Well, this is probably one you aren’t going to see running on the front page of any tabloid newspapers. A study has found video games have no long-term effects on a person’s empathy, suggesting it is not lessened by long-term gaming.
Previous studies have controversially pointed at a link between gaming and a lack of empathy, but they often only examine the short-term effects. This latest study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and led by Dr Gregor Szycik from the Hannover Medical School in Germany, instead looked at the longer-term effects, and found no correlation.
“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 researchers wrote in their paper.
The study involved a group of 30 people, 15 who played violent video games regularly (four hours a day on average), and 15 control subjects who had not played violent video games. The games included things like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.
To make sure there were no short-term effects, the gamers were asked not to play games for three hours prior to the experiment. Then, both groups were asked psychological questions, before being scanned in an MRI scanner while they were shown images designed to provoke an emotional and empathetic response. This was used to see which brain regions were activated.
In the psychological questionnaire, there was no difference in measures of aggression and empathy between the gamers and non-gamers. The researchers found the same finding in the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data.
“These results surprised the researchers, as they were contrary to their initial hypothesis, and suggest that any negative effects of violent video games on perception or behavior may be short-lived,” a statement read.
In their paper, the researchers note that other studies looking at these effects had used participants who were exposed to violent video games or other experiments before or during the experiment. This meant those results could have been “influenced not only by desensitization but also by other factors such as increased attention towards motor actions or immediate activation of aggressive cognitions.”
There were some limitations of the study noted by the researchers, such as the small sample size and the difficulty of analyzing “null findings” like this. Also, both groups were not controlled for other media, such as violent movies or internet content, meaning there is a possibility they had experienced desensitization through other means.
Nonetheless, the findings are interesting when discussing violent video games. The effect on empathy is highly controversial, so there’s no doubt this latest study will stoke the fire somewhat more.