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Violent Video Games May Desensitize Users

December 9, 2005

Study found players had little reaction to unsettling images

They’re at the top of many people’s holiday gift list, but violent video games can change a person’s brain function and desensitize them to real-life violence, a new U.S. study suggests.

The study included 39 male undergraduate students who provided information about how often they played their five favorite video games and the levels of violence depicted in those games. The students were then assessed for their irritability and aggressiveness and were measured for a type of brainwave called P300, which is believed to be an indicator of physiological arousal.

The students were shown a series of neutral (a man riding a bike), violent (a man holding a gun to another man’s head), and negative but not violent (dead dog) images. Students who played violent video games showed less physiological arousal when they viewed violent images, compared to the equally negative, nonviolent images, the study found.

“Although the violent and negative images used here were rated as equally unpleasant, the violent images were more arousing on average than the negative nonviolent images. These findings pertaining to arousal could have important implications for linking violence desensitization to aggressive behavioral disorders,” study co-author Bruce Bartholow, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said in a prepared statement.

“Most of us have a strong aversion to the sight of blood and gore. Surgeons and soldiers may need to overcome these reactions in order to perform their duties. But, for most people, a diminished reaction to the effects of violence is not adaptive. It can reduce inhibitions against aggressive behavior and increase the possibility of inflicting violence on others,” Bartholow said.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

More information

The American Psychiatric Association explains the effects of media violence on children (www.healthyminds.org ).




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