Title
Neuroimaging and behavioral evidence that violent video games exert no negative effect on human empathy for pain and emotional reactivity to violence
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Abstract
Influential accounts claim that violent video games (VVGs) decrease players’ emotional empathy by desensitizing them to both virtual and real-life violence. However, scientific evidence for this claim is inconclusive and controversially debated. To assess the causal effect of VVGs on the behavioral and neural correlates of empathy and emotional reactivity to violence, we conducted a prospective experimental study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We recruited 89 male participants without prior VVG experience. Over the course of two weeks, participants played either a highly violent video game or a non-violent version of the same game. Before and after this period, participants completed an fMRI experiment with paradigms measuring their empathy for pain and emotional reactivity to violent images. Applying a Bayesian analysis approach throughout enabled us to find substantial evidence for the absence of an effect of VVGs on the behavioral and neural correlates of empathy. Moreover, participants in the VVG group were not desensitized to images of real-world violence. These results imply that short and controlled exposure to VVGs does not numb empathy nor the responses to real-world violence. We discuss the implications of our findings regarding the potential and limitations of experimental research on the causal effects of VVGs. While VVGs might not have a discernible effect on the investigated subpopulation within our carefully controlled experimental setting, our results cannot preclude that effects could be found in settings with higher ecological validity, in vulnerable subpopulations, or after more extensive VVG play.
Keywords
General Immunology and MicrobiologyGeneral Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular BiologyGeneral MedicineGeneral Neuroscience
Object type
Language
English [eng]
Persistent identifier
https://phaidra.univie.ac.at/o:2044965
Appeared in
Title
eLife
Volume
12
ISSN
2050-084X
Issued
2023
Publisher
eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd
Date issued
2023
Access rights
Rights statement
© 2023, Lengersdorff et al

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