Video gamers may just be the most moral and compassionate people around -- that is, if a new research study on "bad" game behavior and its impact on gamers proves true.

The study, conducted by Matthew Grizzard, claims playing violent games may be the catalyst for better social behavior by game lovers.

"We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior," says Grizzard, a University at Buffalo assistant professor of communication, in a news release on the study. He led the study along with researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin.

"Rather than leading players to become less moral," Grizzard said, "this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others."

The study, "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," was published on June 20 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

Grizzard claims other studies have also proven that committing immoral behaviors as part of a video game experience brings on feelings of guilt and that the guilt leads to players making more moral decisions in real life.  

"We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior," Grizzard says.

The study involved having 185 gamers who violated two of five "moral domains" during game play, such as fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

"We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated -- those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity," Grizzard says.

After committing the moral domain activities, the players completed a three-item guilt scale and a comprehensive moral foundations questionnaire.

"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," Grizzard says. "This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users."

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