New research from the University at Buffalo Department of Communication, Michigan State University, and the University of Texas Austin, suggests that playing out "heinous behavior" in video games can lead to players being more sensitive to the moral codes in the real world that they violated in the virtual one.
The findings come from a study led by Matthew Grizzard, PhD, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication, and co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin.
"Rather than leading players to become less moral," Grizzard says, "this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others."
The study, "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," was published online and in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
Grizzard points out that several recent studies have found that committing bad or immoral behavior in a video game often elicits feelings of guilt in the players who commit them. His research found that these real feelings of guilt often lead players to be more sensitive to the moral issues they violated during game play.
"We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior," Grizzard says.
During the course of the study researchers induced guilt in participants by having them play a video game where they violated two of five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.
"We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated—those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity," Grizzard says. The first includes behaviors marked by cruelty, abuse and lack of compassion, and the second, by injustice or the denial of the rights of others.
"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," Grizzard says. "This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users."
Grizzard notes that specific definitions of moral behavior in each domain will vary from culture to culture and situation to situation.
"For instance," he says, "an American who played a violent game 'as a terrorist' would likely consider his avatar's unjust and violent behavior—violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains—to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a 'UN peacekeeper.'"
The study involved 185 subjects who were randomly assigned to either a guilt-inducing condition as a terrorist (and/or were asked to recall real-life acts that induced guilt in a real-life situation) or as a UN soldier (and/or asked to recall a real-life acts that did not induce guilt). After completing the video game or the memory recall, participants completed a three-item guilt scale and a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire to assess the importance of the five moral domains.
The study was co-authored by Ron Tamborini, PhD, professor, Department of Communication, Michigan State University; Robert J. Lewis, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Texas, Austin; and Lu Wang, a former graduate student in the Department of Communication at Michigan State.
Source: Medical Xpress