Playing violent video games doesn't necessarily make you a bad person, study suggests

Researchers studied the brains of 15 avid gamers and found their responses to emotionally charged pictures were no different to ordinary people’s

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Obsessively playing violent video games such as Call of Duty for hours every day for several years does not necessarily reduce the amount of empathy people feel towards others in the long term, according to a new study.

Researchers in Germany showed “emotionally provocative images” to 15 avid gamers while their brains were being monitored by an MRI machine.

They found there was no difference between the response patterns of the gamers’ minds compared to a control group.

To avoid short-term effects, the gamers had not played games for at least three hours before the test.

This may have been a challenge for some of them as, on average, they had played video games for four hours a day every day for four years.

The scientists cautioned that more research was needed into the long-term effects of video games, suggesting “more valid stimulation” than emotionally charged pictures could be used in future studies.

However, writing in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, they said: “While the typical pattern of activations for empathy and theory of mind networks was seen, both groups showed no differences in brain responses. 

“We interpret our results as evidence against the desensitisation hypothesis and suggest that the impact of violent media on emotional processing may be rather acute and short-lived.”

According to a theory known as the “General Aggression Model”, it is thought that playing such games for a prolonged period should desensitise people to violence.

One of the researchers, Dr Gregor Szycik, of Hannover Medical School, said it was important to investigate whether this was true because of the appeal of violent video games.

“The research question arises first from the fact that the popularity and the quality of video games are increasing, and second, we were confronted in our clinical work with more and more patients with problematic and compulsive video game consumption,” he said.

Dr Szycik expressed caution about drawing firm conclusions from this particular study.

“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.

“This study used emotionally provocative images. The next step for us will be to analyse data collected under more valid stimulation, such as using videos to provoke an emotional response.”

Various scientists have reached conflicting conclusions on the issue.

A report by the American Psychological Association task force on violent media concluded in 2015: “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”

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