Violent video games and desensitization

ResearchBlogging.orgAlthough not all games are equal, there's plenty of evidence that playing some violent video games can cause aggressive real-world behavior. Sites like offer popular games whose sole point is to play the role of a hit-man or even to torture animals. Over 85 percent of video games include violence.

When these statistics are combined with the results of studies showing that aggressive attitudes and even actions can be increased after playing violent games for as little as 20 minutes, it's possible that we have a major problem on our hands.

Another potential problem of video game violence is widespread activation of a phenomenon that has been observed in many other domains: desensitization. Some desensitization is undoubtedly good: for example, a surgeon who exhibited the natural disgust and revulsion at seeing human entrails probably would have a hard time doing her job. Desensitization means that after seeing the gore of an operating room many times throughout her training process, she can overcome that natural revulsion to human innards and is prepared to do her job when it counts.

But other types of desensitization are not so good. Desensitization to racism allowed slavery to persist for centuries across much of the world. Desensitization to violence might mean that individuals are less likely to assist someone who's being attacked, or more likely to actively cooperate in a violent act. Aside from some reports of military uses for preparing troops for battle, there has been little study of whether playing violent video games desensitizes people to violence. So does the cartoon violence in games affect our reaction to real-world violence?

A team led by Nicholas Carnagey asked 257 volunteers to play either one of four violent video or one of four non-violent games for 20 minutes, then watch a 10-minute movie showing real, disturbing violent scenes such as prison fights, police confrontations, and shootings. Before and after playing the games, and while watching the violent scenes, the volunteers' heart rate and galvanic skin response were measured. Here are the results for heart rate:


As expected, average heart rates increased after playing the game, whether it was a violent game like Carmageddon or Duke Nukem, or a non-violent game like Glider Pro or Tetra madness. This increase is simply due to the arousal from playing an exciting game. But during the violent movie, the heart rates for those playing non-violent games increased significantly, while there was no significant change in those playing violent games. Since the natural reaction to seeing shocking violence is an increased heart rate, this is compelling evidence of desensitization. Now let's look at galvanic skin response:


Galvanic skin response is a measure of arousal (you may have heard of its use in lie detector tests). During the movie, there was a significant drop in galvanic skin response for the violent gamers, and a non-significant increase for the nonviolent gamers. Violent gamers were significantly less aroused by the violent images than nonviolent gamers -- another indication that they were desensitized by playing the violent games.

While these results are interesting, I have a couple of problems with this study. First, the researchers used the same staple of relatively old-fashioned violent games that has been used in this sort of research for years: Carmageddon, Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat, and Future Cop. Who plays these games any more? There's some evidence that not all violent games are created equal -- cooperative role-playing games, for example, haven't been shown to have the same negative results, even though they can be quite violent.

Second, while short-term research such as this can be valuable, it would be interesting to see a long-term experimental study on violent games. Maybe these effects don't last long after game-play. Or maybe game-play in a real-world setting can have other, offsetting effects.

Nonetheless, given how pervasive violent games are, it's troubling to see results such as this. I'd be very interested to see some work on online games like the ones I mentioned at In fact, maybe we'll try something like that for a Casual Friday.

CARNAGEY, N., ANDERSON, C., BUSHMAN, B. (2007). The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violenceâËâ . Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(3), 489-496. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2006.05.003

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"Desensitization to violence might mean that individuals are less likely to assist someone who's being attacked, or more likely to actively cooperate in a violent act."

Alternatively, desensitization to violence might mean that individuals are less likely to react with shock or confusion when they witness a violent act and might be more likely to stay calm and offer assistance.

The assumption that desensitization affects moral calculus in a predominantly negative manner is understandable... that is what common sense would dictate. However, in this field we often find that common sense is wrong, which is why we subject our assumptions to empirical testing.

I'm not sure how one would ethically study the relationship between desensitization and decision-making in adults... perhaps looking at the violent crime rates among emergency first responders (firefighters, EMT, police officers) would be a good place to start.

The only thing I can gain from this study is that it proved desensitization exists - no surprise there. Playing a violent video game for 20 minutes will desensitize you to actual violent acts. But does this in any way imply it may lead to violent behavior? (The newsmedia who love blaming video games as the cause for today's troubled youth will surely say so!)

If they made a highly realistic surgery simulation game, complete with ultra-accurate fluid-based-particle blood effects and such, I'd imagine it would lead to less squeamishness if subjects subsequently watched a real surgery video after playing said game for 20 minutes. But that's about it - I highly doubt they would develop the urge to go out and perform some surgeries.

What worries me is the fact that, while the study did indeed produce significant results in what I'm assuming is a subject pool of non-minors, the implications may be exponentially greater for children. When parents allow their children to play these games (because you can't buy violent, M-rated games unless you're 17 and have ID - at least in CA - so I place the responsibility on them!), I'd imagine the effect may carry along with it not merely desensitization, but long-term effects that give children the false impression that violence is everywhere, that violence is okay, and that violence poses no actual threat.

Nevertheless, if zombies were to attack my city any time soon, I likely wouldn't care that much...

Why did the violent video game group have higher heart rates and lower galvanic skin response "before game?" Does that show that they had poor randomness in their groupings? Were those measurements taken after they were told what game they were going to play? Why are they included at all?

By funkotron (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

100% of Television News shows have violence highlighted in them as well. Does watching the news also lead to desensitization and therefore violent behavior. Actually I believe it does. Does that make them wrong? I do not believe so. How many of Shakespeare plays included violence? Violence in the media has been a constant in Western European cultures (and cultures derived from them)for hundreds of years.
Violent video games have a much larger following and are much more violent in Japan then in the United states, yet the amount of violent youth crimes are much higher here in the states, or really anywhere else for that matter. I find it interesting that because these problems are predominate in the United States we consider them to be universal "human" problems. It would be interesting to see what the foreign media has to say about violence in video games vs say violence in foreign policy.
Whoops, sorry let a bit of my personal politics slip out. Let me just say that I play violent video games and I left the Army under AR600-43 which is Conscientious Objection, after what I saw in Iraq. Playing violent video games since I was a kid (my first game was a hand held space invaders game from approx 81) did not desensitize me to actual violence. I also am aware that one person does make a scientific study, but it is all I can go on. Also having worked in the video game industry I can say that all the gamers I know tend to be the meekest people I know. That of course probably has to do with the social environment from our youth were video gamers where ostracized with regularity for not playing peaceful games like football.

Sorry for the long post, but this is a subject that has been put to reset a number of times. It just keeps popping up when some elected official needs a new way to appear to be Family friendly in a tough love kind of way. Maybe someday we can concentrate on reducing actual real violence before we spend all this energy on reducing virtual violence.


The differences between galvanic skin responses in the violent-game and non-violent-game groups look to be of the same magnitude as the drop in GSR response that the violent game group had to the movie.

If the one is not significant, how is the other? Are we talking about statistical significance here or not?

@Kevin - you may be interested in this it's the latest 'official' "independent review of the risks
children face from the internet and video games," in the UK.

Without a good analysis of the game play mechanics it's not valid to automatically assume that the 'violence' was the definitive difference between the games.

By necessity the play mechanics and player motivations vary between these types of game. Typically 'violent' games are driven by mechanics that require fast, decisive responses to specific repeated stimuli. Bad guy pops out - kill or be killed. Even when they have a strategic or tactical component it usually relies on the player setting up the situation so that they give themselves the greatest opportunity to execute a simple pre-planned action. For some players the reward is correctly executing this part, validating their plan.

Non-violent games tend to require longer term planning, modeling of multiple outcomes and careful execution of courses of action (Judge the type of Tetris tile - adjust strategy to cope - place in correct location).

Without a good understanding of what mental buttons these games are pushing it's risky to assume that the somewhat ill-defined violent/non-violent split is the distinction that is the cause of the results.

To take two of games mentioned - Duke Nukem and Glider Pro.

In one the primary mechanic is 'explore and react fast enough to keep playing'. Interaction is mostly 2-dimensional movement (although the view is 3d) with a two function trigger always aimed at the the centre of the screen.

Glider Pro is a more abstract and whimsical flight simulator - the aim is to steer your paper plane into positive areas (that score points or allow you to stay in the air), while avoiding hazards.

My point is that these two games - regardless of the visual representations and their associated meanings - require distinct skills and offer distinct rewards. "I survived!" in the case of Duke Nukem versus "I beat my high score/lasted longer" in the case of Glider Pro.

This may not be significant - it may be that it's the emotional engagement with the symbolic content, not the emotional rewards of the particular mechanics that causes the effects - but I think that a better understanding of what games are and how people play them is needed before reading too much into this sort of work.

There's another distinction that needs to be examined as well - the reaction (physical, emotional and mental) to a specific game changes over time and according to context. Take something like Gears of War - the combination of experiences when played initially, after some time, on-line with unknown players, on-line with friends, in the same room with friends and co-operatively against the computer are all distinct in terms of rewards, motivations and underlying content. (The images remain the same, their meanings change).

By Idlethought (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

Josh G:

Statistical differences between groups are measured differently from those within groups.

In other words, the same people (in the violent games group) were showing decreased GSR when watching the videos, so the statistical computation is different from when you're comparing two different groups of people (violent games group and nonviolent games group).

"Desensitization to violence might mean that individuals are less likely to assist someone who's being attacked, or more likely to actively cooperate in a violent act."

But is there any evidence to suggest it would?

Also, this is a study of how someone emotionally responds to a video. It doesn't seem to measure how a person would react to actual violence.

I must admit I'm pretty biased about this. I'm given to understand that as video games have gotten more violent crime rates have dropped. Most people watch and play violent media and aren't themselves violent. Japan has greater amount of violent media than most countries and yet it has a significantly lower crime rate. And I've watched and played violent media all my life, so have my friends. I see no evidence that our attitudes toward violence are inappropriate in any way.

For as long as I can remember, violence in TV, video games, and music have been used as a scape goat for the world's ills. Video games are being demonized (by a small vocal minority) Just like comics before them. (Not so small, just as vocal.) I don't see any more evidence that someone will go steal a car or shoot someone after playing "Grand Theft Auto" than I see any evidence that some kid in the fifties would have become a mass murderer after reading "Vault of Terror". It's a silly idea.


Thanks for the link, reading it now. Thanks also for the sane reply to an obviously emotional response. What I take away from your response is that all of these factors come into play and have a pretty dramatic effect on both the research methods needed and post experiment analysis. As such there are still plenty of tools that these researchers don't even have access to yet, that isn't a derogatory remark just an acknowledgment that the field of statics and math in general are still moving forward, computational analysis, and just general psychological experimental techniques are always in flux and getting better, more accurate and more precise.

I guess I just wonder how people can make sweeping claims, either for or against, with the knowledge that so much of our information is incomplete. And then these studies go on to be quoted and used as a basis for policy as they are facts.

Clearly I am not up with the latest psychology experiments so maybe some of the issues I have are being addressed and the only ones I am exposed to are the big press ones.

In reality I am glad the people are researching the roots of violent behavior and looking for ways to mitigate the amount of violence in our world. Science is always working on "Bracketing" knowledge (I define bracketing as sometimes overshooting, sometimes undershooting just so you know the answer is somewhere in between) so it is to be expected that some people are in favor of all games are good and others say all games are bad.

When do people generally learn the difference between reality and fantasy? I understand in child psychology there is a point where children learn that things can exist even when they no longer see them, that sad point we all lived through when peek-a-boo stopped being fun. How does that learning affect this kind of test? I wonder what the results would have looked like if the subjects were taken to a slaughter house where the violence was real and visceral instead of another form of fantasy (which all movies are even if of real situations, especially with the advent of life like CG) Also not picking on the meat industry, it was just the first example of real violence that wouldn't be staged or excessively cruel that came to mind.


P.S. No longer reading that report, just noticed it is 226 pages long and I am at work right now. At least I have something to read tonight now. Thanks again for the link, looks very interesting.

Duke Nukem is hardly violent... have you seen the new releases of video games as of late?

This topic always increases my heart rate and galvanic skin response...

And I'd say that I have a rather unique perspective on it, so hear me out.

I've been a consumer of violent media for basically my whole life, and have been playing violent games for as long as I can remember. I have the dubious honor of playing Doom, and Quake with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on a local BBS in Denver. They played non-violent games as well, but nobody mentions that.

Not only have I played the same games that supposedly spurned them into committing the horrible acts that would later become the Columbine Massacre, but I have even played those in the same room with them on at least a two occasions.

Additionally, I work in the video game industry and am working on a sure to be high-profile GTA-esque title.

Yet I have never participated in any violent crime, or even found myself to be a more violent person than most other people I know as a result.

As far as desensitization goes, I don't think there's any doubt that repeated exposure to simulated violence will reduce your physical response to it, but I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of people who share my same pastimes and exposure to violent media, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, have perpetrated any violent crimes.

I think that violent behavior has more to do with the wiring of individuals in question. I suspect that someone who is going to going on a killing spree will be more drawn to that type of media, but someone who consumes violent media isn't necessarily going to become a serial killer. It's the difference between correlation and causation, and too many outlets are more than willing to provide the convenient scapegoat of video games to justify anti-social behavior.

But the percentage of people exhibiting violent behavior in general compared to the size of the audience consuming that media causes me to look less at the media, and more at the individuals in question.

It's always the lot of the parental generation to find something their kids are doing and blame that for their problems. Before games it was comic books and rock and roll.

I got interrupted halfway through writing this, so I'm sure it's incoherent, but hopefully I've made at least a passable argument.

I have always had a hot temper. Speaking as someone who has actually been violent on occasion, it's kind of odd to hear that scientists who probably don't do a lot of punching or yelling at things think video games are some sort of hazard.

Rage against one's fellow man comes from a lot deeper place than "Duke Nukem". It seems to me what these studies really do is desensitize otherwise smart people to the realities of violence.

Thanks for the heads-up on "Kitten Cannon". That was cool!
I got 771 feet.Unfortunately the random, non-repeating placement of traps and accelerants makes scoring mostly a matter of luck. However, that did not manage to eliminate the coolness inherent in the thing.

Also, Steve (#9): the fact that you've watched and played violent media all your life, and so have your friends, is evidence enough that your attitudes toward violence are inappropriate in many ways to the folks who fund studies like this.

Now, let's go blast some kitties!

I think it's probably quite important to show that there is a relationship between violence - as portrayed in a game - and violence used 'on the street'. Statistical data of this sort doesn't reach into the actual cognitive or behavioural domain.

Without some very detailed brain mapping to show that there is some kind of cognitive cross-over between the way that an individual treats these two scenarios of 'game' and 'real life', the data is meaningless. People 'know' when they're playing a game, and therefore de-sensitisation is not going to have as 'shocking effect' as it might if one became de-sensitised to street violence.

I've played violent games all my life, and am not shocked by what I see when playing a game. I know it's a game, and I've become de-sensitised to the content *in that particular context*.

On the other hand, I'm not physically violent at all - I've never been involved in a fight, as it serves no purpose, and is much easier avoided by other means.

In fact, playing war games (things like Call of Duty 2) has made me think far more about the appalling violence and almost meaningless suffering and oppression that millions of people must have had to - and still are - going through in their real lives. It gives some appreciation (which is real and visceral in some ways, as your data shows) of how dreadful violence really is, that could not be gained any other way, except 'on the street', which is an unthinkable event, certainly in my life.

I expect there's a fairly good case to made for the theory that violent video games may act as a kind of mental inoculation against real physical violence. Far too little is known, of course, about the brain to be able to make anything but a cursory statistical foray into this area, which is hardly satisfactory.

Unless you can show some *causal* correlation between video game players and violent behaviour, there's no reason to think that de-sensitisation in one context equates to de-sensitisation in another.

The Data looks very sketchy to me. Both groups have rises in heart rate but their appears to be no difference between the % increase of the violent vs. Non-violent. Same for the skin response. I think this is just another sensationalist study.

I would have people look at the overall violence in teens since the introduction of violent video games. The numbers actually go down. And in Japan a culture who has more graphic displays of violence on TV and in games there is even less violent crime then in the US. There was a book published recently called Grand Theft Childhood (something like that) that looked at the long term effects or violent games on children and found that there is no effect on children who play less the 15 Hours a week of M rated games. They did also see a rise violence in boys who did not play video games at all. My issue with this is what parents would let their 9 year old play an M rated game.

The Problem is not the games. They are just the new scapegoat replacing Movies,TV and Rock Music. It is the poor parenting that does not teach the children right from wrong.

Desensitization to violence might mean that individuals are less likely to assist someone who's being attacked, or more likely to actively cooperate in a violent act. Aside from some reports of military uses for preparing troops for battle, there has been little study of whether playing violent video games desensitizes people to violence.

The military uses video games to show troops how to help their fellow soldiers on the battlefield. If the resulting desensitization prevented fellow soldiers from helping each other when attacked, then the military wouldn't be using those tools.

U.S. Marines, due to their intense and realistic training, are less likely to enter into shock in the heat of battle, when wounded, even with the onset of hypothermia. Marines are also more likely to trust one another and to act as a team, cooperating even under intense duress. Members of other branches of the military don't fare quite as well in stressful situations because they're not desensitized to it.

It's a common knee-jerk reaction to reduce military training to nothing more than blindly following orders and carry out malicious acts of violence. Even if the real purpose of desensitization is to allow a person to stay level headed and make cool, rational, moral decisions under intense pressures. Poorly trained troops are more likely to commit atrocities. Consider the ethnic cleansing by African warlords and their child soldiers, most of whom never played video games, incidentally. Consider the way civilians go into shock and inaction when they see violent crimes committed right in front of them on a subway or elsewhere.

Real VS Simulated.

I have been a lifeguard at a city pool for 5 years. I am trained in first aid and I have used it (although nowhere near as much as a paramedic, for example).

My first serious first-aid situation happened 3 years after I took on the job (it happened in a university library). A girl lost consciousness, fell to the concrete floor and began bleeding severely from the head. I was trained, over and over, taken many courses and had training every 2 weeks just to stay sharp. I was even on a competitive lifeguard team. I knew exactly what to do as I had run scenarios like this in training.

But I was shaking. I knew what to expect but with all the blood pouring out of her head I could barely hold myself together. I made stupid mistakes, but in the end she was fine.

After having numerous first-aid situations since, I no longer shake. It was the real life experience that desensitized me to these kinds of situations, the training just helped me keep my witts about me.

The moral of the story is, after years of simulation, the sight of real, warm blood on my hands was a completely different bag.

Profile: I am 22, white and male. I have played EVERY violent game to come out EVER.

What's interesting about this study is that they are looking only at desensitization to virtual violence (TV/movies) after playing a virtual violent or non-violent game. I do not think it would correlate so similarly in the real world.

I can tell you that not everyone desensitizes so easily playing violent games. I, myself, am an avid Guild Wars player (MMORPG) and while I have no problem watching a character swing a weapon at a monster until it falls down and disappears (no blood or gore), I absolutely cannot stand the sound effect of the injured wolves yelping, even if it is a pet fighting on my side. I have to turn the sound off. I've heard it for 1.5 years and I still can't stand it. I also can't stand violent movies.

As for race, what's very interesting in these online games is that most young white males assume that everyone else playing is a young white male. There are many diverse players in the game, both in skin color, culture, and gender, and yet most characters are created with light skin, even in the ethnically themed expansions. I wonder if anyone's studied this phenomena?

(On another note, ArenaNet also pulled an apirl fool's joke last year that changed every character to the opposite gender in certain towns which elicited quite a range of responses from amused to livid at the gender change of a virtual character. that would have made a great social psychology of gender study! lol)

I see lots of conjecture about how things that could possibly have a tenuous causal relationship to real violence. The actual trend from the US department of justice is that over the 10 years from 1995 to 2005 actual violence has measurably declined in the US from around 50 violent crimes per 1000 citizens to around 20. This is a significant decline and occurs over the exact same period that the violent video games increased in number, use, explicitness and use.

Considering that prior to Doom's release in 1994 the violent crime rate had been flat or climbing since the begining of the dataset in 1973, the only causal relationship that can be made between violent games and actual violence is an inverse one.

While this may seem counter-intuitive to some there is a reasonable hypothesis that could explain this trend. All humans have violent tendencies to some extent. Violent video games allow people to vent these in a safe way. It is possible there are pathologies where the in game actions can cause people to be more violent in real life, but the very distinct trend shows that the majority effect (if any) is towards lower violence from game playing.

What's interesting about this study is that they are looking only at desensitization to virtual violence (TV/movies) after playing a virtual violent or non-violent game. I do not think it would correlate so similarly in the real world.

Indeed, if you truly wanted to test desensitization you would could use a design whereby individuals watch a confederate being 'harmed' after having palyed videogames and then measure their GSR; of course, this wouldn't be the most ethical of studies, and even if you did find a sig. difference to control there is no raeson that the short term changes can be extrapolated into long term trends.

Chris wrote:
"Unless you can show some *causal* correlation between
video game players and violent behaviour, there's no reason
to think that de-sensitisation in one context equates to
de-sensitisation in another."

Actually, that was the whole point of the experiment
described above. The experiment showed that people
desensitized in one context (playing a violent video
game) became desensitized in another context (watching
a violent video).

That's also the point of Systematic desensitization therapy:

Patients with fear of spiders were exposed to virtual-reality
spiders as an effective way to use Systematic desensitization
therapy, to cure the fear of spiders.
Matthew wrote:
"The actual trend from the US department of justice
is that over the 10 years from 1995 to 2005 actual
violence has measurably declined in the US from
around 50 violent crimes per 1000 citizens to around 20."

Probably true, just like the homicide rate went down
during that same time period.

But, the U.S. incarceration rate *tripled* during
the 1990's. We now have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
"The United States has 5% of the world's population
and 25% of the world's incarcerated population."…

This huge incarceration rate, more than explains
the reduction in homicide and violence.

My own personal feeling is that violent movies and TV
have had much more of an effect on increasing violence
(the U.S. homicide rate almost doubled during the
1980's and 90's) because people spend much, much more
time watching violent TV and movies than they do playing
violent video games.

It makes sense (because of it's interactive nature) that
playing a violent video game for an hour would increase
aggression even more than watching a violent movie for
an hour. But, people in the U.S. spend many more hours
watching violence, than interactively simulating violence.

By Terry Mateo (not verified) on 27 Apr 2008 #permalink

Terry, the point of my post was not that the data I could see was proof, but that it was more compelling data than any other positted by those that think there is a causal link between game violence and real violence.

To argue that the decline of real violence was due to video games that would indeed be a specious argument, however the correlation (not causality) of the two is at least linked which although tenuous is a significantly superior than any counter argument. This is supposed to demonstrate how poor the games cause violence arguments are rather than prove another point.

You provide a good object lesson on the subject of specious causal links offered as proof of a position.

While the prison pop doubled in the US over this period(95-05) the rate of non-violent incarceration changed from less than 30% to 50% which accounts for 70% of that population growth while the rate of violent crime reduced 60% so it is hard to think that incarceration rates are the sole reason. If the story is not complete the argument is at least partially flawed.

As for the increase in murder rates in the 80's 90's where do you get that from? according to the DOJ the murder rate per 1000 citizens has been essentially flat since 1973 even though the overall violent crime rate has dropped. And over that period the total violent crime fluctuated a little but remained essentially flat so where is that result you mentioned about TV violence causing an increase of violence?

My campaign is not for violent video games but against statistics misused to 'prove' agenda's. An area in which video games are hardly lonely.

Is there any evidence, I wonder, to show that Roman games desensitized the Roman citizenry?!

The fatal flaw in this study is the jump from active to passive media. If I'm playing a violent video game, and my heart rate goes up because I'm perpetrating or being threatened by violence that I have to resolve, that's one thing. Then if you make me watch a video of violence, of course my reaction is going to be less intense. I'm completely disconnected.

If I'm playing tetris, or some other kind of non-violent videogame, it's a different set of emotional reactions that have to be made. Maybe the study would hold more weight for me if participants also played, say, Tony Hawk, and then watched videos of skateboarding, and their responses were measured.

But real life isn't a video, obviously, it's interactive - and far more so than video games. Who cares if people who play violent videogames are slightly less affected by watching video violence? That has no relation to how they might react in real life. A valid study would have been to plunge these same participants into a real-world simulation of violence. Otherwise, you're just wasting time and research dollars.

As described in this blog post anyway, the study is kind of a blind grope in the dark, measuring things that have unclear relation to one another, and demonstrates, more than anything, the researcher's lack of understanding about the way we interact with media.

I'm not trying to play the fool here, but why do we think it's good to have an extremely high sympathetic response to media violence? Is it not possible, for instance, that the subjects playing violent games could in some way lose their sense of helplessness about such events. They did, after all, undergo a simulation where they had some sense of control. Wouldn't more self-control/confidence lead to the lower response? If that's the case, is it bad? We do, after all, need the law-abiding to be cool-headed and capable in violent, hostile, and dangerous situations.

I would also suggest that a high response to media violence makes one more susceptible to the scapegoating of scary 'others.' If you can get all worked up about what the media says 'those people' did to some member of your ethnic group or nation you will be much more likely to incorporate hateful attitudes.

So what is the problem? That there will be more violent sociopaths? I would like to hear the evidence (sincerely).

By calling all toasters (not verified) on 28 Apr 2008 #permalink

For the record, I'll reiterate my position on this topic, which is that video games don't kill people, people kill people. Usually with guns.

That said, there are more military applications for video games than just training! There's ongoing research into using game-based simulations to treat PTSD, which is increasingly pervasive in our returning Warfighters. The idea is to expose a Soldier or Marine to the sights and sounds of Iraq without the traumatic experiences. The finding that it seems to be helping reduce anxiety supports the argument that video games can desensitize the player to certain types of stimuli, and in this case, it's a very good thing.

(Here's the first link I could find:…)

Matthew wrote:

"...the point of my post was not that the data
I could see was proof, but that it was more compelling
data than any other positted by those that think there
is a causal link between game violence and real violence."

You're right, the argument pointing out that violent crime
has dramatically decreased since 1995 *is* very compelling.

According to this FBI site, the homicide rate peaked at
9.8 per 100,000 in 1991, but had fallen, nearly in half,
to 5.6 per 100,000 in 2005. More evidence for your argument.

After all, violence in movies, TV and video games has been
*increasing* over the past 50 years. Therefore the violent
crime rate should be increasing, not dramatically
decreasing (back down to 1950 levels).

Shouldn't the dramatic decrease in violent crime prove
that exposure to violent movies/TV/video games is harmless?

The problem here is that there are many things that
effect the violent crime rate, exposure to violent
media is just one factor.

For example, another important factor would be the
incarceration rate. It turns out that between 1980
and 2000 the incarceration rate increased over 300%.

So after increasing the incarceration rate over
300%, we still have a slightly higher homicide rate
than in the 1950's and early 1960's.

Also, note that in the 1950's an 60's the emergency
care for gunshot victims was less advanced than
today, leading to greater deaths from shootings.

So *does* the dramatic decrease in violent crime
*prove* that exposure to violent movies/TV/video
games is harmless?

No, because of confounding factors such as the huge
incarceration rate increase.

calling all toasters wrote:

"...but why do we think it's good to have an extremely
high sympathetic response to media violence?"

No one is arguing that it is "good to have an extremely
high sympathetic response to media violence". This study,
and numerous others, are just demonstrating how exposure
to various things over and over again has a desensitizing

In some circumstances that can lead to good outcomes
(such as losing an irrational fear of heights), in other
circumstances it can lead to bad outcomes (such as losing
*all* fear of heights).

If you are about to be shipped off to Iraq, then it would
probably be helpful to watch/play some violent media, so
that real life violence won't be such a shock.

On the other hand, if you are walking along, and happen
to see a car accident where someone is badly crushed,
and you have to fight to keep down the giggles, then
that might be a good time to consider cutting back on
the violent media.

I believe that in this case, the video games themselves would have to be evaluated to determine the accuracy of this test. Say that the nonviolent video game happens to be "Hello Kitty's Dream Carnival". This would mean that heart rate would probably stay near base. But say the nonviolent video game was something along the lines of "Guitar Hero 3". In this case, heart rate would go much higher than many other games because of the more intense playing style. This would mean that your graph could show completely different results. Also, as I have played many "violent" video games,("Call of Duty 4","Halo", "Dawn of War")I can safely say that while playing these sort of games, the amount of gore and violence is barely noticeable. You're really focusing on keeping up with the NPCs guiding you or trying to dodge bullets, not looking at the wall with spatter on it.

I think that another variable that we should have been enlightened to is just what "violent" video game the test subjects were playing, and how long the gap between video game and movie was. If the gap was nonexistant, and you had been playing "DOOM 3" for the last hour,getting the pants scared off of you, then both the heart rate and the skin response would be the same as pictured here.

All in all, it looks to me as if the experiment was conducted to get a result which would line up with a predetermined answer. I think that the main goal here was to make more fodder for anti-video game supporters to throw at us gamers.