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Posted 12.07.05

Video Violence Males 'Chronic Players' Prone to Real World Aggression

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Video games such as Gun and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas might be at the top of many Christmas lists this year, despite their graphic violent content and mature ratings. These games might be mere entertainment to some, but a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that playing these violent games changes a person's brain function and desensitizes chronic players to real world violence.

"Most of us naturally have a strong aversion to the sight of blood and gore," said Bruce Bartholow, assistant professor of psychological sciences at MU. "Surgeons and soldiers may need to overcome these reactions in order to perform their duties. But, for most people, a diminished reaction to the effects of violence is not adaptive. It can reduce inhibitions against aggressive behavior and increase the possibility of inflicting violence on others."

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Bartholow, along with Brad Bushman from the University of Michigan and Marc Sestir at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asked 39 male undergraduate students how often they played their five favorite video games and how violent the games were. Next, the researchers showed participants a series of images on a computer screen, including emotionally neutral images, such as a man raiding a bicycle; violent images, such as a man holding a gun to another man's head; and negative, but nonviolent images, such as a dead dog. As participants viewed these images, the researchers measured a type of brainwave, known as P300, which is believed to reflect how people evaluate images like these.

After viewing the pictures, participants were told that the last part of the experiment involved a competition with another participant to see who could press a button faster following a series of tones. Before each tone, participants set the level of a noise blast that their opponent would receive if the opponent lost. There actually was no opponent.

The researchers found that the participants who routinely played violent video games showed less brain reactivity, measured by diminished amplitude of the P300 brainwaves, when they viewed the violent images compared to the equally negative, nonviolent image. They also found that the smaller a participant's brain response to violent images, the more aggressively he behaved during the final part of the experiment.

"These findings are among the first to link chronic violent video game play, diminished brain responses and aggressive behavior," Bartholow said. "People often assume that any negative effects of playing violent games are short-lived, but these results suggest that repeated exposure to violent video games has lasting negative consequences for both brain function and behavior."

This study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.



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