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Study Says Violent Video Games Desensitize Us to Real Violence

Do you enjoy blasting aliens, or chopping up the undead? A study in a US psychology journal claims to show, for the first time, that playing violent video games can desensitize us to violence in real life, numbing the physiological responses associated with exposure to real violence.

A study published in the July issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology apparently shows, for the first time, that violent video games desensitize players to real-life violence.

From the article’s abstract:

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to media violence increases aggression, though the mechanisms of this effect have remained elusive. One theory posits that repeated exposure to media violence desensitizes viewers to real world violence, increasing aggression by blunting aversive reactions to violence and removing normal inhibitions against aggression. Theoretically, violence desensitization should be reflected in the amplitude of the P300 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP), which has been associated with activation of the aversive motivational system. In the current study, violent images elicited reduced P300 amplitudes among violent, as compared to nonviolent video game players. Additionally, this reduced brain response predicted increased aggressive behavior in a later task. Moreover, these effects held after controlling for individual differences in trait aggressiveness. These data are the first to link media violence exposure and aggressive behavior to brain processes hypothetically associated with desensitization.

The article, an updated version of material presented last year to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, used the P300 event-related potential (ERP), an electrical wave in a subject’s electroencephalogram (EEG), as an indication of how subjects were attending to the depictions of violence, both real and game-based. The P300 is an extremely robust and well-studied EEG feature and has been used and studied extensively since it was first discovered in the mid-1960s.