Toggle Menu
  1. Home/
  2. Tech & Science/
  3. Discoveries/

Violent video games do not reduce emphatic responses, new study finds

The effects of violent video games, especially on youngsters, have long been discussed and with more and more access to consoles and the internet, the issue of how these games impact users have been the focus point of several scientific studies. A new research has centered on one particular ability, our empathic responses to painful situations, to assess if these violent games actually lead to desensitization.

Empathy has been defined as our ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, more simply, our capacity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspectives. This ability, psychologists say, has been crucial to our social evolution and one form of empathy in particular has actually helped, scientists say, humans to survive and thrive.

Pain empathy means that we can recognition and understand another person’s pain and from an evolutionary perspective, this ability has made humans capable of giving aid to the injured and prevent injuring themselves. Neuroscience has shown that the feelings of pain and pain empathy occur as a result of similar processes within the brain and the response is automatic. When seeing someone receive a painful stimuli, our brain is wired to respond and MRI machines have linked pain empathy with electric activity in the inferior frontal gyrus and the inferior parietal lobule.


Research has also shown that sufferers of autism and schizophrenia lack this ability and so do those diagnosed with sadistic personality disorder, psychopathy, and sociopathy. And others have argued that today’s exposure to violent video games could make humans lose this ability with players becoming more and more desensitized.

Shooter games are among those bringing on the biggest revenues and are some of the most popular video games on the market. According to Fortune Magazine, last year, the most popular video game was Call of Duty: Infinite War, with Battlefield 1 coming in second and Tom Clancy’s The Division being ranked third. The violence associated with shooter-style games has prompted the ongoing discussion about how this virtual aggression impacts players.

Scientists from China looked particularly at the impact of violent video games on the players’ pain empathy and found that there is no cause for concern. They conducted a double study and found that people that played violent video games and those that played non-violent video games had the same brain response when looking at pictures suggesting physical pain.

Researchers from the Southwest University in Chongqing selected the participants by looking at their gaming history. Participants were asked to list three their favorite video games, indicate the number of hours they played each game in a week, and then rate the violence of their content and graphics. After forming two groups, one with players of violent games and the other consisting of players of non-violent video games, the participants were presented with eighty digital color pictures showing people’s hands, forearms, or feet in painful or non-painful situations.

The scientists measured the neural responses of participants in order to discern if there were any differences in the way in which players of non-violent games responded, compared to those that were engaged with aggressive games. The data from the final analysis, collected from 35 participants, including 18 participants in the violent game group and 17 participants in the non-violent group, showed no differences.

This analysis led the psychologists to conclude that there were ample reasons to infer that playing violent video games does not lead desensitization.

Sylvia Jacob