Call of Duty and Counterstrike. The men had played for at least two hours daily for the previous four years, the average being four hours a day. The group was asked to refrain from playing video games for at least three hours before the test, and then compared with control subjects who had no experience of violent video games and didn’t game regularly.
The participants then answered psychological questionnaires, before being scanned by an MRI machine while looking at images designed to provoke an emotional and empathetic response. Using the scanner, researchers measured the activation of specific brain regions to compare the neural response of gamers and non-gamers.
Both the questionnaire and the MRI scan revealed no difference in measures of aggression and empathy between gamers and non-gamers. The results surprised the researchers, who actually started with a contrary initial hypothesis.
The only caveat is that the groups were relatively small — just fifteen gamers and fifteen non-gamers. Either way, Szycik reckons more research is required. “We hope that the study will encourage other research groups to focus their attention on the possible long-term effects of video games on human behaviour,” he said in a news release.
Still, it matches up to numerous recent studies — including this 2015 paper published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture — which have found that violent video games do not increase violent behavior.
Ask The Big Question
How did they get these guys to refrain from playing games for three or more hours? Impressive.
Drop This Fact
A 2013 survey found that 58% of American adults believe in a correlation between video games and violence.