May 29, 2024

New Study Suggests Violent Video Games Do Not Reduce Empathy in Adults

A recent neuroscientific study conducted by researchers from the University of Vienna and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has found no evidence to support the claim that playing violent video games leads to a decrease in empathy among adults. The study aimed to investigate the impact of violent video games on empathy levels by having adult participants play a violent video game repeatedly over several weeks. The researchers measured the participants’ empathic reactions to another person’s pain before and after the experiment.

Contrary to popular belief, the study revealed that playing a violent video game had no noticeable effect on the participants’ ability to empathize or the brain activity associated with empathy. The results, which have been published in the journal eLife, challenge the notion that violent video games desensitize individuals and increase their likelihood of engaging in real-life violence.

The study involved 89 adult male participants who had little or no prior experience with violent video games. This ensured that the results were not influenced by differences in exposure to video game violence. The participants underwent an initial assessment of their baseline empathy levels, during which their brain activity was monitored as they observed another person receiving painful electric shocks.

Following the initial assessment, the participants entered the video game phase of the experiment, during which they visited the research laboratory seven times to play a video game for one hour each session. In the experimental group, the participants played a highly violent version of Grand Theft Auto V and were instructed to kill as many other game characters as possible. The control group, on the other hand, played a version of the game from which all violence was removed and were tasked with taking photos of other game characters. After the video game phase, the participants’ empathic reactions were reassessed.

Data analysis revealed that video game violence had no discernible impact on the participants’ empathic abilities. The reactions of the participants in the experimental group, who were exposed to extreme depictions of violence, did not significantly differ from those of the participants in the control group who were not exposed to violence. Furthermore, there were no significant differences in the activity of brain regions associated with empathy, such as the anterior insular and anterior midcingulate cortex.

However, the researchers caution against drawing definitive conclusions from the study. Lead author Lukas Lengersdorff emphasizes the need for careful interpretation of the results due to the sensitivity of the topic. The study’s findings should not be taken as conclusive evidence that violent video games are harmless, as the study lacks the necessary data to support such claims. Nevertheless, the study provides valuable insights into the impact of video game violence and challenges previous studies that reported negative effects after only a few minutes of gameplay.

One significant difference between this study and previous research is the timing of data collection. In previous studies, participants played violent video game immediately before data collection, making it difficult to differentiate between short-term and long-term effects. According to Lengersdorff, this study overcomes this limitation by evaluating the effects of several weeks of exposure to video game violence.

The study sets a new standard for future research in this field, according to research group leader Claus Lamm. Strong experimental control and longitudinal research designs are essential for making accurate statements about the effects of violent video games. Further research is needed to determine whether prolonged exposure to video game violence has any detrimental consequences, particularly among vulnerable populations.

While this study focuses on adults, the issue of violence in video games and its potential impacts on children and adolescents remains an important question. The malleability of young brains suggests that repeated exposure to violent content may have a more significant effect on empathy levels. However, investigating these questions experimentally without crossing ethical boundaries poses a challenge, says Lamm.

In conclusion, the recent neuroscientific study provides evidence that a few hours of exposure to video game violence did not significantly affect empathy levels in mentally healthy adult participants. However, further research is required to fully understand the potential impacts of violent video games, especially on younger individuals. By setting a new standard for research in this area, the study paves the way for future investigations into the effects of video game violence.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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