Violent games linked to lowered sympathy in kids - Study

Simmons College researcher finds children exposed to more violent games for longer periods of time less able to sympathize with others.

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While a host of research into the effects of violent games on children have focused on whether or not the exposure makes the kids more aggressive themselves, a new study published in the Journal of Children and Media took a different tack. In a survey of 166 Boston, MA, and southern New Hampshire schoolchildren, Simmons College professors Edward T. Vieira and Marina Krcmar examined the relationship between violent games and kids' attitudes toward violence.

Sympathizing with Niko Bellic may make kids less able to sympathize with actual people.

The pair surveyed the kids (aged 7 to 15) about their favorite games and how many hours they played a week and then asked them questions to gauge their ability to sympathize with others, to see things from a different person's perspective, and whether they saw violence as an appropriate response in situations where it would be deemed justified (violence in retaliation to harm done or for protection) or unjustified. Among the games deemed violent and listed as kids' favorites were Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Counter-Strike, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and World of Warcraft.

"To make a judgment about violence, at least two skills are necessary," the paper explains. "First, a child must be able to imagine the point-of-view of both parties in the aggressive conflict. Second, he/she should be able to feel some sympathy or imagine some sympathy towards each party. Only at this point can a moral judgment be appropriately made."

The researchers found that children with more exposure to violent games were less able to sympathize with others. The study also found that violent-game players tended to have different perceptions on whether justified violent acts were permissible, though there was no discernable association for unjustified violent acts.

"Those who play more violent video games perceive violence in the name of retaliation and self-protection as more justified, much like the view of violence presented in video games," according to the paper.

Interestingly, children with less ability to sympathize were more likely to accept unjustified violence but showed no significant deviation when it came to acceptance of justified violence.

When asked about that finding, Vieira told GameSpot, "Exposure to violent video games is directly associated with justified violence. Therefore, there are cases where violence is justified such as self-defense or defending loved ones. One might have a 'normal' ability to empathize, for example, and see some types of violence as acceptable. We could apply this to societal issues such as capital punishment and wars.

"On the other hand, the study suggests that children who are heavy violent gamers are associated with less perspective-taking (empathy ability), and less perspective-taking predicts gratuitous violence (unjustified) as acceptable. This appears to make sense, because it suggests that there is no 'reason' for the violence; it is done for its own sake or some emotional motive. It intimates that the unjustified condition requires other factors such as perspective-taking. Therefore, the unjustified condition does involve gaming exposure, but gaming exposure mediated by the cognitive ability to perspective-take."

The paper notes a few limitations of the research, including the small sample size. Additionally, the researchers pointed to a previous study that suggested the amount of time spent gaming may have negative effects even apart from violent content, so it's difficult to say whether the type of content or the amount of exposure is more impactful. Tying into that was the study's method of calculating game violence, which was based solely on Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings. The professors suggested that basing such a metric on other ratings systems instead of ESRB categories may be a more effective way of gauging the level of violence.

Discussion

455 comments
Agent3sephiroth
Agent3sephiroth

What's more violent? A video game that allows you to entertain a fictional role of killing people, or a poor economical and political model that shows little sympathy for the effects of poverty and little restraint at invading other nations!

fadersdream
fadersdream

as a scientist i HATE bad science. and this is nothing but bad science.

fadersdream
fadersdream

Another article on games done by a christian fundamentalist. great.

raptures330
raptures330

Another violence in games affects kids in a bad way editorial. This isn't getting stale or boring. More activity fodder. Ill throw my 2 cents in. Niko had every right to go catnip crazy in that town. I applaud him for it. Screw NPCs. I don't sympathize with them.

zaiderules
zaiderules

im 14 and i play ton of violent video games and im just fine well i think am its hard to see your self from you own perspective

Adam_the_Nerd
Adam_the_Nerd

Thanks for telling us more stuff we already know. but as usual, it comes down to the parents and older siblings, etc to set a good example for the young'uns.

maxwell97
maxwell97

When you think about it, how many people really DESERVE sympathy?

organbank
organbank

Umm when you can google GORE and watch graphic real life footage of people being dismembered alive I kind of think there are bigger problems that kids face now-a-days than "violent" video games.

SuperYeti22
SuperYeti22

Truth is, it's really about how kids are raised, not the games they play, it's the parent's responsiblity to control what games they play, and talk with them, teach them the difference between what's real and what's a game. Honestly, the world would be a better place if parents stop worrying about their kid's video games and start worrying about what happens in their actual lives. And little 7yr olds generally shouldn't be playing mortal kombat. WHAT STUPID PARENT BUYS THAT GAME FOR THEIR KIDS?

DaRadRussian
DaRadRussian

@Failed2Live I'm not saying I don't agree with the rating system. GTA and other games are rated M for reasons so a little kid doesn't even belong playing it in the first place. But, you know they do. And just because they do does not make the unsympathetic towards others

DaRadRussian
DaRadRussian

@Failed2Live It's a game. It does not really have any relevance to the real life. I'm pretty sure a little five year old that plays GTA knows it's not right to go kill random people on the street. Kids aren't stupid. And just because they enjoy killing NPCs or opponents that are digitized does not mean that they are unsympathetic murderers.

blackwingzero
blackwingzero

This is a perfect example of why the Rating system needs to be enforced. Sure they're are some violent games that younger kids can play like some FPS games but there has to be a point when it is simply not apropiate for a child to play a certain game regardless of its genera.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

anyway, keep the damn kids off of cod...it ruins that game when you have some stupid kids screaming and swearing down the mic.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

well the 7-15 year old kids that play games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Counter-Strike, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and World of Warcraft. are more likely to have irresponsible parents (due to allowing their kids on those game)...therefore it may be down to the way the parents brought up their kids, rather than the games. (to be honest i was playing similar games when i was that age, lol, im not saying all parents that allow their kids on violent games are irresponsible, but they are more likely to be) there could be so many other causes to this, rather than games, i think a lot more research would have to be done to draw up any conclusions.

GeneralArrow
GeneralArrow

I bet this study would work with some of the other groups as well...why do games have to be the new CD's? I'm highly sympathetic towards others and some of my first games were Diablo and Castle Wolfenstein. This research should be labeled as inconclusive because they didn't consider they factors such as house hold and environment they have grown up in.

Failed2Live
Failed2Live

@DaRadRussian Kids need to be sympathetic and understand consequences as well. Are you saying it's okay for a 7 to 13 year old kid not to understand that when someone dies it can make people sad? That is an ignorant statement. They need to understand consequences because if they do some of the things that are portrayed in these games that they play there will be SERIOUS consequences. I understand that all Children are not like that but some of these kids parents don't even raise them. They have a video game console and the Internet.

DaRadRussian
DaRadRussian

I only play violent video games. I plan to join the Army. I'm still sympathetic. I think this research is an absolute waste of time. These are little kids who don't really understand consequences. I was a kid once too. I hate how everyone is acting like gamers are all a bunch of nerds or social outcasts. I do have a social life other than my Xbox and I am not a violent person.

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

This is a crock of the usual. I'd like to know what other factors of this sample group's day-to-day activities they took into account. What about home life? How much do their parents educate them about right and wrong, reality and fiction?

TheTrainer1980
TheTrainer1980

@Ghetto_ninja Sympathy is a weakness? You sure sound like the "typical man". Someone who scratches their balls in public, doesn't open doors for elderly, eats meat and drinks. You really don't sound very educated.

Cillerboy
Cillerboy

@jamyskis no but thats because all 13 yr olds r like that :P

Xellos976
Xellos976

who made Jack(ass) Thompson the head of the study?

Ghetto_ninja
Ghetto_ninja

Sympathy is a weakness so I see this as advantageous to those of us who enjoy playing video games with copious amounts of violence.

gamertagWill
gamertagWill

@X-7 dont use the word legit unless u are using it for its ACTUAL meaning. legit means trained in an operatic singing tradition so unless this study needs to sing opera just use LEGITIMATE

X-7
X-7

Interesting study. Although from what I understand WOW is not violent at all. :P To make this study more legit they need to have a bigger sample and in various areas of the country. Possibly, add other countries for a more comprehensive view.

khariss
khariss

lol i started playing mortal kombat when i was just 6 im 24 this year and most people consider me to be a very caring person so id say it depends on who you are

Nerissa
Nerissa

What parent let there 7 year old play violent games, bad parenting

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

ok, first off, i own and love Saints Row 2, and i rob and kill people in said game alot, sometimes just for fun. in real life? highly sympathetic, hell im actually one of the few people who defends Charlie Sheen........somewhat (i think he seriously needs help.......and to be kept away from drugs)

VintAge68
VintAge68

One shouldn't confound the order of things the original phenomenon being not video games but violence as such nourishing itself from any source if there is yet some tendency however originating elsewhere (one might just consider that video games are recent while acts of violence clearly are not). However, while it is clear that educational efforts cannot be left to video games alone, there are also examples where the player may benefit from being empathic; e.g., commander Shepard of Mass Effect 2 characterizes him/herself through a particularly "samaritan" behavior when (optionally) intervening positively in others' personal problems as is, helping them by means of medical aid, credits, information research, even shopping lists, the reward being additional points for experience or virtue... So, without blaming video games, perhaps sometimes there should be just some more elements forcing some kind of perspective-taking while still being incentive, i.e., without compromising the player's own progress within the gameplay's context...

Allan_X
Allan_X

I think they need to widen the age range a bit, otherwise the findings are worthless.

jamyskis
jamyskis

Have you ever met a 13-year-old who gave a damn about the plight of others?

Vozlov
Vozlov

I'm less sympathetic because I play computer games? B.S. This study sounds like a complete sham and utter waste of time. Sounds like a load of overtly liberal douchebags with nothing better to do. Gaming is still considered a fringe entertainment yet people are paid to come up with these theoretical arse hat theories? Sounds like investment will only come in for results people want to see. How about a study into contact sports and empathetic responses? Car racing and joyriders? No, we have to waste our time studying a group of people mostly associated as socially awkward, generally arse***** by anonymity, and extremely susceptible to other peoples expectations, yet are shocked when we get results like this?

LOXO7
LOXO7

I'm all for studies against young gamers.

StJimmy15
StJimmy15

If anything it makes you MORE sympathetic in a way. You've seen both sides, you know what people do.

Superiorness
Superiorness

Honestly, I don't even think kids 13 or under even know how to gauge their own opinions adequately enough for accurate data.

aryanbrar
aryanbrar

kids playing 17+ games is bad parenting. i hate to say but there's a reason games have a rating.

THE_DRUGGIE
THE_DRUGGIE

Maybe the researchers should've played Ico. That ending...every time ;_;

juberline
juberline

@Mickleohb your closing comment is an intriguing one. it may be true that kids that don't sympathize to a... hmm, say a "normal" degree that psychologists are trying to achieve with this test. but with a gaming market thats packed with games like Call Of Duty, Gears Of War, GTA, Bioshock and so that it's hard not for them to get sucked into this so called "violent" trend of games. It may have an affect but as you said it's hard to tell but i feel as though you can't pin the blame on just one thing. Good point though

juberline
juberline

oh yes, after playing the original GTA, Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Manhunt... i didn't sympathize with anyone. i locked myself away for weeks planning revenge on the world!!!....... yeah right, whatever!!! i don't get all this "video games are destroying the children" along with other things it aprently does. games don't make people bad, yes i love to shotgun somebody in the face then follow it up with a good old teabaging on halo, or do an evil laugh as i devour heats in the darkness, but it doesnt make me not want 2 sympathize with people in the real world. just seems like an easy thing to blame and it's all by people who probably don't play games, or people who havent since Pac Man was all the rage and people could buy a litre of petrol for under a pound.

DarkGamerkill
DarkGamerkill

This story is completely bogus theres no true facts proving there theory and furthermore sympathy cant be studied or rated how can you make an analysation that a child will sympathize less because they played a violent video game sympathy is how the child connects and interacts with the real world and there religion not beating up a few people in grand theft auto.

nhh3smith
nhh3smith

I dont get why they did the study on it after all this subject has been researched many times.

jimmyzeke13
jimmyzeke13

lol how many times can you do the same test?

X-RS
X-RS

"Mortal Kombat Deception" = FAKE! duh 0.o

Mickleohb
Mickleohb

@killarse 1) I'm pretty sure they can. I have talked to my current roommate and I can definitely tell that his ability to sympathize is lower than mine. 2) It's a psychology experiment. Psychology is very a accepted area of science (or "social science" if you prefer). Don't just dismiss something because you disagree with it (which I assume you do). I doubt that you would have made that comment if the study found that violent games led to increased sympathy in kids. Also, this article is not saying that kids who play violent video games will turn into violent psychopaths. It's just saying that kids who play them are generally less sympathetic (it doesn't even say how much less). Heck, maybe kids with lower sympathy skills are drawn to violent games. More studies need to be conducted.

killarse
killarse

1. You can't quantify "sympathy". 2. They have stupid studies like this because the school had to find $ to blow. and the so called "researcher" can never find a real job outside of school.

darkcomedian
darkcomedian

I don't think a majority of kids turn into horribly violent psychopaths because of video games, but I do find it to be conclusive that popular video games such as Call of Duty, do expose children to violence in a profoundly disturbing way. As I said, I do not believe that kids turn violent and crazy because of video games, but you really have to think about what you are exposing your 7 year old to at such an impressionable age. You are exposing them to a world of violence that should be, for the most part, sheltered at such a young age in order for them to retain their innocence. I also think that these studies (and any amount of time playing any popular video game online) reveal how much parents do not care because the odds are likely that their kid will not go on a shooting spree, and how little they care about their childrens' desensitization to graphic war violence. Overall, I worry that these games with such graphic content can really turn a child jaded, too exposed to a violent world at such an age, but not necessarily that they will go kill people in real life. What is equally disturbing is how parents think about video games their children play. I've heard from parents multiple times "Oh they are just shooting bad guys" or some variation of that, and their lack of care deserves a study of its' own.

Loz_44
Loz_44

Reactions to games are too subjective to accurately measure. As is justified and unjustified violence. A discussion between six people at a dinner party will swiftly prove that. Try it and see. Besides, 7 - 15 years olds are not complete people at that age. As they continue to grow and mature their attitudes will shift appropriately. And I've been playing games since I was 9. I LOVED Doom and blowing up demons when I was a kid. I know the difference between pixellated enemies and flesh and blood human beings. Anyone who has trouble telling the difference....well, their reaction to games are the LEAST of their problems. If someone's a sick f**k they're a sick f**k, and that's that. No game will make them worse. Psychopaths have no empathy, no ability to connect with the rest of humanity on any emotional or compassionate level. What difference will a game make to such a mind? With today's games finally having the rating system they are worthy of, children should be protected from the most mature content anyway, GTA IV being a case in point, and any parent who stupidly provides it for them thinking games are just 'for kids' needs educating, and a big fat fine to teach them a lesson. The rating system should leave the rest of us well-rounded young kids and adults to enjoy the games on every level, and to try and continue to educate the ignorant, fearful non-gamers out there as to their value.

True_Chaos_UK
True_Chaos_UK

I have no sympathy for these unsympathetic kids.

SaltyMeatballs
SaltyMeatballs

One of these again... TBH I don't care (OMG I have no sympathy) about these "findings" as they shouldn't be playing those named games.