A new paper published in the scientific journal Brain Imaging and Behaviour tests the claim that violent games result in a lack of empathy, and finds it to not be correct.
In news unsurprising to gamers themselves, another study has debunked the oft-repeated myth that violence in video games handicaps our ability to empathize. The claim has been used for everything from attempts at censorship, to political manipulation. But after extensive testing, Gregor Szycik and his fellow researchers at Hannover Medical School have found no evidence that exposure to virtual violence has any negative effect on our ability to empathize with others. The study is summarized:
Playing violent video games have been linked to long-term emotional desensitization. We hypothesized that desensitization effects in excessive users of violent video games should lead to decreased brain activations to highly salient emotional pictures in emotional sensitivity brain regions. Twenty-eight male adult subjects showing excessive long-term use of violent video games and age and education matched control participants were examined in two experiments using standardized emotional pictures of positive, negative and neutral valence. No group differences were revealed even at reduced statistical thresholds which speaks against desensitization of emotion sensitive brain regions as a result of excessive use of violent video games.
28 males between the ages of 22 and 23 were recruited for the test. Half consistently played an excessive amount of violent video games, the other half none at all. Those who played averaged almost five hours per day, starting from around six years of age.
The two studies conducted by the research group were very similar to one another. The test centered around the International Affective Picture System, a slide show of positive, negative, and neutral images, viewed while attached to a brain scanning device.
The bottom line is this: There was no discernible difference between respective groups in either study. Even excessive, habitual players of the most violent games on the market reacted with the same empathetic response as their non-gamer peers.
This is not the first time that those in power who wish to suppress personal freedom have attacked popular media, and it most certainly will not be the last. Research continues, as researchers attempt to divine any correlation between entertainment and resultant behavior, just as it did with movies, television, radio, and even books.
But attempting to scapegoat a form of expression for the choices that individuals make is as tired an argument as it is an old one. Once again, objective research suggests that while the video game industry makes for an easy and popular target, it is personal accountability that we truly require.
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