HANNOVER, Germany — Despite questions in recent years about whether there’s a correlation between crime and people who play violent, combat-driven video games, a new study finds that long term play of these types of games does not lower empathy.
The study — published in Frontiers in Psychology — used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to conclude that male gamers who played violent video games on a long-term basis had the same neural responses to emotionally provocative images as non-gamers.
Previous studies have shown that those who play violent games can be desensitized, have increased aggression and show decreased empathy. However, the overwhelming majority of these studies only investigated the short-term effects, whereas this study examined the long-term effects, according to a Frontiers news release.
The participants were all gamers who played first-person shooters in games such as “Call of Duty” or “Counter Strike” for at least two hours daily for the previous four years. They all were given a questionnaires to evaluate their capacities for empathy, and then shown images designed to provoke emotional responses and active specific regions of the brain, according to the statement.
The results of the MRI were compared with control subjects who had zero experience with violent video games and revealed that there were no differences in measures of aggression and empathy — results that were also backed up by the questionnaire.
“These results surprised the researchers, as they were contrary to their initial hypothesis, and suggest that any negative effects of violent video games on perception or behavior may be short-lived,” the release explains.
However, the researchers acknowledged that further inquiry is required.
“We hope that the study will encourage other research groups to focus their attention on the possible long-term effects of videogames on human behavior,” says Dr. Gregor Szycik of the Hannover Medical School who conducted the study, in the release.
“This study used emotionally-provocative images. The next step for us will be to analyze data collected under more valid stimulation, such as using videos to provoke an emotional response,” he adds.