Gamers not desensitized to violence: study

Recent Ryerson study results show that playing violent video games does not have any impact on emotional memory in young adults. (Photo by Elli Stuhler/The Ryersonian)
Recent Ryerson study results show that playing violent video games does not have any impact on emotional memory in young adults. (Photo by Elli Stuhler/The Ryersonian)

TORONTO (CUP) — A recent study at Ryerson University debunked the common assumption that playing violent video games desensitize against violence, but only for the young adult crew of gamers.

Andrew Durham, a third-year child and youth care student, has been playing violent video games since he was in elementary school. And while he’s playing, he’s not thinking about the effects of them.

The latest research now suggests he has nothing to worry about.

Holly Bowen was relieved by the results of her video game violence study.

The study was co-authored with psychology professor Julia Spaniol and is the result of Bowen’s master’s research. In the study, Bowen examined how chronic exposure to violent video games affected long-term emotional memory. The results show that playing violent video games does not have any impact on emotional memory in young adults.

She originally hypothesized that it would.

“Well, as a scientist, you hope there will be differences because that seems to get publications, and I certainly hypothesized there would be differences,” said Bowen. “Young adults tend to remember negative information [in general] better than, say positive?”

To assess how playing games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty affects responses to negative situations, the researchers studied the video gaming habits of 122 undergraduate students at Ryerson.

The participants were shown 150 images on a computer screen of negative, neutral and positive situations. A positive image might have a mother with her baby; a neutral picture could show a man mowing the lawn; and a negative picture could have a man with a gun to a woman’s head.

An hour later, the participants saw those same images mixed in with 150 randomly inserted new ones. The students had to tell whether or not they’d seen that image before. Finally, the participants completed a questionnaire about their state of emotional arousal in response to the photos.

The study showed there are no long-term emotional effects to playing violent video games in young adults. But for years, research has shown the opposite. A 2004 study by researchers at Iowa State University showed that in both the short and long term, violent video games increased aggressiveness in young adults.

But Bowen points to a few differences between her study and past studies.

Her study is the first to examine the long-term effects of violent video games based on the real video game-playing habits of participants. Long-term memory is defined as memory after 30 seconds. Past research focused on getting participants to play violent or neutral games — like Tetris — in the lab and assessing their emotional memory afterwards. It did not measure the effects of chronic video game-playing habits.

“It could be that these effects [from previous research] are short term and don’t persist in the long term,” said Bowen.

Bowen notes that she would not extend these results to children.

Bowen also said that in the future, it would be useful to increase the time difference between when the participants first saw the images and when they saw them again.

“What can happen is, over a 24-hour period, we tend to forget the more neutral and positive pictures and we seem better at remembering the negative pictures overall. It’s not just in video games,” she said.

Because the majority of psychology students who participated in her study were female, future research could examine if there are any differences in the long-term emotional memory of males and females in response to violent videogames.

For Durham any desensitization to violence that does exist is not just from video games.

“I think the media in general desensitized society to violence,” he said.

But he did concede that, “Violent video games are a lot different now than they were 10 to 15 years ago. There’s more violence, gore, profanity.”

He also noticed that rankings have changed; violent video games are now being marketed as less violent than they really are to make room for even more violent games at the top of the scale.

But he’ll keep on playing.

“It’s almost like living in a little bit of a fantasy and arriving back to the real world,” he said.



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