The connection between on-screen violence and off-screen aggressive behavior has been largely extrapolated. Most studies seemed to suggest that playing violent video games has a strong desensitizing effect and encourages negative demeanor.
New evidence indicates, however, that violent content in video games doesn't induce antisocial conduct in the long run, and leaves empathy levels unscathed.
Although previous research established graphic media exposure can lead to aggression, these studies only focused on the short-term effects of violent on-screen content and typically examined participants shortly after or even while they were still playing the video games.
Recently featured in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI to measure neural responses triggered by emotionally sensitive images.
Brain scans revealed that long-term gamers engaging in aggressive on-screen scenarios have the same neurological reaction to violent imagery as people who don't play video games.
No Negative Long-Term Effects
Dr. Gregor Szycik, lead author and professor at the Hannover Medical School, explains that monitoring how video games affect social behavior in the long run became necessary due to their increased popularity and quality, as well as the large number of "patients with problematic and compulsive video game consumption."
His is one of the few studies to examine the long-term emotional effects of violent video games. Since aggressive behavior is more common to men, who also show a predilection for graphic video games, the research involved exclusively male participants.
All test subjects were experienced gamers who had played first-person shooter video games, like Call of Duty, extensively in the previous four years — on average two hours a day. Researchers measured the neural response hours after the participants engaged in video gaming to prevent immediate influence, and compared their results with a control group.
Participants were then given psychological questionnaires designed to assess their empathy level and capacity for aggression. They were then asked to view a series of images especially selected to trigger an emotional reaction, while an MRI scan monitored their neural empathic response and measured the activation of specific cerebral regions.
Both the psychological questionnaire and the fMRI data showed there was no difference in empathy and aggressive tendencies between the study group and the control group.
Szycik hopes his work will precede further similar studies and plans to continue his research by changing the experimental parameters to "more valid stimulation, such as using videos to provoke an emotional response."