It's time to finish our discussion on violent video games, desensitization, and aggression.
Yesterday, we published the thoughts of Dr. Bruce Bartholow, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri; his recent study demonstrated a link between desensitization and aggressive behavior. Today, we'll finish up by touching on the more positive elements of gaming, as noted by Dr. Bartholow during our talk.
"There are some papers now that claim to show some cognitive benefits of certain types of games. These are pretty interesting because they show that people who play action games may distribute their attention more broadly. There are different interpretations of those findings; for instance, that it's not a good idea to let your attention be drawn out too broadly, but there are still benefits."
We've seen studies that suggest that gamers have better problem-solving and multitasking capabilities, and this got me started on the topic of desensitization and whether or not it's all bad. I was of the belief that because certain people need to be desensitized (members of the military, doctors, etc.) in order to effectively deal with emergency situations, a desensitized gamer would also be good in a pinch.
But Dr. Bartholow forwarded me another study that proved the opposite:
"There's a study where subjects played a violent or non-violent video game, and then viewed film clips that depicted violence and other offensive things. At the end of that, there was a mock emergency in the hallway; they actually hired actors to set up an elaborate scheme, where a fight would break out just outside the laboratory door. When the fight was over and someone was in pain, the subjects were measured…how fast they responded and helped. Those showing signs of desensitization were less likely to get up and help, and more likely to rate the seriousness of the event lower."
It was then that I realized desensitization can often involve a certain apathy for our fellow man, and because violence affects us less , we're more inclined to assign less importance to things that may require our assistance. Lastly, Dr. Bartholow hinted at what might be his next study, or at the very least, a study he would find intriguing:
"One question I have is- for kids who are chronically being exposed to lots of violence; does that experience change the way parts of the brain develop? At this point, I have no idea; it may be that there's enough pre-programmed stuff going on that might not let the kid change that much. But we don't know."
He's talking about the parts of the brain that deal with aggression and violence, and if the development of these parts is affected, that could be serious. But at the end of the day, Dr. Bartholow reminds us that he's a scientist and "not a social policy person." He's also a parent so he's sensitive to such issues but as we often say, in small doses, violent video games "probably aren't a problem."
We'd like to thank Dr. Bartholow for taking the time to speak to PSXE – and also to participate in the community by responding to our readers – and we hope everyone got a little something out of this.