Study: Violent video games have no effect on players’ empathy

Study: Violent video games have no effect on players’ empathy

Study found that there is no link between being a frequent player of violent video games and changes in empathic neuronal responses.

Violent video games have long been a hot topic in studies of antisocial behavior such as violence, aggression, and empathy. This subject has resurfaced again since the Parkland school massacre, whose fault Trump attributes to violent video games and movies about school shootings. But while it seemed that video games like Counterstrike, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Battlefield were in the limelight, recent scientific research has shifted the focus of the debate.

Now another study comes to defend videogames. Published in Frontiers of Psychology , the new study used psychological questionnaires and electroencephalograms to focus on the issue of empathy. It found that players had the same neuronal response as non-players when they saw emotionally destabilizing images.

Previous studies have sometimes suggested the opposite – that videogames desensitize against emotional stimuli – but most of these articles looked at the question in a short-term perspective, in which subjects would play shortly after or during the experiment.

Gregor Szycik of the Hannover Medical School in Germany wanted to take a long-term approach to the issue. The study emerged from Szycik’s observations of the growing popularity and quality of video games and the growing number of patients exhibiting their compulsive consumption.

For the study, Szycik and his colleagues joined male players who were shooters in Call of Duty or Counterstrike . Men played for at least two hours daily in the last four years, averaging four hours a day. The group was asked not to play video games in the three hours prior to the test and then be compared to individuals who had no experience with violent video games that did not play frequently.

Participants then responded to psychological questionnaires before they performed an electroencephalogram looking at images designed to elicit an emotional and empathic response. With this exam, the researchers measured the activation of specific regions of the brain to compare the neural response of players and non-players.

Both the questionnaire and the examination revealed no difference in the measures of aggression and empathy between players and non-players. The results surprised the researchers, who actually started with an initial contrary hypothesis.

The only drawback was that the groups were relatively small – only 15 players and 15 non-players. In any case, Szycik argues that more research is needed. “Let’s hope the study encourages other research groups to focus their attention on the possible long-term effect of video games on human behavior,” he said in a news release .

Still, it goes against numerous recent studies – including a 2015 article published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture – that found that violent video games did not increase violent behavior.