Research: Frequent Exposure to Violent Games May Have ‘Desensitizing Effect’

A new study led by Malena Ivarsson from the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University (Stockholm, Sweden) comes to the conclusion that teens who have been overexposed to violent content may become desensitized to it.

The findings are part of research ("The Effect of Violent and Nonviolent Video Games on Heart Rate Variability, Sleep, and Emotions in Adolescents With Different Violent Gaming Habits") published in the May issue of the American Psychosomatic Society's Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

The study divided 30 teenage boys (ages 13 – 15) into two groups; one group – called the high exposure group – played violent video games for three hours or more a day, while the other group played for an hour or less a day. Researchers had participants play Manhunt and Animaniacs for two hours each on different evenings. Following these play sessions researchers monitored the participants' heart rate and sleep habits.

They found that children in the low-exposure group who played the violent game had faster heart rates and trouble sleeping. They also reported feeling sad after playing Manhunt. Both groups had higher stress and anxiety levels after playing the violent game, according to researchers.

"The violent game seems to have elicited more stress at bedtime in both groups, and it also seems as if the violent game in general caused some kind of exhaustion," wrote Malena Ivarsson, of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University in Sweden, and colleagues. "However, the exhaustion didn't seem to be of the kind that normally promotes good sleep, but rather as a stressful factor that can impair sleep quality."

Researchers concluded that "the differences between the two groups' physical and mental responses suggest that frequent exposure to violent video games may have a desensitizing effect." Researchers did caution that this study did not prove "a cause-and-effect relationship," noting that "boys with certain traits" may simply be "attracted to violent games."


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  1. 0

    Anyone capable of telling the difference between fantasy and reality are going to treat both differently. Real violence elicits a completely different response to fake violence but nice of them to expose those kids to Manhunt of all games. I can watch a movie or play a game with heads/limbs/whatever severed with no issue without giving it a second thought but the video I saw back in 1999 or early 2000 of a guy who was kidnapped and beheaded by still bothers crap out of me when I think about it.

  2. 0
    Lisa Pham says:

    Well, that's BREAKING NEWS to me… NOT.

    Of course frequent exposure to violence would have a desensitising effect on people, especailly children because they're more vulnerable.

    BUT… the same would go for watching many scary movies when you're a child like I did… I no longer get scared watching ANY supposedly scary movie. I say supposedly scary because to me they're not scary at all anymore.

    But then look at how it would effect a child/teen if they're exposed to frequent violence in their own home… it would eventually effect them the same way.

    Desensitisation from movies, games, books, etc…doesn't automatically mean you carry that into your real life and and become more violent and more acceptable of violence around you. There is a clear difference between real and unreal. Only people with mental deficianecies that can or does cause violent tendencies will be truly effected by it and carry what they see, read and play into their real lives, but then it's up to the people who care for them (parents/caregivers) to recognise that and do whatever is needed to eliminate that kind of thing.

    It all boils down to this, if you have a violent tendency for whatever reason, then violent games, movies, books and any other media that would influence them should be avoided. 

    Who's been reading the news lately where all the small children have had access to guns and either shot and killed themselves or someone else? It's no different when you really look at it… Kids and guns don't mix, but stupid parents actually leave the guns laying around where the kids can access them… Common sense didn't prevail then either, but it should have… the problem could be easily solved by locking away the guns where they CAN'T be accessed.

    Take the same stance with violent media and eleminate the same sort of issues. There is no need to stop making violent video games, movies, writing books, or whatever, but don't let the wrong ages have access to them and don't let people who have violent tendencies have access either. It's not doing them or anyone else any good by doing giving them the access. We have age restrictions for most media for a very good reason.

    It's called Common Sense… use that in all situations and things can only get better.

  3. 0
    Hevach says:

    That last step is always the one where they stop. They get to the top of the stairs, but nobody ever opens the door to look in the attic.

    There was one study about sex and pornography that did take the last step: People who watch a great deal of pornography may stop being aroused by "simple" displays like striptease or missionary sex, but are still aroused by an actual striptease and are fine with simple sex in their own lives. To get the same kind of desensitization to real sex generally required similar overstimulation with real sex.

    If violence works the same way, that would suggest desensitization to real violence comes more from exposure to real violence than fantasy violence. Except a lot more people have the opportunity to become desensitized to sex (that "lost spark" after a few years of marriage, for example), and they're more likely to seek out more extreme options for greater enjoyment.

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    Avalongod says:

    I think this was pretty fair too. I buy the notion that we become desensitized to media violence itself over time…that's pretty straightforward.  The question is whether that transfers to real-life violence, and it's good the authors were cautious about making such inferences.

  5. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Would like to see the test how it translates to the real world.

    I've been playing violent video games since early middle school and I can't stand the idea of hurting anyone or anything in real life.

  6. 0
    axiomatic says:

    Yeah at least the study was fair. As I have mentioned before… I am easily more moved to emotion by books than any other medium. To single out games is disingenuous.


  7. 0
    Sam-LibrarIan Witt says:

    Violent books were desensitizing to me. Just insert some form of entertainment/culture after the word 'violent' and pretty much anything can have this effect.

  8. 0
    Mr.Tastix says:

    I've actually always agreed that violent games can desensitize people. It certainly did for me and a few of my friends. But so can violent television and movies.

    It's certainly not enough to cause people to go and kill others because of it, and I respect the fact they point that out.

  9. 0
    GiffTor says:

    Glad they didn't indicate causation (and that they went out of the way to point that out). Manhunt's pretty brutal (although old). That's a pretty small study group, too. Crossing my fingers that the mainstream media either doesn't notice this or pays attention to that last paragraph. 

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