A Side of Violence and Hold the Helping: Violent Video Games

Violent viewing numbs us to other people's pain?

We've heard various claims about violent tv before, like violence breeds violence but now we have the possibility it decreases empathy too....

You know I'm not given to fearmongering. In fact, I try to dismantle the scare messages we hear all the time. Do I think television is as bad as some would lead us to believe? No, obviously I don't. But here's some evidence of the harmful effects of violent television and video games... and a darn good study.

Word comes from next month's Psychological Science that viewing violent movies and playing violent video games not only makes people less likely to notice the pain and suffering of other people - it also makes them less likely and slower to respond to cries of help. Those fed violence also rated the plight of those in need as less serious.

Professors Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson not only showed this effect with college students playing video games but also adults watching movies. They staged different helping scenarios (a person with sprained ankle groaning in pain; a person with a bandaged leg dropping their crutches). Sure, these weren't life-threatening scenarios, but still, more everyday kind of things. Would have loved to have seen a more serious call for help.

Yet the researchers connected all the dots here. They assessed baseline "helpful" behavior at the start of the study, how serious the participants viewed the need for help, and how long it actually took for them to respond. That's connecting violent viewing to awareness (perception) and also actual behavior. Very good one here.

And of course the larger concern, here is a steady diet of violence would "comfortably numb" folks even more to others in pain. Children may be even more vulnerable given their developing sense of empathy.

Now I'm not panicking. But I can't ignore this well-done study.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02287.x About DOI

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