Games Might Not Desensitise Us To Violence After All

Games Might Not Desensitise Us To Violence After All

The “video games desensitise children to violence” argument is a popular weapon in the arsenal of the anti-violent video game crowd. A new study finds violent games to have no effect on long-term emotional memory at all.

Researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto led by Holly Bowen, a PhD candidate in psychology, gathered a group of 122 male and female undergraduate students in both gaming and non-gaming flavours to act as test monkeys in an experiment that would determine the effect of violent gaming on long-term emotional memory. Among the 45 students that had reported video game exposure in the six months prior to the study, games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty titles ranked high on their list of favourite games.

The students were all shown a series of 150 images depicting negative, positive and neutral scenes. An hour later they were shown the same scenes with a series of 150 distractor images randomly mixed in. During the second set of images, students were asked to identify whether they had seen each card before.

Researchers believed that the students that regularly played video games would be less sensitive to violent imagery, and would therefore not remember the negative pictures as readily as students that did not play games.

This was not the case. Gamers and non-gamers showed no significant differences in their recollections. On top of that, a questionnaire regarding students’ emotion arousal following the experiment showed no differences as well.

“The findings indicate that long-term emotional memory is not affected by chronic exposure violent video games,” said Bowen.

Bowen and colleagues caution that the results are those from adolescents and not children, and that children could still prove more impressionable.

It’s a little flimsy, but then so is any experiment people arguing these issues like to toss around. Use it in good health.

Gamers May Not be Desensitized by Violent Video Games [Ryerson University]


  • Alot of sane people view video games just like they would with football, its a game nothing more. Ive played many many violent games and i have never had a urge to harm someone physically.

    It all comes down to parenting and and physical living role models in your life, not fictional games, music or movies.

    • There is nothing wrong with having those urges… it’s lacking restraint and acting upon them that is the problem.

      • U r kidding right? Is it ok for a pedophile to have urges, as long as he doesn’t act? If you have urges to harm someone, THAT IS a problem.

        Interesting article anyway

  • It still sounds a lot more valid than anything I’ve heard on the other side of the debate. I wish someone who was arguing in favour of games would read up on a whole lot of these studies in favour of games. Then go into a debate with this evidence, and then when anyone else who brings up supposed ‘studies’ refute them until they can bring real evidence.

    So many times I hear people quote these ‘dozens of studies’ that show that violent games lead to violent kids, or desensitizes children, but noone every quotes a specific study. I’m sure most of the ‘studies’ are entirely biased anyway and wouldn’t stand up to any kind of real scientific inquiry but they don’t even get that far, they just claim they exist, spout of a couple of random facts that they could have just made up and keep talking.

    The problem is that even if the sources these people use are unreliable, or maybe even made up, people assume that they are speaking the truth.

  • Video game and cinema violence has completely desensitised me to… video game and cinema violence. Show me some real life violent imagery and I start turning pale…

    • I’m exactly the same.

      Seriously, when I see footage of violent acts towards real humans I actually get physically sick.

      This is despite playing a number of FPSs which – according to the well (un)informed – should make me a super sniper.

  • Black Ops pushed the boundary of acceptable game violence with me… All of the scripted assassination\torture attacks made my stomach churn during the playout of the scenes. I felt dirty, wrong – like I was being forced to perform those actions. Gave me a whole new respect and sadness for people out on the front line that actually do this stuff…

  • I feel that violent media across all formats has desensitised me to violence in general. I wouldn’t object to all violent media being restricted to adults only.

  • This is something we already know.
    One important fact seems to be overlooked in all of the “games cause violence” and “games desensitise violence” arguments, that is that we are able to easily distinguish fantasy from reality from an extremely early age.

    And its all very well to say “Yeah, games have desensitised me to violence” until you are actually faced with some true reality violence. Then you realise just how horrific it is and just how affected you are.

  • Im definitely not desensitised at all. I saw the entire 20 minutes of that “Collateral Murder” video, and it absolutely horrified me, I was pale, my hands shook, I felt like vomiting. Now give me that same situation in a video game (since the reference to Call of Duty has been made, I’ll use that) and I would have killed them no worries (minus the civilian deaths).

    I can make the connection, because I know the difference. I have not been desensitised to real world violence at all. Now a situation like the one in that movie Gamer would probably turn me off of games for good.

  • That is a terrible experiment. I work in a neuro science institute, and although I’m more molecular biology based even I can see that the test used doesn’t test for long term emotional memory. They have no indicator for a positive outcome.

    They would have to get a bunch of people who are known to be desensitized to violence to fail the test. Even then that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t remember the pictures an hour later. It is more about how good your recall is than the impact of the images.

    When we test mice for memory we do it a day later not an hour, and that is for short term tests.

  • Going off my limited knowledge of brain development, the common feature is that the human brain continues to develop until early 20’s / late teens. During this time a whole range of factor can influence our world views and the way we interact with people.

    Going off a purely common sense stand point, this is the time during which exposure to violent material of any source would have the greatest chance to impact upon a person.

    Hence the rating systems which are in place around the world. Currently there isn’t enough knowledge of the way that the brain develops and establishes connections to say conclusively one way or the other if violent games can desensitize children to violence.

    My feeling is that children shouldn’t be exposed to high impact violence of any form, and that adults should be allowed to decide for themselves. (Hence why i hate the nanny state feel Australia is developing/ has developed)

  • I know for myself I have been playing violent games for years… I cannot stomach watching hospital shows where they are cutting people open, makes me want to gag!

    Thats just me though I guess, I doubt we are ever going to have conclusive studies on the matter but I think at the end of the day our judgement should win over. We should be able to discern what is inappropriate for our kids and act accordingly

  • The lead designer of AvP (I think) put it correctly. It was an intensely violent game, and yet he stated that he wasn’t violent at all. I’m the same way even thought it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

    I’ve been playing violent games (MA) since a young age, and I still remember Diablo creeping me out a little but I’m incredibly nonchalant about a lot of things. By critic’s logic, I should have enacted several school shootings and raped someone by now.

    It’s your upbringing, which involves many aspects that makes you, you. People at school, teachers, parents, etc. all affect you.

  • Has anybody stopped to think if the news is making us desensitised to violence? We see horrific and REAL images on the news, such as riots etc…are these constant images the problem? Most people seem to have a grasp on real and fake when it comes to games/movies but exposing us to real images is quite different

  • This seems like a really weird study, i mean desensitisation means you dont really react that much to violence in any sort of negative way, stuff like God of War and the like didnt freak me out in the slightest but i can still remember them clear as day. Seems strange that he seems to make desensitisation the same thing as ignoring it.

    Not to mention no real control based on a persons individual memory capabilities.

  • My son now 17, has frequently played violent games since he was about 12, if i had known then what an impact they would have on him, i would never of allowed it, he started on games like grand theft auto and now call of duty’s, i strongly believe he is desensitized, addicted not only that can sometimes lose sense of reality.These games played for long periods over years are damaging our kids

    • you’re talking about having let your son play age-inappropriate games for many years? and you’re blaming the games?

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