Study: Violent games can desensitize players

New research finds frequent exposure to violent games can have numbing effect on teenagers, though no cause-and-effect relationship proven.

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Frequent exposure to violent games can desensitize players to brutality, according to the results of new research.

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The study, as explained by Health Day, focused on 30 teenage boys, aged 13 to 15, divided into two groups. One group played violent games for three or more hours a day (high exposure), while the other played such games for less than an hour (low exposure).

Researchers then tracked the boys' attitudes after playing a violent game (Manhunt) and a non-violent game (Animaniacs). Each game was played for two hours on separate evenings.

"Differences between the boys' reactions emerged later in the night after gaming. During sleep, the boys in the low-exposure group who played the violent game had faster heart rates and poorer quality of sleep than those in the high-exposure group," Health Day writes. "The boys in the low-exposure group also reported increased feelings of sadness after playing the violent game."

The study, published in the May issue of Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, concluded that both groups of boys exhibited higher anxiety and stress levels after playing the violent game.

"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," said Stockholm University researcher Malena Ivarsson. "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."

The researchers concluded that the disparity between the two groups' responses suggests continual exposure to violent games could have a "desensitizing effect" on players.

Notably, however, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to violent games and desensitization to brutality. In addition, researchers explained that adolescents with "certain traits" may be more attracted to violent games than others.

Violent games have been a heated topic in the wake of the December schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead. The shooter was reportedly a "deranged gamer."

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