Gamers More Numb To Pain, Others' Misery, Say Australian Scientists

Gamers More Numb to Pain, Others' Misery, Say Scientists

I'm not sure what to make of this study, by researchers in Australia and Germany. On a literal level, RPG gamers are better than others at fishing paper clips out of a container of ice-cold water. Scientists think that means they're desensitised either to pain or, going further, important life events, even.

The study, recently published by the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, tested the reactions of those who played immersive video games, particularly RPGs. Participants were surveyed on how much time they spend each week playing video games. Then their pain tolerance was measured by the number of paper clips they could pull out of a container of very cold water. They performed that task again after playing video games.

"The immersive video-game players exhibited a reduced sensitivity to pain and removed significantly more paperclips from ice-cold water," reports Science Daily today. "They were also more indifferent to people depicted as experiencing displeasure than were the nonimmersive players."

The researchers, from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany and Melbourne University in Australia, connect this to a human performing the actions of "an automaton-like avatar." In particular, Dr Ulrich Weger, of Witten/Herdecke, says it indicates a "blurring of reality" that comes from virtual environments where it is normal to regard computers and robots as functioning like human beings — whether that is in conversation or action.

Weger notes, somewhat gravely, that people should work on "our awareness of what it really means to be human. We should also look into how we can best make use of the beneficial applications of robotic or artificial intelligence advances, so as to be able to use our freed up resources and individual potentials wisely rather than becoming enslaved by those advances."

If it's true that playing immersive games, particularly role-playing games in which players create a totally new identity, dull one's humanity, then I suppose it explains anecdotal instances where children die or are harmed by the negligence of MMO-addicted parents — incidents that have gotten a lot of news attention over the past several years.

I'll say this, though, I'm now tempted to test my level of pain tolerance after playing other types of games — from Spelunky to LEGO Marvel Super Heroes to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14.

Virtually Numbed: Immersive Video Gaming Alters Real-Life Experience [Science Daily]


    I'm going to go with "gamers are competitive by nature".

    I'm totally sure they did control tests with people who performed similar physical actions to gaming but did play any game. /sarc

    Seriously, if you are doing any testing that involves a pain scale and whether there is a psychological effect on pain due to a certain activity, you need to have additional groups to make sure that the pain numbing isn't something physiological.

    So you challenge gamers to another game... Who would of thought that they wouldn't rise to the challenge...

    I can't believe people actually get paid to do research like this...

    imagine the result if they said Microsoft would give them a exclusive Xbox live achievement for it!!!

    This is old news, in regards to pain tolerance, where the previous studies did ice water tests on just a who can last the longest level with those playing games at the time having closer to 2x the endurance of those not playing games at the time.

    I often use the technique when im in an exorbitant amount of pain from my disability.

    In regards to depictions of displeasure that is about as non specific as I've ever heard and carries little to no weight because of it.

    It has already been proven that playing violent games stimulates that center of the brain (DURRR, you are shooting at animated people), but there hasn't been a single shred of real evidence to say this has any kind of real world effect on said people. Simply showing them pictures means that they are desensitised to the picture (if they even are at all) how exactly they are measuring this is of concern.

    You will also notice NEVER has a study found any lasting effect. When they asked how many games those participants played and with their initial testing they didn't find any increases in anything, be it pain tolerance or lack of "empathy". That only during and a short while after gaming, would these "effects" seem to linger.

    The whole thing would also need to be tested in a real world scenario both BEFORE and after "gaming", because honestly there is an insane difference between a picture of "displeasure" and its real world equivalent.

    I would also argue that the media has a far more damaging and desensitising effect than any virtual game could possibly hope to have. Where we are constantly bombarded with pictures of traffic accidents, bombings, shootings and everything else that are actual real life events of peoples suffering. The fact these are daily occurrences means people just don't care anymore unless its something truly shocking and ALL video games i've ever played are kiddie stuff by comparison.

    The whole thing is just more scaremongering BS, I regret even bothering to comment now to be honest =/

    Last edited 29/10/13 8:50 am

      Well, I am glad you did. Everything you said makes more sense than the study. Maybe you should get tenure.

      Eh don't worry, it was a good comment. Sometimes its better to write shit than nothing at all. People on the radio talk shit all the time and they are more right in some people's perspectives, simply because they're louder than anyone else. Seriously if you listen to the radio you will see what I mean.

      Edit: just to make it clear. I agree, you got a good point there.

      Last edited 29/10/13 9:37 am

      "The whole thing would also need to be tested in a real world scenario both BEFORE and after "gaming", because honestly there is an insane difference between a picture of "displeasure" and its real world equivalent."

      I get why you'd say that, but it would require a completely unethical research design. You have to understand that researcher use ice water because its basically the worst thing you can legally do to someone. It is painful, but it doesn't do any lasting harm.

        Huh. I thought you could voluntarily agree to electrocution...

        ...I may need to have a word with my lawyer.

          Not since the sixties unfortunately. This is why you'll find that all the best research on violent media is from the period when TV was introduced. They could actually get people to engage in real acts of violence.

    I actually looked up the paper, and they don't try to measure competitiveness at all. I'd probably have slammed it if I was a reviewing the paper (I am a reviewer by the way).

      I'm a reviewer and I give this comment a 2/5!

    Edit: phone lag comment

    Last edited 29/10/13 9:39 am

    uhm.. isn't it logical when you play games with all the movements of your fingers your hands get warmed up? Hence you become more tolerant to ice cold water? i know after a FIFA session my hands radiate heat

    if someone dies, I always think to myself... just re-roll ffs.

    People generally become less empathetic as they age, hence so many old people in right wing groups.

    Just having a punt, but I’m betting that people who play competitive sports also share those ice-cold psychopathic tenancies that allow people to pick things up in cold water for longer. Particularly if it’s broached in a manner of “how long can you take paper clips out for”.

    I’d also bet that people who play sports when people occasionally take a knock are also less sensitive to the minor injuries of others!

    I say we ban competitive behaviour of any sort!

    Its true, im level 50 in mining and botany on ffxiv arr and now I can watch the Red wedding and stand on Lego without even crying

    Perhaps a consciousness doesn't prioritise a meat avatar over a virtual avatar, especially right after existing as that virtual avatar for some hours in an rpg. I have no doubt that too much gaming could result in that kind of disconnected psychology.

    These guys should be given the brazil olympics gold medals for long jumping, cause that is quite a conclusion they have leaped to.

    So they gave them a mini game, and expected them to not try and get a high score? Or maybe it's because we're used to cold water given how many cold showers we need after playing JRPGs?

    Less tongue in cheek though, I know one of the reasons I am less sensitive to other's displeasure is because I get it constantly on the internet (in forums and the like), in general chat, in party chat, and basically wherever humans have the opportunity to take centre stage and talk about themselves. That's not to say I don't pay attention to legitimate problems, there's just a lot of noise that gamers have to tune out. I think this is just a case of correlation does not equal causation.

    After reading this, I actually found the article concerned and after reading it... I can't help but feel that the methodology is flawed. Firstly, we are dealing with a relatively small study population - All three of the experiments involved in the study were performed on less than 50 students. Secondly, no research was done regarding the specific type of gaming the individuals normally participated in. Console gaming, for example, is likely to improve manual dexterity, whilst pc gaming is more likely to have an increased sensory desensitisation due to the regular fingertip-impact and prolonged contact involved in keyboard use

    Looking at the first experiment, there were just 39 students involved. With an average time spent gaming each week of just 9.59 hours total, with the lowest being 0 hours and the highest being 50 hours, this indicates that significantly more people gamed for less than the average than more. Given the variations possible to an individual's capability, excluding gaming, to tolerance of pain, this allows for considerable external influence on the correlative results. Additionally, they neglected to examine the impact that prolonged manual activity with the fingers involved in gaming would have on desensitising the sensory perceptions, increasing manual dexterity or increasing the sensory tolerance when removing an object from ice-cold water.

    The second experiment was performed on 49 people. A slightly larger sample population, but you need to consider that this group was then divided into two separate groups, one to act as the control, indicating that the experimental group was less than 25 subjects. These groups then played an immersive and non-immersive game for 7 mins (non-violent game used in both cases to prevent objective confusion, that's a point in their favour at least), and proceeded to undergo the ice-water test again, followed by an examination of 5 photos showing pleasure and 5 photos showing displeasure, and asked to evaluate the level shown. Am I the only person who can see the flaw here? With no consideration for background, these individuals were being evaluated on their ability to withstand pain and asked to examine the expression on someone else's face. There is no way that a reliable conclusion can be drawn on this from such a small subject group and with so little background data on the participants, not to mention such a short experimental duration involved with the game.

    Then we come to the third experiment, which tested for manual dexterity as a possible bias and was performed on just 16 participants, and neglected to consider the amount of time spent gaming, rather looking at the variation between immersive and non-immersive gamers from the previous experiment (again, I remind you, based on just 7 minutes). They themselves admitted that this particular experiment was null as a result of this and other factors.

    Overall, the following conclusions regarding the article can be drawn - It was performed on a small sample population. Very little background study was done on the participants to remove the possibility of background bias. What potential bias was acknowledged by the experiment was not accounted for through the one experiment used to justify its exclusion as an influence on the experimental outcome, a fact acknowledged by the researchers. The primary experiment involved very little time using the medium concerned, indicating the results were probably more reliant on group bias than the medium.

    tl;dr - epic fail of a study, try again guys. And Owen, always try reading the paper yourself first before writing a piece on it, rather than just basing your article on something someone else wrote.

    Last edited 29/10/13 5:53 pm

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