You won’t find many other media outlets covering this study. But this recent inquiry found that playing video games has no effects on a person’s empathy long-term. So playing video games won’t turn you into a bad person in the long-run!
Many studies have controversially noted a connection between gaming and a lack of empathy. But these studies often examine the short-term effects on people and not the long-term. This new study, issued in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which was led by Dr. Gregor Szycik from the Hannover Medical School in Germany, looked at the longer-term effects of playing video games and found no correlation at all.
“We interpret our results as evidence against the desensitization hypothesis and suggest that the impact of violent media on emotional processing may be rather acute and short-lived,” the research team wrote in their paper.
They examined a group of 30 people, which 15 of them play violent video games frequently (around four hours a day on average), and the other 15 people were control subjects and had not played violent video games. The games included in this study was Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, and others.
The gamers were asked not to play for three hours before the experiment, to avoid short-term effects. Both groups were asked psychological questions, and then they got scanned in an MRI scanner where images intended to produce an emotional and empathetic response were displayed. The researchers did this to see which brain regions were activated.
In the psychological questionnaire, the two groups showed no difference in measures of aggression and empathy. And the researchers discovered the same thing in the MRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data.
These results surprised the researchers. It turns out they were the opposite of their initial hypothesis, suggesting any adverse effects of violent video games on perception or behavior may be short-lived.
The researchers noted that other studies used participants who were shown violent video games or other experiments before or during the research. This means that those discoveries could have been affected not only by desensitization but also by other factors. These factors would include heightened attention towards motor actions or immediate activation of aggressive cognitions.
There were some flaws in the study as well. The flaws were things like the small sample size and the difficulty of analyzing “null findings” like this. Furthermore, both groups were not controlled by other media, such as internet content or violent movies, suggesting that there is a chance the subjects had experienced desensitization through other means.
The conclusions of this new study are interesting when examining violent video games. The effect on empathy is highly questionable when it comes to violent video games, and we believe that this new study will stoke the fire somewhat more.