Study: Game violence has desensitizing effect

Iowa State researchers find that a violent gaming session can reduce physiological response to footage of real-life violence in the short term.


Playing violent games can desensitize people to real-life violence, a group of Iowa State University researchers have concluded.

Citing a lack of research directly addressing the topic, psychology instructor and research assistant Nicholas Carnagey, ISU distinguished professor of psychology Craig Anderson, and former ISU professor and Brad Bushman (now with the University of Michigan) tested the physiological reactions of 257 college students to footage of real-life violence following 20-minute sessions of gaming.

The group tested the participants' heart rate and Galvanic Skin Response (a measure of the conductivity of the skin that varies when a person experiences feelings, such as fear or anxiety) before 20-minute gameplay sessions and while they watched a 10-minute video tape of real-life violence afterward.

The games in question were Carmageddon, Duke Nukem (presumably one of the first-person shooter installments and not the original platformer), Mortal Kombat, and Future Cop on the violent side, and Glider Pro, 3D Pinball, 3D Munch Man, and Tetra Madness as nonviolent titles. The footage shown to participants consisted of courtroom outbursts, police confrontations, shootings, and prison fights. Their research showed that those who played violent games experienced less dramatic reactions to the violent footage than those who played nonviolent games.

"The present experiment demonstrates that violent video game exposure can cause desensitization to real-life violence," the researchers conclude. They state that the gradual increase of violence into the media children consume as they grow older, from bloodless cartoon violence to more threatening and realistic fare, systematically desensitizes them to violence.

In the future, the trio want researchers to look into whether or not games have a greater desensitizing effect than other forms of media, who is most susceptible to desensitization, and how long the effects actually last. While they call the implications of their research "frightening," they think the desensitizing effect of games could be used positively. For instance, they suggest games could systematically desensitize soldiers and surgeons to the gruesome situations they might find themselves in or help people overcome their fears.

While the Entertainment Software Association's fight against game-restriction laws is playing out in courtrooms across the country, it could very well be determined in the labs of researchers like those from Iowa State. Even free speech protected under the First Amendment can be regulated if the government is found to have a compelling interest in doing so and has chosen the least restrictive means possible to serve that interest. So if advocates of gaming laws can provide convincing proof that exposure to violent games has a harmful effect on children, a judge could rule that the state has a compelling interest in keeping such titles away from minors. And if that happens, many of the game laws currently being contested could be deemed constitutional.

As of press time, the researchers had not responded to GameSpot's requests for comment.

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Avatar image for Callmebrave

It says it does desensitize you if you're susceptible. Not everyone is the same. And it is also the parents fault for not thinking about the health(mental) of their children. After all The devil is sweet.

Avatar image for -Dark_Palladin-

So many "RESEARCHERS" pathetically trying to beat violent games down in some sort of way to reduce and minimize virtual entertainment is really all it boils down to. They'll blame anything outside of lousy parenting because then again: ":lousy parenting has GOTS NoT absoululty any NO affect whatsoever! LOL!!!!:" You know what's sad? There's really two parts to this. Its unfair to say that violent video games always have an effect on children. But then again, it's true that all this does have an effect to varying degrees. You just can't win, no matter what side you take. Personally, I think violence is good only if its in the right hands. If they are serious about preventing violence, they should just continue to enforce "license for games" rule that they got going here wavily. They should not take humanity's pride away with studies againest violent games. I find this 'research' pointless. I don't believe in physiology. There's no way possible to determine a human's reaction to violence, at least to a value to even be minutely worth caring. These clowns saying how soliders will kill each other, sugerons will slaughter their patents, and how people will help other people not be afraid of things because they say a media entertainment featuring Nikoli Carpathy againest Kurt Cameron with duel-wield chainsaw are just plain fools. You gotta love how they blame the games, they probably haven't even experianced how fun or attractive they are. QUIT BLAMING THE GAMES!!!!! IT WON'T DO YOU ANY GOOD!!!

Avatar image for deactivated-5940fed791b8c

I like alot of video games that are violent. I don't take them seriously though.

Avatar image for Crazy_Guns

Pffft... I think it desensitizes me to video and footage but not to real violence in front of me. Whenever I see someone get badly hurt in the real world (i.e. not in a movie or on TV) I still get queasy.

Avatar image for chechak7

waaa kill all zombies kill die die come one violence will never consume me

Avatar image for -Dark_Palladin-

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for BloodMist

Even if true, desensitization does not automatically equal apathy anyway, which is a common misconception of stupid morons.

Avatar image for RockaWuzHur

These people believe that video games encourage violence because games are interactive. which is very stupid

Avatar image for mailbox2112

Shooting good. Me like big explosions

Avatar image for tclvis

In that case, I should think watching yet another Law & Order marathon (of all three series) or a season of CSI (or all three of them, too) would presumably have the same "short-term" effect. Why are violent TV shows ok, but games not?

Avatar image for blackavarbunnie

Um... as Infect said, this study is really pointless. The bottom line here is that it's been proven that seeing a lot of violent images will cause you to be desensitized to seeing... violent images. Wow. It's a tolerance issue. You regularly take dosages of a single drug consecutively, and in the short term that drug will have less and less of an effect on you. You masturbate every half hour, and suddenly jacking off doesn't seem as fun. You eat pizza every day for a week, you enjoy the pizza less and less. The only only variable in this study is whether or not the violent images came from something that actually happened. This desensitization to violent images means nothing. The only way you could really tell if violent games actually desensitize you to real VIOLENCE is by performing a violent act in front of people who've played violent videogames as opposed to people who haven't. And besides, this is all short term anyway, or so says the study. So what's the big deal?

Avatar image for gwar149

it does not matter videos of footage is not the key.. video games look more fake than the video effects today

Avatar image for ojkoj

lol demonjd138, i live in iowa and am an iowa state cyclone fan, and i even find that comment funny!!!

Avatar image for vdarkfall999

I would have to say that CNN plays a larger part in desensitizing people to violence than video games do. Although, I do think Kaos makes an interesting point about the Wii, and possibly the advent of a closer interaction with violence in video games. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Avatar image for Kaos_Reborn

Do you think the advent of the Wii and the ability to physically mimic the actions of, say, beating someone/something and have the action occur in-game will change the way the current-gen violent games are viewed? For example, will we eventually be referring to the "non-motion sensitive" games we have now in the same way we now view Mario in terms of interactive violence?

Avatar image for Postmark_Jensen

Violent images do desensitize. It's that simple. There are two groups here who have their heads in the sand: censoring groups and gamers. Unless both realize that the world isn't comprised of factions and decide to work together, then it is likely that the government will win this obscenely black and white battle. Both sides need to expand their understanding, and stop relying on BS either/or tactics. Perhaps at that time when both meet and discuss this issue rationally, then we will see how petty the fight is and create a better way of handling the issue. Until then, bickering and name calling and pseudo-science will continue. And when it comes to organized outrage and abuse of pseudo-science, well, the government will win.

Avatar image for DemonJD138

Perhaps non-violent games make you overly sensative to videos of real life violence. Ever think of that Iowa State? No! Because you're too busy finding new ways to grow corn!

Avatar image for InfectX

1. Desensitization to a VIDEO does not prove desensitization to REAL LIFE. 2. Desensitization to real-life violence is NOT a bad thing. It doesn't make me more violent; it just means that if I am in a bank and it gets robbed, and somebody gets shot, for example, or if there's a medical emergency, like someone having a heart attack, I'll be better able to deal with the situation and not spaz out like normal people.

Avatar image for DJ_Lae

I wish I could apply for lots of funding so I could prove the obvious too.

Avatar image for darklink676

is this good or bad???

Avatar image for jared81799

this goes in the big book of DUH

Avatar image for starcutter20000

This has been done BEFORE. ONLY THIS TIME hum.. excuse me before a college had one group play DOOM and another play Myst they then pited them against each other in a ccompetitive match and the loser would recive a noise blast (what ever that is). Because they, THEY concluded the ones who played Doom made longer nooise blasts then the ones who played Myst lord behold violent video games spark aggressive behavior. On final note, I can watch the news and become desensitized to violence. However for me all those R movies and Mortal Kombat did the exact opposite, why because the thought of me or anyone doing that to a real human being is distrubing, not when it is fiction like movies, books, and video games. It's fake, if thats the case I guess playing cops and robbers is desensitizing our children as well. (remember the students suspended for playing the game using words like "bazzoka," and "shoot you," pathetic)

Avatar image for 7_armageddon_7

Yeah... That's a logical statement: Of course violent video games de-sensitize people.

Avatar image for taytizzle

Makes sense...I guess...

Avatar image for POICB

I'd be interested to see the results of watching violent real-life footage for 20 minutes and then testing to see how desensitized you are towards violent video games.

Avatar image for jaefrmbk2k

damn retards

Avatar image for 1nme4u

The study is true ! i know that from the first moment i saw mario jump on a goomba and squish him, i was forever marred by that. i am now desensitized to any images of goombas being jumped on! Dont even get me started on my lengthy bout of depression while playing frogger....the cars never even slowed down...:(

Avatar image for SemiMaster

Be thankful that our body deals with things by adapting and becoming less sensitive. Imagine what it would feel like if you constantly felt your heart beat inside your chest, or that loud sound from downstairs never got quieter as you progressed into sleep. They are just taking violent games and applying this physiological phenomenon. Do the same thing for movies or music... oh wait, they did that already.

Avatar image for pwnr

so what if we get less scared watching prison fights? that just means we adapt.

Avatar image for Solidus0185

Is it 1994? I could've sworn I've heard all this before...

Avatar image for snarple_basic

hmmm explains it all so thats why im like this :) I believe its true

Avatar image for Gigastormz

Footage of real life violence is just that, it's footage. The first sentence states they are desensitized to real life violence, not footage. I'm sure if you saw someone ripping someone's head off in real life you'd puke, faint, or have some shocking reaction to it. You can't compare FOOTAGE of violence to the FOOTAGE of violence video games because they're practically the same frickin thing!!!

Avatar image for LordBraz

When was the last time anyone ever played Duke Nukem? Hey, maybe some of you guys should be exposed to some Grammar Rock tapes and see how that affects you. I mean, c'mon, thekey, "weather there?" It's "whether they're." I had to read that three times to realize what you were trying to say.

Avatar image for thekey

I'll speek for my self when I say that violent images weather there in games or graphic violent movies, and graphic novels, does have a desensitizing effect on people, especially young people.(When they develop into adult hood.) Not say that games are the only factors in this desensitizing effect there are many factors such as were they come from, there backround, and what they see growing up. Were I'm from Boston I've see people get stabbed, shot, and even set on fire. It still distrubs me to see things like that, but it doesn't effect as much as it would lets say when I was 5 or 6. Not to say that games are the cause of this but its a number of things, I saw growing up including playing violent videogames, but I LOVE VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES!!!!!

Avatar image for jkr2krz

Here's a thought.. try these studies on stuff like the 6 or 11'o clock news. Domestic problem situations, school yards (yes let the bully chants begin), the radio , etc. Seriously between these constant "studies" and the recent thing with the "student thesis" I think that soon you'll see "Truth" like ads for games.

Avatar image for Andron666

But if you look at it, this implies that we would be overrun by violent psychopaths. This is not the case. Even though millions of people play "violent" games or see "violent" movies. Where I live in Norway there are very little violence and we get the same "violent" movies in cinema and have all the "violent" games. So its a little more complicated than that. And the one time I actually witnessed an violent act in Oslo, it was disturbing.

Avatar image for Chainblast

Being subjected to a display of violent actions can have a desensitizing effect. This can include TV, film, news papers and yes ,videogames. You don't need university researchers to tell you that. Go blast CNN for brodcasting the invasion of Iraq. That'd be a better place to start. However, desensitization is not the singular cause ofviolent actions and behavior, there is more to it then that. Videogames are targeted regularily because it is the only form of visual media a person can interact with. If a kid grows up playing GTA and begins depicting the game in real life then there is something else wrong with the person in question. One might also suggest there is also something wrong with their parents. Parents should know what they're buying for their kids before they buy it. There are no excuses. There are several ways to find out information on a product (in this case a videogame). I hear two popular choices are the internet and asking the clerk at the retailer. When I see someone on the street put his foot through another persons chest or electricute them until their heads explode, I'll take this more seriously.

Avatar image for Yazu13

Of course gaming has a desensitizing effect. I'm surely proof of that, although, not to say I don't get upset when I see or hear of violence, but it's just not very effecting or traumatic to me. Almost every game has you defeating or destroying something or someone, so it's obvious that this would happen especially since your the one who's doing it; virtually of course. However, most people that play games know the seriousness of someone getting hurt or dieing in the real world as opposed to virtual worlds. But, that's not exactly the subject at hand, is it. The subject is that violent games have a desensitizing effect, and I agree completely, but I was merely trying to illustrate the fact that gaming isn't something that will turn people violent or insane (although it sometimes happens, but this has occurred with movies as well), but it does make people less sensitive to violence, and I'm sure it's already been proven.

Avatar image for tr00pa_26

how about the fighting in the middle isnt it horrible? and this other side of the world is thinkin bout video games those "specialist" should really look into the real thing

Avatar image for YukoAsho

It's no secret that media violence (all media violence, not just games) can (not will) cause SHORT TERM desensitization. However, and the courts have made this absolutely clear in throwing out other flash-in-the-pan studies, this isn't enough to suppress speech protected by the 1st Amendment. Scientific analysis - REAL analysis, not this nonsense - has to prove that playing violent videogames = committing violent crimes, and no one has come even close to that equation.

Avatar image for chickenoverlord

Hmmm... interesting finding... can't say it surprises me... this could fare badly for young people wanting to play violent games... For soldiers? I dont know... playing mortal kombat and carmageddon before going to war? are you serious? call of duty or doom3.. maybe... As a real doctor myself, who has performed operations, the thought of using brutally violent games to desensitize yourself prior to surgery just sounds downright stupid! But fun if the government will pay for it! HEAD SHOT!!!! now where's my scalpel? :P

Avatar image for ryanstoy91

I actually think it this test is legitimate. Every gamer I've seen acts normal around a violent situation seen either in real life or on tv. I also think it is feasible that this could be used on surgeons and soldiers to help them be accustomed to dramatic and violent situations.

Avatar image for JLCrogue

Sensitivity is for sissies, anyway!

Avatar image for McDog3

Just because it may "desensitize" you to violence (as with ANY form of media) doesn't mean it will change how you treat others. If you're able to beat someone into the ground without a guilty conscience, you'd do it with or without the violent media. But that's just what I believe.........

Avatar image for Mit_Man

If this ever gets used against gaming, it will be pure garbage and any good lawyer will be able to shoot the point down. It's the exact same (actually, not the same, less extreme) as violent movies' effects, as those usually depict real people in gruesome situations, rather than 3D rendered people.

Avatar image for CyphenX

Yeah, common sence is not so common after all...

Avatar image for ssvegeta555

No one uses commen sense these days do they? Of course voilence will cuase desensitization to voilence! It's amazing how stupid people can get.

Avatar image for Angel_Belial

gamer_10001, I agree with what you say about society in general accepting things that were considered horrible once. When I was a kid it was a big thing to swear badly, and this is when I was ten and eleven years old. These days it's common to hear little five year-olds swearing, and making all sorts of remarks that you might not even hear from people lying in the gutter. I can well imagine that games having a desensitising effect on people, but the consequences of that need to be researched (not just for the sake of children, but the adults who play the games as well). Children just shouldn't be playing violent games they're not old enough for, and these possibly harmful effects are more evidence of that. It's good to see University researches looking into the matter, rather than hearing the regular hype politicians and others like that keep spouting.

Avatar image for screamingdean

I presume they showed violent images to the game playing group before they played games to see what their "normal" reaction was. It could be seeing violent video footage would'nt trouble them anyway. It does'nt make it clear if they did, in which case the result could be misleading. I've seen tests like these before where the "science" used is questionable. Also who paid for the study? Scientists and the like don't do this kind of thing for free... And a lot of "research" in the past has been paid for by "Family" pressure groups and the like, not that it's the case here too. Or is it?