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New Study Finds Violent Games Do Not Desensitize Players

| 16 Feb 2011 16:45
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A new study conducted by Ryerson University in Toronto has found that long-term exposure to violent videogames may not desensitize people to violence and negative situations after all.

Conventional wisdom has long held that exposure to violent media will eventually desensitize the consumer, rendering him or her numb to the incidence and consequences of real-life violence. My parents used to worry, back in the day, that when I got older I'd cut my hair into a Mohawk, buy a big black van and find myself utterly unable to kill a person no matter how many bullets I fired at him. It didn't work out that way, however, (although I did end up with a deathly fear of flying) and there may be a good reason for that.

A study conducted by PhD candidate Holly Bowen at Ryerson University recently found that among young adults, "violent videogame exposure was not associated with differences in players' emotional memory or their responses to negative stimuli."

"Emotional long-term memory helps us avoid negative situations," Bowen explained. "This has significant implications for public health. For example, if you remember the negative experience of being involved in a bar fight, you will avoid future situations that may lead to an altercation."

The study looked at 122 male and female undergrads, 45 of whom had "some videogame experience" within the previous six months and 77 of whom did not. The most popular games among both males and females included Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy and the NHL franchise (this was a Canadian study, remember); male gamers also reported Call of Duty and Tekken among their top five favorites, while females leaned more toward Mario Kart and Guitar Hero/Rock Band.

Participants were shown a series of 150 negative, positive and neutral images, and then an hour later were shown them again, in random order, along with "distractor" images, and asked to say whether or not they'd seen them previously. At the end of the experiment, they completed a "self-assessment test regarding their state of emotional arousal."

The end result ran contrary to what the researchers were expecting: gamers and non-gamers displayed no difference in terms of memory or emotional arousal. "The findings indicate that long-term emotional memory is not affected by chronic exposure violent video games," Bowen said.

Further study is needed to determine whether the same results will apply across all age groups, the researchers said. "While we are working with young adults, there may still be differences among kids who play violent videogames," added psychology professor Julia Spaniol, the study's co-author. The team has launched a new study looking at the brain activity of violent videogame players as they are exposed to emotional stimuli, and also plans to investigate the impact of "chronic exposure" to game violence in a non-lab setting.

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