Players of Violent Video Games Do Not Have Emotionally Blunted Brains

Posted on July 19, 2017

There is much debate on the topic of whether violent video games cause aggressiveness in players. While one study alone will not settle this debate, the results of a new paper published in Brain Imaging and Behaviour provides support against the argument that violent video games cause aggression due to the desensitisation of emotional responsiveness of players. There was no evidence that playing violent video games excessively will make players emotionally blunted.

Two similar studies were conducted. Both studies had 14 players who played violent first-person shooter games excessively, and 14 participants who never played violent games. The 14 players in the violent games group spent a large amount of time shooting people in the games. Time playing violent games was an average of 4.9 hours per day in the first study, and 4.6 hours per day in the second. They had also started playing these games at an average age of six years. For both studies, participants’ brains were scanned while looking at emotionally positive, negative and neutral images. The negative stimuli were grim and included images like dead bodies or violent attacks. Examples of positive and negative stimuli are cute animals and natural vistas.

The results of the studies found increased brain activity for emotional pictures as compared to neutral pictures. This did not differ between the two groups. Violent video game players had as much neural sensitivity when shown the emotional pictures compared to control participants. These results held true even when statistical parameters were relaxed so differences between groups would be easier to find, when data from both studies were analysed together and when the researchers focused on the amygdala, a brain area that is important in emotional processing.

The researchers mention that the results suggest the desensitisation hypothesis should be looked at again. However, there may still be consequences to playing violent video games, for example, in the way it affects players’ response to emotional stimuli, rather than how it is initially processed by the brain. It is also noted that the way violent video games affect players psychologically could be dependent on the role the player takes on, for example, Superman (a superhero) or the Joker (the villain) and the goal the players aim to reach in the game. Some violent games could also enhance moral emotions.

Category(s):Aggression & Violence

Source material from The British Psychological Society

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