According to researchers at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada), violent video games do not desensitize players to violent imagery. The study was led by Holly Bowen (a PhD candidate in psychology) and co-authored by psychology professor Julia Spaniol. Researchers examined the impact of chronic exposure to violent video games on emotional memory and responses to negative stimuli.
"Emotional long-term memory helps us avoid negative situations," Bowen said. "This has significant implications for public health. For example, if you remember the negative experience of being involved in a bar fight, you will avoid future situations that may lead to an altercation."
The study involved 122 undergraduate students (male and female) who had some experience with video games in the last six months (45 participants) and those who had no prior video game "exposure" (77 students).
Male and female gamers claimed familiarity with Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy and NHL. Males also listed Call of Duty and Tekken among their top five favorite games, while female video game players preferred Mario Kart and Guitar Hero or Rock Band.
Participants were shown 150 images representing three different stimuli: negative, positive and neutral scenes. One hour later, the students viewed those same images again (along with a new set of 150 "distractor" images) in random order. As each image was displayed, participants had to respond whether or not they had seen it before. Finally, at the end of the experiment, the students completed a self-assessment test regarding their state of emotional arousal.
The researchers believed going into the study that game players would prove to be less sensitive to the negative images and therefore show reduced memory for these materials. The results showed no difference in the memory of video game players and non-players. Exposure to video games were not associated with differences in self-reported arousal to emotional stimuli.
"The findings indicate that long-term emotional memory is not affected by chronic exposure violent video games," said Bowen.
Researchers caution that further study is needed to see if these results apply to all age groups and not just young adults.
"While we are working with young adults, there may be still differences among kids who play VVGs [violent video games]," said Spaniol.
Researchers are already working on a new study that looks at the brain activity of violent video game players while they view emotional images. They also plan to examine what impact chronic exposure to violent video games has on players outside of a lab setting.