“Previous studies focused on a possible relationship between violent video gaming and aggression, highlighting difficulties in media violence research,” Miedzobrodzka explains. This is why the media psychologist decided to investigate more subtle and less direct effects of violent games on adolescents. “I focused on four social-cognitive skills: emotion recognition, inhibitory control, perspective-taking, and empathy for pain. These skills are important for good social functioning and they develop through adolescence. If the development of such skills would be disrupted, it may lead to future antisocial behaviour.”
Miedzobrodzka performed correlational and experimental studies with adolescents (aged 12-17) and young adults. The project involved over 500 male Dutch participants tested in individual settings.
Miedzobrodzka drew several conclusions from her research. Firstly and surprisingly, she discovered that frequent violent gaming was not related to recognition of emotions and understanding of others' perspectives, or empathetic reactions towards others' in pain, as many might have expected. On top of this, she also found that those who regularly play violent video games actually seem to have better control over their reactions in emotional context. One way to explain this finding is that those who play violent games frequently have become skilled at ignoring emotional elements in the games. This ability helps them stay focused and perform well in tasks that require controlling their emotions. This skill could be particularly useful in the context of violent video games, where emotional aspects are intense, enabling players to concentrate more on the game's objectives.
Secondly, the impact of violent video game exposure on adolescents was limited to the short-term effects, observed immediately after the game. In her experiment, adolescents who played a violent video game were less accurate in perspective-taking and had lower empathetic reactions in their brains when viewing others in painful situations.
And lastly, since violent content can be found in other types of media, she tested the possible relationships with exposure to antisocial content in all media types. Miedzobrodzka found that higher exposure to antisocial media content in adolescents was related to less accurate emotion recognition and lower empathetic reactions when viewing others in pain. This is why she highlights that parents should pay attention not only to video games but also to other media which may contain violence and impact youth.
Miedzobrodzka concludes: “The outcomes of this dissertation may be especially interesting for parents, educators, policymakers, journalists, video game developers, and young gamers. The results of my project may help to calm down the media discussions regarding the possible detrimental effects of violent video games on youth. However, we still need future research to investigate possible ‘traces’ of the violent video gameplay in adolescent development in a long-term perspective.”