Media violence has no long-term effects on empathy or aggression



The moral implications of violent media (violent movies, video games, etc.) have been debated for years. The concern is that an oversaturated exposure to fictional portrayals of violence will normalize it in people’s minds and desensitize them to the real thing. This desensitization is expected to lead to antisocial behaviour, including an increase in aggression. It turns out this worry is entirely unfounded.

A recent study in Germany found that even people who have been exposed to an average of four hours of violent media per day for the past four years exhibit normal empathetic responses. The participants were hooked to a functional MRI (fMRI) machine and given psychological questionnaires. An fMRI monitors brain activity rather than mapping the anatomical structure of the brain, as a normal MRI does. Both the answers to the questionnaire and the results of the fMRI scan were consistent with those produced by the control group, which had had no exposure to violent media.

According to Science Daily, the reason that the results of this study differ from those of previous studies is that this one considered the long-term effects of exposure to violent media, whereas others were only interested in the short-term effects. Other studies would test the subjects’ empathetic response immediately after playing a violent video game, or even while they were playing. According to the German study, even experiments attempting to determine the short-term effects of violent media have had “inconsistent” results.

The German study ensured that the short-term effects of exposure to violent media were not affecting the results of the experiment by having the participants avoid violent media for at least three hours before the experiment. They controlled the possible variable effect that different media could have on a person by making sure all of the participants had been exposed to similar violent media; all of the participants had played violent first-person shooters (such as Call of Duty) for at least two hours every day, for a span of at least four years.

Violent Media Empathy 2

Violent first-person shooters are perhaps the most immersive version of violent media due to their graphic content from the first-person perspective and the interactivity of playing a video game. But despite the participants’ high exposure to this immersive medium, their emotional responses appeared to be unaffected. Though they did show an increased tendency towards antisocial personalities, their empathy and aggressiveness were the same as the control subjects’.

It seems that gamers are better at recognizing the difference between fiction and reality than psychologists first thought.

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Source: The Plaid Zebra



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