Violent Video Games can Reduce Empathy in Players

Posted on January 5, 2018

Video games do not enjoy the best of reputations. Violent games in particular have been linked with aggression, antisocial behaviour and alienation among teens. For example, one study found that playing a mere 10 minutes of a violent video game was enough to reduce helping behaviour in participants.

However, some experts are sceptical about whether games really cause aggression and, even if the games are to blame, it remains unclear what drives their harmful effects. Earlier studies identified empathy as a key trait that may be affected by violent gameplay.

For the actual experiment, the researchers recorded participants’ brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG) while they completed a modified version of the “stop-signal task” (SST). This version of the SST is generally considered an implicit measure of emotion processing because participants have to pay attention to the gender of the faces while trying to ignore the emotions on the faces.

In the results, gamers showed a reduced response specifically to happy faces, as compared to the controls. This suggests the gamers may have been paying less attention to positive facial stimuli. Interestingly, however, this was explained by differences in empathy rather than screen time or game content.

When examining only the gamers who scored high on the empathy questionnaire, they did not differ neurally from the controls. This indicates that empathy manifests in the earliest stages of how we process emotional information, and this could be one way that violent video games affect our perception.

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Category(s):Empathy

Source material from British Psychological Society


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