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Playing violent games affects sensitivity to painful pictures

24 August 2021
Playing violent video games can reduce players' empathic response to painful images, according to research by communication scientist Ewa Miedzobrodzka of VU Amsterdam.

Almost 60 male participants with different experience in playing violent video games were tested. They were tested twice: before and after playing a violent video game for 40 minutes. Before and after gaming, participants viewed everyday painful (and non-painful) situations, while their brain responses were recorded by electroencephalogram (EEG).

This shows that exposure to violent video games can reduce the empathic response to painful images. Less experienced gamers became less sensitive to painful images, such as a fingertip being cut while cutting a cucumber, after 40 minutes of violent gaming. Experienced players of violent games did not respond differently to painful and non-painful images before playing, and there was no change in response to painful situations before and after playing. "Thus, the effect of violent video games depends on the experience of the player," said Miedzobrodzka.

This effect of violent games is not necessarily negative, Miedzobrodzka explains. "Experienced players can control their emotions better and focus on the game." This can also be useful in other fields, according to the researcher. "It can mean retaining control in situations where you are confronted with painful images. Think about doctors, for example. For them, it's a good thing if they don't have a strong emotional reaction to seeing an injury, so they can better focus on their work."

The results of this research were published in Psychology of Popular Media.