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Excessive users of violent video games do not show emotional desensitization: an fMRI study

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Abstract and Figures

Playing violent video games have been linked to long-term emotional desensitization. We hypothesized that desensitization effects in excessive users of violent video games should lead to decreased brain activations to highly salient emotional pictures in emotional sensitivity brain regions. Twenty-eight male adult subjects showing excessive long-term use of violent video games and age and education matched control participants were examined in two experiments using standardized emotional pictures of positive, negative and neutral valence. No group differences were revealed even at reduced statistical thresholds which speaks against desensitization of emotion sensitive brain regions as a result of excessive use of violent video games.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Excessive users of violent video games do not show emotional
desensitization: an fMRI study
Gregor R. Szycik
1
&Bahram Mohammadi
2,3
&Maria Hake
1
&Jonas Kneer
1
&
Amir Samii
3
&Thomas F. Münte
2,4
&Bert T. te Wildt
5
Published online: 16 April 2016
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract Playing violent video games have been linked to
long-term emotional desensitization. We hypothesized that
desensitization effects in excessive users of violent video
games should lead to decreased brain activations to highly
salient emotional pictures in emotional sensitivity brain re-
gions. Twenty-eight male adult subjects showing excessive
long-term use of violent video games and age and education
matched control participants were examined in two experi-
ments using standardized emotional pictures of positive, neg-
ative and neutral valence. No group differences were revealed
even at reduced statistical thresholds which speaks against
desensitization of emotion sensitive brain regions as a result
of excessive use of violent video games.
Keywords Video games .Violence .Desensitization .
General Aggression Model, Catalyst Model
Introduction
The use of violent media, particularly violent video games
(VVG) has been thought to be associated with violent
behavior (Anderson and Bushman 2001;Andersonetal.
2010; Bushman and Anderson 2002;Carnageyetal.2007a,
2007b; Sestir and Bartholow 2010). Specifically, the increas-
ingly realistic rendering of the avatars and the gaming action
are supposed to lead to deeper immersion and greater identi-
fication with the avatar, thus leading to quasi-realistic experi-
ences (Gentile 2003). Therefore, recent research has targeted
the possible link between use of VVG and violent behavior in
real situations.
Two views on this issue are recently hotly debated in the
research community. One postulates little or no effects of
VVG on human aggression. The Catalyst Model of violent
behavior (Ferguson et al. 2008) does not see a causal role
for VVG but only a stylistic catalyst role. Violent behavior
according to this view is seen as depending primarily on bio-
logical factors like genetic predisposition. The catalyst role of
VVG in this model is seen only in shaping the individual style
of violence but in influencing the desire to act violently. In
contrast, the General Aggression Model (GAM) postulates a
direct causal connection of VVG and aggressiveness
(Anderson and Bushman 2002). Recently, the GAM has be-
come the target of severe criticism (Ferguson and Dyck 2012)
pointing out the discrepancy between its predictions and actu-
al violence statistics (Ferguson 2010), the small or equal to
zero effect sizes and poor quality of meta analyses (Ferguson
2015a; Kutner and Olson 2008), and the publication bias or
selective reporting of only significant data (Elson and
Ferguson 2014; Ferguson 2015b). As the impact of research
in this area extends well beyond the scientific community and
might influence supreme court decisions and politics, these
criticisms weigh heavily (Ferguson 2013). Nevertheless
GAM is widely accepted and serves often as a basis for re-
search on media impact on human behavior.
According to the GAM short lasting increases in aggressive
or impulsive acts are mediated by both personal and situational
*Gregor R. Szycik
szycik.gregor@mh-hannover.de
1
Department of Psychiatry, Social Psychiatry and Psychotherapy,
Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Straße 1,
30625 Hanover, Germany
2
Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
3
CNS-LAB, International Neuroscience Institute, Hanover, Germany
4
Institute of Psychology II, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
5
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, LWL
University Hospital of the Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany
Brain Imaging and Behavior (2017) 11:736743
DOI 10.1007/s11682-016-9549-y
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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