Study: Violent media numb viewers to pain

Violent video games and movies can make people numb to the pain and suffering of others, U.S. researchers said.

Two studies conducted by University of Michigan Professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University Professor Craig Anderson demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitization — lowering heart rate and skin conductance — when viewing scenes of actual violence a short time later.

In one study, 320 college students played either a violent or a nonviolent video game for approximately 20 minutes. A few minutes later, they overheard a staged fight that ended with the victim sustaining a sprained ankle and groaning in pain.

The study, published in the March issue of Psychological Science, said people who had played a violent game took significantly longer to help the victim than those who played a nonviolent game — 73 seconds compared to 16 seconds. People who had played a violent game were also less likely to notice and report the fight, and if they did report it, they judged it to be less serious than did those who had played a nonviolent game, the study said.

The second study involved 162 adult moviegoers and a woman with a bandaged ankle and crutches, who accidentally dropped her crutches and struggled to retrieve them. Participants who had just watched a violent movie took over 26 percent longer to help than people going into the theater or people who had just watched a nonviolent movie.

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