ArticlePDF Available

Lack of Evidence That Neural Empathic Responses Are Blunted in Excessive Users of Violent Video Games: An fMRI Study


Abstract and Figures

The use of violent video games has been often linked to increase of aggressive behavior. According to the General Aggression Model, one of the central mechanisms for this aggressiveness inducing impact is an emotional desensitization process resulting from long lasting repeated violent game playing. This desensitization should evidence itself in a lack of empathy. Recent research has focused primarily on acute, short term impact of violent media use but only little is known about long term effects. In this study 15 excessive users of violent games and control subjects matched for age and education viewed pictures depicting emotional and neutral situations with and without social interaction while fMRI activations were obtained. While the typical pattern of activations for empathy and theory of mind networks was seen, both groups showed no differences in brain responses. We interpret our results as evidence against the desensitization hypothesis and suggest that the impact of violent media on emotional processing may be rather acute and short-lived.
Content may be subject to copyright.
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 1
published: 08 March 2017
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00174
Edited by:
Matthias Brand,
University of Duisburg-Essen,
Reviewed by:
Matt R. Judah,
Old Dominion University, USA
Adriano Schimmenti,
Kore University of Enna, Italy
Gregor R. Szycik
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 24 November 2016
Accepted: 25 January 2017
Published: 08 March 2017
Szycik GR, Mohammadi B, Münte TF
and te Wildt BT (2017) Lack
of Evidence That Neural Empathic
Responses Are Blunted in Excessive
Users of Violent Video Games: An
fMRI Study. Front. Psychol. 8:174.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00174
Lack of Evidence That Neural
Empathic Responses Are Blunted in
Excessive Users of Violent Video
Games: An fMRI Study
Gregor R. Szycik1*, Bahram Mohammadi2,3 , Thomas F. Münte2,4 and Bert T. te Wildt5
1Department of Psychiatry, Social Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Hannover Medical School, Hanover, Germany,
2Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany, 3Clinical Neuroscience Lab, International Neuroscience
Institute, Hanover, Germany, 4Institute of Psychology II, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany, 5Department of
Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, LWL University Hospitals of the Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany
The use of violent video games has been often linked to increase of aggressive behavior.
According to the General Aggression Model, one of the central mechanisms for this
aggressiveness inducing impact is an emotional desensitization process resulting from
long lasting repeated violent game playing. This desensitization should evidence itself in
a lack of empathy. Recent research has focused primarily on acute, short term impact
of violent media use but only little is known about long term effects. In this study 15
excessive users of violent games and control subjects matched for age and education
viewed pictures depicting emotional and neutral situations with and without social
interaction while fMRI activations were obtained. While the typical pattern of activations
for empathy and theory of mind networks was seen, both groups showed no differences
in brain responses. We interpret our results as evidence against the desensitization
hypothesis and suggest that the impact of violent media on emotional processing may
be rather acute and short-lived.
Keywords: video games, violence, desensitization, General Aggression Model, Catalyst Model
The possible influence of violent video games (VVG) on human aggressive behaviour is hotly
debated. According to research done in the context of the General Aggression Model (GAM)
a direct and causal relationship between the use of VVG and aggressiveness (Anderson and
Bushman, 2002) is postulated: aggressive or impulsive behavior is a short term result of both
personal and situational variables like exposure to VVG. Therefore, an increase of aggression after
exposure to VVG is hypothesized to appear as a result of cognitive cuing effects (Anderson and
Dill, 2000). Long-term exposure to VVG on aggressive behavior according to the GAM leads to an
increase in aggressive personality traits by learning, rehearsal and reinforcement of aggression-
related knowledge structures. Also, a desensitization against violent content and a decrease of
empathy and prosocial behavior has been postulated (Sparks and Sparks, 2002;Anderson et al.,
2003;Huesmann et al., 2003).
The alternative Catalyst Model postulates only little or no effects of VVG use on human
aggressive behavior (Ferguson et al., 2008). Following this model, aggressive behavior results
primarily from biological factors and VVG only shape the style of aggressive expression. This view
criticizes the GAM because of the discrepancy between its predictions and the recent violence
Frontiers in Psychology | 1March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 2
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
statistics (Ferguson, 2010), small effect sizes or poor quality meta-
analyses (Kutner and Olson, 2008;Ferguson, 2015a), and the
publication bias or selective reporting of only significant data
(Elson and Ferguson, 2014;Ferguson, 2015b).
The literature regarding short term desensitization effects of
VVG has been inconsistent. Some short term desensitization
effects could be shown regarding physiological reactivity, i.e.,
reduction in heart rate or galvanic skin reactions to violent
stimuli (Carnagey et al., 2007a,b;Staude-Muller et al., 2008). The
P300 component of the event-related potential has also been
found to be reduced after VVG use (Bartholow et al., 2006;
Engelhardt et al., 2011). Other studies using violent and non-
violent versions of the same game could not find differences
in physiological markers like heart rate or skin conductance
(Ballard et al., 2012;Chittaro and Sioni, 2012). A recent meta-
analysis suggests a relationship between VVG use and decrease
in empathy (and more desensitization) but only for short term
effects (Anderson et al., 2010). Long term effects were not
analyzed in this meta-analysis because of a lack of pertinent
studies. To our knowledge only two studies focussed on long
term desensitization effects of VVG use by the means of fMRI.
In the first study small effects were shown but the results were
not adequately corrected for multiple comparisons (Montag et al.,
2012) which raise the possibility that the reported differences
would not have survived adequate correction. Our group studied
28 male excessive VVG users and a matched control group
with two experiments using emotional picture stimuli from the
IAPS data base (Szycik et al., 2016). The user group had at
least 3 h of VVG abstinence prior to experiment making the
design more suitable for analyzing long term effects. VVG users
showed similar brain responses as control subjects for emotional
material indicating no specific desensitization effect of excessive
long lasting VVG use.
As Montag et al. (2012) and Szycik et al. (2016) the current
study focused on the long-term desensitization effects of VVG
use but this time with an emphasis on empathy. For this reason
we used a picture set, patterned after the materials of the
Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP; George and
West, 2001), designed to elicit empathic / emotional reactions
in situations with and without social interaction (Krämer et al.,
2010;Beyer et al., 2014a,b). According to the Perception-
Action-Model (PAM) of empathy (Preston and de Waal, 2002)
and in keeping with previous results using the same stimulus
set we hypothesized that pictures depicting another person’s
emotional state should elicit empathic reactions and concomitant
neural activations. Furthermore, according to the desensitization
hypothesis derived from the GAM that excessive VVG users
should show decreased brain activity in the empathy network
(Bzdok et al., 2012).
All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with
the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by the
ethic committee of the Medical School Hannover. All participants
were also provided with short briefing prior to the experiment.
First possible contradictions for MRI measurements were cleared
by standard questionnaire and then all necessary information
regarding the study was given (e.g., experimental task). The
subjects had also the possibility to ask questions before the
experiment. After the experiment all subjects were provided with
standard debriefing containing additional information regarding
the study.
As use of VVG and aggressive behavior is more prevalent in
men, only male participants were recruited. Inclusion criterion
for the VVG user group was consumption of violent games
of the first-person shooter category (e.g., Counterstrike, Call
of Duty or Battlefield) for at least 4 years and for at least
2 h daily. First-person shooter games are centered on combat
situations seen from the first-person perspective, involving virtual
weapons (mostly automatic rifles). Control subjects did not have
any experience with VVG (self-report). We also excluded all
control subjects that reported a daily use of any video games. All
participants were free of psychiatric and neurological disorders
as assessed clinically by the senior author, a board-certified
psychiatrist. One participant of the VVG group was excluded
from the analysis due to taking antidepressant medication. All
of the subjects had normal or corrected to normal vision.
Experimental and control groups were matched for school
education and age.
For the experiment 15 VVG users (mean age 22.8 ±4.3 years)
and 15 control subjects (mean age 22.1 ±3.0 years) were
recruited (difference n.s.). The VVG users had played violent
games since 13.1 ±4.4 years for about 4.0 ±1.3 h daily.
To avoid possible immediate effects of violent games all
participants refrained from playing for at least 3 h prior to
the experiment during which time they were informed about
the experiment and were prepared for data acquisition. The
actual time without playing VVG before the experiment was
considerably longer in most subjects.
Stimuli and Design
The experimental stimulation in this study is based on a
previous publication and uses black- line drawings on a gray
background (Krämer et al., 2010;Beyer et al., 2014a,b). The
drawings were assigned to four conditions: emotionally negative
social situations involving two interaction partners (EMOT-
TWO), emotionally neutral social situations also involving
two interaction partners (NEUT-TWO), emotionally negative
situations involving one person (EMOT-ONE), and emotionally
neutral situations involving one person (NEUT-ONE). Negative
emotional stimuli depicted emotions like anger, sadness, pain or
anxiety (Figure 1). The stimuli had been previously rated for their
emotional content with consistent results across the individual
subjects and significant differences for the specific categories
(Krämer et al., 2010).
The stimuli were presented for 4 s in pseudorandom order
each with varying interstimulus interval (ISI). For each of the four
experimental categories 24 different stimuli were used. Between
the stimuli a black central fixation cross was presented on gray
background. ISI varied pseudo-randomly within each category
Frontiers in Psychology | 2March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 3
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
FIGURE 1 | Example stimuli. Depicted are examples of the drawings used
in this study: (A) emotionally negative social situations involving two interaction
partners (EMOT-TWO), (B) emotionally neutral social situations also involving
two interaction partners (NEUT-TWO), (C) emotionally negative situations
involving one person (EMOT-ONE), and (D) emotionally neutral situations
involving one person (NEUT-ONE).
with 15 intervals of 6 s duration, 5 intervals of 8 s duration and 2
intervals each of 10 s and 12 s duration. During fMRI scanning
participants were instructed to watch the pictures carefully
and imagine how they would feel in the depicted situation.
Presentation software (Neurobehavioral Systems, Inc.) was used
to deliver stimuli. Stimuli were presented via an MRI-compatible
video display mounted into prepared glasses (CinemaVision,
Resonance Technology Inc., USA). Prior to fMRI scanning a test
picture was presented to ensure good visibility of stimuli for each
Image Acquisition
Magnetic-resonance images were acquired on a 3-T Siemens
Magnetom Scanner (Erlangen, Germany) equipped with a
standard head coil. A total of 545 T2-weighted volumes of the
whole brain (EPI-sequence; TR 2000 ms, TE 30 ms, flip angle
80, FOV 192 mm, matrix 642, 34 slices, slice thickness 3 mm,
interslice gap 0.75 mm) near to standard bicommisural (AC-
PC) orientation were collected. After the functional measurement
a 3D high resolution T1-weighted volume for anatomical
information (MPRAGE-sequence; matrix 192 ×2562, 1 mm
isovoxel) was recorded. The subject’s head was fixed during the
entire measurement to avoid head movements.
Acquisition of Psychometric Data
Prior to fMRI scanning data from different psychological
questionnaires was collected. We used the German adaptation
(“Der Saarbrücker Persönlichkeitsfragebogen zur Messung
von Empathie”) of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI)
with its four subscales: PT- perspective-taking, FS- fantasy
scale, EC- empathic concern, and PD- personal distress
(Davis, 1980). To analyze potential group differences in
aggressiveness we collected the data from the short version of
the German questionnaire for aggressiveness factors K-FAF:
“Kurzfragebogen zur Erfassung von Aggressivitätsfaktoren”
(Heubrock and Petermann, 2008). To analyze the ability
in emotional understanding, processing, or description the
German adaptation of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (Bagby
et al., 1994) was used. To assess relevant personality traits
we used the German adaptation of the Temperament and
Character Inventory TCI (Cloninger, 1994) and The Inventory
of Clinical Personality Accentuations (“Inventar Klinischer
Persönlichkeitsakzentuierungen”) to screen clinical personality
aspects (Andresen, 2006).
fMRI Data Analysis
Analysis and visualization of the data were performed using
Brain Voyager QX (Brain Innovation BV, Maastricht, The
Netherlands) software (Goebel et al., 2006). First, a correction for
the temporal offset between the slices acquired in one scan was
applied. For this purpose the data was cubic spline interpolated.
After this slice scan time correction a 3D motion correction
was performed by realignment of the entire measured volume
set to the first volume by means of trilinear interpolation.
Thereafter, linear trends were removed and a high pass filter
was applied resulting in filtering out signals occurring less than
2 cycles in the whole time course. Structural and functional
data were spatially transformed into the Talairach standard
space (Talairach et al., 1988) using a 12-parameter affine
transformation. Functional EPI volumes were spatially smoothed
with an 8 mm full-width half-maximum isotropic Gaussian
kernel to accommodate residual anatomical differences across
For the statistical model a design matrix including all
conditions of interest was specified using a hemodynamic
response function. This function was created by convolving the
rectangle function with the model of Boynton et al. (1996) using
1=2.5, τ=1.25 and n=3. Thereafter, a multi-subject random
effects (RFX) analysis of variance model (ANOVA) with two
main within-subject factors and one between-subject factor was
used for identification of significant differences in hemodynamic
responses. The first within subject factor was emotional content
(EMOT vs. NEUT), the second within subject factor was social
relation (TWO vs. ONE). The between-subject factor was group
(VVG users vs. control subjects). Additional as regressors of
no interest we used overall six translation and rotation vectors
derived for each dataset during the 3D motion correction.
Main effects of all factors and their interaction were
considered. The false discovery rate threshold of q(FDR) <0.01
(Genovese et al., 2002) was chosen for identification of the
activated voxels. Voxels fulfilling these criteria are reported. The
centers of mass of suprathreshold regions were localized using
Talairach coordinates and the Talairach Daemon tool (Lancaster
et al., 2000).
Frontiers in Psychology | 3March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 4
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
Questionnaire Data
Group differences were obtained only for the factor Novelty
Seeking of the Temperament and Character Inventory
[t(28) =2.126, p<0.042] and the scale Antisocial Personality
of The Inventory of Clinical Personality Accentuations
[t(28) =3.255, p<0.003]. VVG users showed higher
scores for Novelty Seeking (M=25.27, SD =4.59 vs.
M=20.47, SD =7.44) and for Antisocial Personality
(M=22.13, SD =5.89 vs. M=16.13, SD =4.03) in
comparison to controls. No further group differences were
apparent in the questionnaires, in particular no differences
were seen for empathy and aggression measures (for
FIGURE 2 | Results of the fMRI data analysis. (A) Brain sites identified for the main factor emotional content responding for stimuli with emotional negative and
neutral valence. (B) Brain sites identified for the main factor social relation, responding for stimuli depicting one person or two persons in social interaction. (C) Brain
sites identified for the interaction of the main factor emotional content and social interaction. The factor group revealed no significant brain sites, also all other
interactions resulted in no significant results. L, leftt; R, right; XZtal, Talairach coordinates.
Frontiers in Psychology | 4March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 5
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
the overview of all questionnaire data see Supplementary
The analysis of fMRI data revealed at q(FDR) <0.01 strong
effects for the main factor emotional content (Figure 2A). At a
less strict level of q(FDR) <0.05 additional typical activations
often seen for the processing of emotionally relevant material
were found, such as bilateral limbic structures including both
amygdalae. The main effect of social interaction was significant
for several brain areas at q(FDR) <0.01 (Figure 2B) similar to
earlier studies (Krämer et al., 2010;Beyer et al., 2014a,b). There
were no significant differences between VVG users and controls
at the level of q(FDR) <0.01. To check for weak effects, this
analysis was repeated at a very liberal threshold of p=0.01,
uncorrected, but again no reliable activation differences between
groups were seen. We also analyzed all possible interaction effects
at the q(FDR) <0.01 significance level. Only the interaction of
emotional content by social relation resulted in reliable brain
activations related primarily to bilateral parahippocampal gyrus
(Figure 2C). All other interactions including the factor group
were not significant at this level. Table 1 gives an overview about
the identified brain sites for the main factors and interaction of
the ANOVA analysis.
A central claim of the GAM regarding the effects of VVG
is desensitization toward emotional stimuli. Although some
evidence has been provided for short term effects of VVG in the
sense of a decreased empathy and increased of aggressiveness
(Carnagey et al., 2007a,b;Staude-Muller et al., 2008), long term
effects have not been intensively investigated. Long term effects
were the focus of the present study, which assessed neural
responses to stimuli designed to elicit empathic reactions. To
rule out short term effects of VVG, users had ben abstinent
for at least 3 h prior to the measurements. Contrary to our
initial hypothesis of a reduced activity in empathy related brain
regions in VVG users, the fMRI data did not provide evidence
for a neural desensitization in the processing emotionally salient
stimuli. In fact, the responses of both groups were very similar
and no group differences were observed even at relaxed statistical
thresholds. This lack of a group main effect and of interaction
effects involving the group factor is not due to a general
lack of emotional reactivity in our participants. Indeed, we
found robust activations for the factor emotional content in
our dataset (Figure 2A) similar to those found previously in
studies using the same materials (Krämer et al., 2010;Beyer
et al., 2014a,b). These activations included areas already known
as involved in processing of emotional content (limbic structures,
ventromedial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) and areas
involved in mentalizing or theory-of-mind process (e.g., regions
around superior temporal sulcus) (Bzdok et al., 2012, 2013;
Mutschler et al., 2013;Mitchell and Phillips, 2015;Morelli
et al., 2015). Our paradigm clearly is sensitive to differences
in emotional content. Also, aspects of social relation could
be reliable observed in our data and were in line with the
previous research (Adolphs, 2003;Krämer et al., 2010;Beyer et al.,
Thus, the lack of group differences in our fMRI data dues not
suggests, that excessive VVG use leads to long term emotional
desensitization and a blunting of neural responses related to
empathy. This is corroborated by the questionnaire data which
TABLE 1 | Brain areas identified for the ANOVA.
Brain structure Hemisphere Talairach center of mass Cluster size (mm3)
x y z
Main Factor: emotional content
Inferior Frontal Gyrus, BA13 R 44 26 3 1242
Inferior Frontal Gyrus, BA9 R 41 10 28 1458
Superior Temporal Gyrus, BA39 R 50 52 14 4401
Lingual Gyrus, BA18 R 6 75 3 648
Medial Frontal Gyrus, BA9 L 1 47 30 918
Precentral Gyrus, BA44 L42 18 8 3645
Middle Frontal Gyrus, BA6 L 39 2 44 945
Middle Temporal Gyrus, BA39 L48 57 9 9180
Main Factor: social relation
Postcentral Gyrus, BA2 R 58 19 33 837
Superior Temporal Gyrus, BA22 R 48 53 16 6480
Cuneus, BA18 R/L 1 72 18 34911
Superior Temporal Gyrus, BA39 L48 59 17 6750
Interaction: emotional content x social relation
Parahippocampal Gyrus, BA36 R 24 38 10 3294
Parahippocampal Gyrus, BA37 L28 44 10 3861
Middle Temporal Gyrus, BA19 L 34 78 26 540
Frontiers in Psychology | 5March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 6
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
did not reveal differences between VVG users and controls for
empathy and aggression measures, even though some differences
emerged for measures assessing novelty seeking and antisocial
Most previous studies have focused on immediate effects
of VVG use (Brockmyer, 2015). For example, Weber et al.
(2006) looked at fMRI activations during the performance
of violent computer games and reported a suppression of
amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus activity which was taken
to suggest a blunted emotional reactivity. Other researchers
reported a decreased interaction between amygdala and the
lateral orbitofrontal cortex directly after exposure to violent
media (Kelly et al., 2007). Gentile et al. (2014) reported
suppression of fMRI responses to violent compared to non-
violent video games in VVG users. Evidently, these studies used
stimulation with violent media/games immediately before or
even during the experiment and therefore the results may by
influenced not only by desensitization but also by other factors
such as increased attention toward motor actions or immediate
activation of aggressive cognitions. In any case, these reflect only
possible short term influence of VVG on emotional processing.
Studies focussing on long term effects are rare and show results
that are in line with the present study (Szycik et al., 2016).
The missing group effect in our fMRI data is not really
surprising giving the fact that both groups showed also no
differences in empathy and aggressiveness as assessed by
psychological tests. Our data therefore is in line with the
Catalyst Model of violent media influence on individual behavior
which posits that these do not increase aggressive behavior but
may influence the way how aggressive behavior is displayed.
Therefore, aggressiveness itself results more from other aspects
than violent media use. This idea is supported by our data.
VVG users differ in personality trait Novelty Seeking. As Novelty
Seeking is highly correlated with Sensation Seeking (Zuckerman
et al., 1993) subjects with high values on this scale are vulnerable
for risky activities and tend to excessive behavior resulting often
both in substance related and behavioral addictions like e.g.,
excessive use of video games (Bardo et al., 1996;McCoul and
Haslam, 2001;Roberti, 2004;Grucza et al., 2006;Wang et al.,
2015). VVG users of our study also showed high values on
the antisocial scale of the clinical personality inventory. This
again may be the basis for specific problematic behavior often
suggested for this population. In this sense VVG use might be
a yet another symptom not the cause of problems in this group.
One interesting question arises from the fact that the significant
group difference in antisocial personality found in this study was
not accompanied by significant differences in empathy scores.
Empathy is only one part of many (e.g., disregard for social
norms, rules, and obligations, incapacity to maintain enduring
relationships, incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from
experience) involved in the psychological construct of antisocial
personality. Keeping that in mind or VVG group could score
significant higher on antisocial personality without differing from
the control group in empathy scores.
Before concluding our results we want to put some attention
to the limitations of the study. Thus we did not found group
differences in our fMRI data set. Null findings in imaging studies
are notoriously problematic (Hupe, 2015) and may result also
from to small effects in relation to the extent of the population
included. One possibility to handle this problem is to decrease
statistical threshold used with the risk of making “false positive”
conclusions. We tried to maximize our ability to find group
differences and to safeguard against “false negatives” and lowered
the statistical threshold used to very liberal one of p=0.01,
uncorrected. But also after the adaptation of the threshold no
group differences could be found. Second relevant limitation of
this study relies on the fact, that our both populations were
not controlled for consumption of other than VVG violent
media, e.g., violent cinema movies or internet content. Thus we
cannot rule out the possibility that our control subjects consumed
in similar excessive extent other violent contents and have
experienced desensitization at same level as our experimental
To summarize, our results provide additional evidence
against the desensitization hypothesis of VVG use and human
aggression. Research on media impact on aggressive behavior
should focus on short term (influencing the subject’s state) as well
as long term impact (possibly influencing trait aggressiveness).
Moreover, additional paradigms should be employed, e.g., facial
expression tasks (van Zutphen et al., 2015), to examine these
aspects within VVG users. Also the use of more ecological
valid paradigms could be promising to put more light on
this topic. Interesting approach could be to put individuals
with VVG use and controls into situations requiring acting
upon emotional stimuli like it is the case in the Taylor
Aggression Paradigm. A number of recent imaging studies
have used a version of this paradigm to assess impulsive
aggression in response to provocation (Krämer et al., 2007;
Beyer et al., 2014a,b, 2015;Dambacher et al., 2015;Gan et al.,
GS designed the study, collected and analyzed the data,
interpreted the results and wrote the manuscript. BM collected
the data and supported the interpretation of the results.
TM supported the interpretation of the data and wrote the
manuscript. BtW designed the study, collected the data and
supported the interpretation of the results.
This study was supported by the TUI-Foundation, the VW-
Foundation, the Draeger-Foundation, the DFG (TR-SFB 134, TP
C1, TP C2) and the BMBF.
The Supplementary Material for this article can be found
online at:
Frontiers in Psychology | 6March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 7
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
Adolphs, R. (2003). Cognitive neuroscience of human social behaviour. Nat. Rev.
Neurosci. 4, 165–178. doi: 10.1038/nrn1056
Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, L. R., Johnson, J. D.,
Linz, D., et al. (2003). The influence of media violence on youth. Psychol. Sci.
Public Interest 4, 81–110. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-1006.2003.pspi_1433.x
Anderson, C. A., and Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annu. Rev.
Psychol. 53, 27–51. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231
Anderson, C. A., and Dill, K. E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts,
feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 78,
772–790. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.4.772
Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A.,
et al. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial
behavior in Eastern and Western countries: a meta-analytic review. Psychol.
Bull. 136, 151–173. doi: 10.1037/a0018251
Andresen, B. (2006). Inventar Klinischer Persönlichkeitsakzentuierungen (IKP).
Dimensionale Diagnostik nach DSM-IV und ICD-10. Göttingen: Hogrefe.
Bagby, R. M., Parker, J. D., and Taylor, G. J. (1994). The twenty-item Toronto
Alexithymia Scale–I. Item selection and cross-validation of the factor structure.
J. Psychosom. Res. 38, 23–32. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(94)90005-1
Ballard, M., Visser, K., and Jocoy, K. (2012). Social context and video game play:
impact on cardiovascular and affective responses. Mass Commun. Soc. 15,
875–898. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2011.632106
Bardo, M. T., Donohew, R. L., and Harrington, N. G. (1996). Psychobiology of
novelty seeking and drug seeking behavior. Behav. Brain Res. 77, 23–43. doi:
10.1016/0166-4328(95)00203- 0
Bartholow, B. D., Bushman, B. J., and Sestir, M. A. (2006). Chronic violent video
game exposure and desensitization to violence: behavioral and event-related
brain potential data. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 42, 532–539. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2005.
Beyer, F., Münte, T. F., Erdmann, C., and Krämer, U. M. (2014a). Emotional
reactivity to threat modulates activity in mentalizing network during
aggression. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 9, 1552–1560. doi: 10.1093/scan/
Beyer, F., Münte, T. F., and Krämer, U. M. (2014b). Increased neural reactivity to
socio-emotional stimuli links social exclusion and aggression. Biol. Psychol. 96,
102–110. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.12.008
Beyer, F., Münte, T. F., Göttlich, M., and Krämer, U. M. (2015). Orbitofrontal
cortex reactivity to angry facial expression in a social interaction correlates with
aggressive behavior. Cereb. Cortex 25, 3057–3063. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu101
Boynton, G. M., Engel, S. A., Glover, G. H., and Heeger, D. J. (1996). Line ar systems
analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging in human V1. J. Neurosci. 16,
Brockmyer, J. F. (2015). Playing violent video games and desensitization to
violence. Child Adolesc. Psychiatr. Clin. N. Am. 24, 65–77. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.
Bzdok, D., Langner, R., Schilbach, L., Engemann, D. A., Laird, A. R., Fox, P. T., et al.
(2013). Segregation of the human medial prefrontal cortex in social cognition.
Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:232. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00232
Bzdok, D., Schilbach, L., Vogeley, K., Schneider, K., Laird, A. R., Langner, R., et al.
(2012). Parsing the neural correlates of moral cognition: ALE meta-analysis
on morality, theory of mind, and empathy. Brain Struct. Funct. 217, 783–796.
doi: 10.1007/s00429-012- 0380-y
Carnagey, N. L., Anderson, C. A., and Bushman, B. J. (2007a). The effect of video
game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence. J. Exp. Soc.
Psychol. 43, 489–496. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0202-z
Carnagey, N. L., Anderson, C. A., and Bushman, B. J. (2007b). Erratum to the effect
of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence.
J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 43, 684. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0202-z
Chittaro, L., and Sioni, R. (2012). Killing non-human animals in video games: a
study on user experience and desensitization to violence aspects. Psychnol. J. 10,
Cloninger, C. R. (1994). The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) : A
Guide to its Development and Use. St. Louis, MO: Center for Psychobiology of
Personality, Washington University.
Dambacher, F., Sack, A. T., Lobbestael, J., Arntz, A., Brugman, S., and
Schuhmann, T. (2015). Out of control: evidence for anterior insula involvement
in motor impulsivity and reactive aggression. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 10,
508–516. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu077
Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in
empathy. JSAS Cat. Sel. Doc. Psychol. 10, 85.
Elson, M., and Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Twenty-five years of research on
violence in digital games and aggression: empirical evidence, perspectives,
and a debate gone astray. Eur. Psychol. 19, 33–46. doi: 10.1027/1016-9040/a0
Engelhardt, C. R., Bartholow, B. D., Kerr, G. T., and Bushman, B. J. (2011). This is
your brain on violent video games: neural desensitization to violence predicts
increased aggression following violent video game exposure. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol.
47, 1033–1036. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.027
Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Blazing angels or resident evil? can violent video games be a
force for good? Rev. Gen. Psychol. 14, 68–81. doi: 10.1037/a0018941
Ferguson, C. J. (2015a). Do angry birds make for angry children? a meta-analysis
of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental
health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 10,
646–666. doi: 10.1177/1745691615592234
Ferguson, C. J. (2015b). Pay no attention to that data behind the curtain: on
angry birds, happy children, scholarly squabbles, publication bias, and why
betas rule metas. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 10, 683–691. doi: 10.1177/17456916155
Ferguson, C. J., Rueda, S. M., Cruz, A. M., Ferguson, D. E., Fritz, S., and Smith, S. M.
(2008). Violent video games and aggression: causal relationship or byproduct
of family violence and intrinsic violence motivation? Crim. Justice Behav. 35,
311–332. doi: 10.1002/ab.20329
Gan, G., Sterzer, P., Marxen, M., Zimmermann, U. S., and Smolka, M. N.
(2015). Neural and behavioral correlates of alcohol-induced aggression under
provocation. Neuropsychopharmacology 40, 2886–2896. doi: 10.1038/npp.
Genovese, C. R., Lazar, N. A., and Nichols, T. (2002). Thresholding of statistical
maps in functional neuroimaging using the false discovery rate. Neuroimage 15,
870–878. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.1037
Gentile, D. A., Swing, E. L., Anderson, C. A., Rinker, D., and Thomas, K. M. (2014).
Differential neural recruitment during violent video game play in violent- and
nonviolent-game players. Psychol. Pop. Media Cult. 5, 39–51. doi: 10.1037/
George, C., and West, M. (2001). The development and preliminary validation of a
new measure of adult attachment: the adult attachment projective. Attach. Hum.
Dev. 3, 30–61. doi: 10.1080/14616730010024771
Goebel, R., Esposito, F., and Formisano, E. (2006). Analysis of Functional Image
Analysis Contest (FIAC) data with brainvoyager QX: from single-subject to
cortically aligned group general linear model analysis and self-organizing group
independent component analysis. Hum. Brain Mapp. 27, 392–401. doi: 10.1002/
Grucza, R. A., Robert Cloninger, C., Bucholz, K. K., Constantino, J. N., Schuckit,
M. I., Dick, D. M., et al. (2006). Novelty seeking as a moderator of familial risk
for alcohol dependence. Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. 30, 1176–1183. doi: 10.1111/j.
Heubrock, D., and Petermann, F. (2008). Kurzfragebogen zur Erfassung von
Aggressivitätsfaktoren. Göttingen: Hogrefe.
Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C. L., and Eron, L. D. (2003).
Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their
aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977–1992. Dev. Psychol.
39, 201–221. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.39.2.201
Hupe, J. M. (2015). Statistical inferences under the Null hypothesis: common
mistakes and pitfalls in neuroimaging studies. Front. Neurosci. 9:18. doi: 10.
Kelly, C. R., Grinband, J., and Hirsch, J. (2007). Repeated exposure to media
violence is associated with diminished response in an inhibitory frontolimbic
network. PLoS ONE 2:e1268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001268
Krämer, U. M., Jansma, H., Tempelmann, C., and Münte, T. F. (2007). Tit-for-tat:
the neural basis of reactive aggression. Neuroimage 38, 203–211. doi: 10.1016/j.
Krämer, U. M., Mohammadi, B., Donamayor, N., Samii, A., and Münte, T. F.
(2010). Emotional and cognitive aspects of empathy and their relation to social
cognition–an fMRI-study. Brain Res. 1311, 110–120. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.
Frontiers in Psychology | 7March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174
fpsyg-08-00174 February 28, 2017 Time: 13:16 # 8
Szycik et al. Emotional Desensitization and Violent Video Games
Kutner, L., and Olson, C. (2008). Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth
About Violent Video Games and what Parents Can do. New York, NY: Simon
& Schuster.
Lancaster, J. L., Woldorff, M. G., Parsons, L. M., Liotti, M., Freitas, C. S., Rainey, L.,
et al. (2000). Automated talairach atlas labels for functional brain mapping.
Hum. Brain Mapp. 10, 120–131. doi: 10.1002/1097-0193(200007)10:3<120::
AID-HBM30< 3.0.CO;2-8
McCoul, M. D., and Haslam, N. (2001). Predicting high risk sexual behaviour
in heterosexual and homosexual men: the roles of impulsivity and sensation
seeking. Pers. Individ. Differ. 31, 1303–1310. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(00)
Mitchell, R. L., and Phillips, L. H. (2015). The overlapping relationship between
emotion perception and theory of mind. Neuropsychologia 70, 1–10. doi: 10.
Montag, C., Weber, B., Trautner, P., Newport, B., Markett, S., Walter, N. T.,
et al. (2012). Does excessive play of violent first-person-shooter-video-games
dampen brain activity in response to emotional stimuli? Biol. Psychol. 89,
107–111. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2011.09.014
Morelli, S. A., Sacchet, M. D., and Zaki, J. (2015). Common and distinct neural
correlates of personal and vicarious reward: a quantitative meta-analysis.
Neuroimage 112, 244–253. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.12.056
Mutschler, I., Reinbold, C., Wankerl, J., Seifritz, E., and Ball, T. (2013). Structural
basis of empathy and the domain general region in the anterior insular cortex.
Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:177. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00177
Preston, S. D., and de Waal, F. B. (2002). Empathy: its ultimate and proximate
bases. Behav. Brain Sci. 25, 1–20.
Roberti, J. W. (2004). A review of behavioral and biological correlates of sensation
seeking. J. Res. Personal. 38, 256–279. doi: 10.1016/S0092-6566(03)00067-9
Sparks, G. G., and Sparks, C. W. (2002). “Effects of media violence,” in MEdia
effects: Advances in Theory and Research, eds J. Bryant and D. Zillmann
(Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum), 269–285.
Staude-Muller, F., Bliesener, T., and Luthman, S. (2008). Hostile and hardened?
An experimental study on (De-)sensitization to violence and suffering through
playing video games. Swiss J. Psychol. 67, 41–50. doi: 10.1024/1421-0185.67.1.41
Szycik, G. R., Mohammadi, B., Hake, M., Kneer, J., Samii, A., Münte, T. F.,
et al. (2016). Excessive users of violent video games do not show emotional
desensitization: an fMRI study. Brain Imaging Behav. doi: 10.1007/s11682-016-
9549-y [Epub ahead of print].
Talairach, J., Tournoux, P., and Rayport, M. (1988). Co-planar Stereotaxic Atlas of
the Human Brain. 3-Dimensional Proportional System: An Approach to Cerebral
Imaging. Stuttgart: Thieme [u.a.].
van Zutphen, L., Siep, N., Jacob, G. A., Goebel, R., and Arntz, A. (2015). Emotional
sensitivity, emotion regulation and impulsivity in borderline personality
disorder: a critical review of fMRI studies. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 51, 64–76.
doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.01.001
Wang, Y., Liu, Y., Yang, L., Gu, F., Li, X., Zha, R., et al. (2015). Novelty seeking
is related to individual risk preference and brain activation associated with
risk prediction during decision making. Sci. Rep. 5, 10534. doi: 10.1038/srep
Weber, R., Ritterfeld, U., and Mathiak, K. (2006). Does playing violent video games
induce aggression? Empirical evidence of a functional magnetic resonance
imaging study. Media Psychol. 8, 39–60. doi: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP
Zuckerman, M., Kuhlman, D. M., Joireman, J., Teta, P., and Kraft, M. (1993).
A comparison of three structural models for personality - the big three, the big
five, and the alternative five. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 65, 757–768. doi: 10.1037/
Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could
be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Copyright © 2017 Szycik, Mohammadi, Münte and te Wildt. This is an open-access
article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided
the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this
journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution
or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Frontiers in Psychology | 8March 2017 | Volume 8 | Article 174

Supplementary resource (1)

... No significant relationships were found between behaviour frequency or addiction and empathy measures using self-report and cognitive tasks. These results suggest the preservation of this ability, as has been found in the context of alcohol use disorder using the MET-CORE (Grynberg et al., 2017) and suggested by tasks completed by participants without GmD (Ferguson & Colwell, 2020;Gao et al., 2017;Kühn et al., 2018;Miedzobrodzka et al., 2021;Szycik et al., 2017). Nevertheless, lower empathic abilities have been reported with IRI in a GbD population (Tomei et al., 2017). ...
Full-text available
The purpose of the eSMILE study was to explore social cognition (SC) in the two behavioural addictions (BAs) included in international classifications: gaming disorder and gambling disorder. In these disorders, cognitive functioning is involved in the development and maintenance of addiction. Nevertheless, SC have received less attention than other cognitive functions. The eSMILE study was conducted online and included 105 participants (gamers and gamblers). This study included: the Penn emotion recognition task, the Condensed and Revised Multifaced Empathy Test, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, the Chicken Game, social metacognition questions, and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. We analysed the relationships among SC measures, addiction levels, and behaviour frequency. For gamers, we showed that the higher their level of addiction was, the lower their self-confidence following the identification of basic emotions, although the more frequently they played, the better their performance on this task. Additionally, we found lower performance on the identification of more complex emotions by gamblers, which seems to be the result of their levels of addiction rather than the frequency of their gambling behaviour. This study contributes to our understanding of the cognitive processes underlying BAs. Additionally, working on SC abilities may be an additional management mode for BAs that could be added to existing treatments.
... Five studies assessed empathy in a population of gamers. No differences were found regarding empathy between frequent and nonfrequent gamers, using an empathy-for-pain task with emotional stimuli (photography or drawings) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Gao et al., 2017;Szycik et al., 2017). No significant changes were observed, after an 8-week period of exposure to VGs (Kühn et al., 2018). ...
Full-text available
Playing video games is associated with cognitive changes and possibly psychosocial difficulties. Problematic gaming occurs upon the loss of control over videogame playing; gaming disorder is considered a behavioral addiction in the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases. Models used to understand behavioral addictions include cognition as an essential factor in the development, maintenance, and relapse of addiction. Nevertheless, some aspects of cognition, such as social cognition, remain underexplored, despite evidence of alterations in cognitive and social function among patients with problematic gaming. This review aimed to describe the current understanding of social cognition in individuals exposed to videogames. We included all studies assessing social cognition in participants of any age with a wide range of exposure to video games (from simple use of video games (such as at least two exposures) to problematic gaming, defined according to the included study). This wide range of exposure allowed us to explore the whole process from repeated exposure to addiction. We included only studies that used neuropsychological tasks to assess social cognition. Patient-reported outcomes that could be biased by subjective self-report data were not included. The search was conducted from inception to January 2022 in three databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Science). The systematic search identified 39 studies that assessed facial emotion processing, empathy, theory of mind, social decision-making, aggressive behavior, and moral competence. In general, results have been mixed, and a number of questions remain unanswered. Nevertheless, several studies showed cerebral changes when processing facial emotion that were linked with problematic gaming, while no link was obtained between nonproblematic gaming and empathy alterations. The influences of cooperation patterns, theory of mind, moral competence, and gaming frequency were highlighted. Finally, there was substantial heterogeneity in the population assessed and the methods used.
... Hence, it might be fallacious to consider aggression increase as an outcome of identification with violent video game characters. The same goes for empathy decrease, as there is also contrary evidence that such an empathy decrease results from violent gameplay (Gao et al. 2017, Szycik et al. 2017). ...
Full-text available
This review investigates theoretical explanations, predictors, and psychological outcomes of identification with game characters. Theoretical explanations depended on Cohen's conceptualization of identification with media characters, wishful identification, similarity identification, embodied presence concepts, self-perception, self-discrepancy, and social identity theories. Predictors included customizability, how the character is perceived (ideal, attractive, similar, real), narrative, immersion, presence, age, time spent playing/playing history, player's psychological characteristics, and perceived performance. Psychological outcomes included enjoyment, flow experience, addiction, problematic gaming, playing motivations, self-efficacy, competence, short-term outcomes (change in aggression, empathy), intention to continue playing, game-related spending, social identification, and in-group bias. The self-discrepancy perspective provides the most prevalent explanation, which proposes that game characters are closer to players' ideal selves, and identification with the game character reduces their self-discrepancies. However, the social identity perspective offers more overarching explanations discussing identification with game-related groups (groups created within the game and game community) and the game character together, thus pointing to a bigger picture where players develop social identities through interaction with game-related groups. Therefore, unlike other explanations discussing game character identification as a temporary experience, the social identity perspective indicates it may be a lasting experience. Regarding predictors, only two were game-related (customizability, narrative), while most were player-related (e.g., age, time spent playing, player's psychological characteristics), which might show that player characteristics deserve more attention than the game itself to understand the identification process. Concerning psychological outcomes, while two were positive (enjoyment, flow experience) and two were negative (addiction, problematic gaming), most had various aftermaths, such as a short-term outcome of an increase in aggression or empathy.
... Oggi, sebbene molte narrazioni videoludiche si presentano come eticamente compromesse, si ritiene indispensabile saper utilizzare sapientemente i videogiochi per una efficace interazione didattica (Sibilio, 2020). Anche i recenti studi di matrice psicologica (Ferguson, 2010;Szycik, Mohammadi, Münte, & Wildt, 2017) evidenziano che l'attività videoludica allena le skills sociali come problem solving e decision making (Gee, 2008;Hell, Melzer, 2021). Di fatto l' immersività, tipica del gaming, richiama il pensiero posizionale di cui parla Martha Nussbaum (2001) che presuppone il mettersi dal punto di vista dell'altro, pur non con dividendo la posizione. ...
Full-text available
This paper purposes to begin to implement a new inclusive taxonomy of video games, starting with the implementation of Mosna's taxonomy, in order to use video games as a symplex tool to foster educational purposes. Recent research has revealed the use of video games as a possible workable educational tool. Forthcoming perspectives include a qualitative observation research, to investigate, the strengths and weaknesses, of videogames, selected by educators, usable by sec ondary school students.
... Five studies assessed empathy abilities in a population of gamers. No differences between groups were found regarding empathy abilities, using an empathy-for-pain task with emotional stimuli (photography or drawings) using fMRI, by comparing frequent gamers to nonfrequent gamers (Gao et al., 2017;Szycik et al., 2017), or after an eight-week period of exposure to VGs (Kühn et al., 2018). However, comparing a group of individuals with low exposure to violent VGs to a group of individuals with a high level of exposure, a desensitization to painful stimuli (similar EEG results for painful and nonpainful stimuli) was found only for the high-exposure group (Miedzobrodzka, van Hooff, et al., 2021). ...
Ce travail de thèse a pour objet l’exploration des capacités de cognition sociale (CS) dans les deux addictions comportementales (ACs) actuellement reconnues dans les classifications internationales : le jeu d’argent pathologique (JAP) et le jeu vidéo pathologique (JVP).La réalisation de deux revues de littérature systématiques a permis de démontrer la rareté des études faisant le lien entre CS et ACs. Cependant, les études trouvées ont suggéré la présence de difficultés pour les patients atteints de ces ACs sur certaines composantes de la CS. Par ailleurs, les éléments cliniques rapportés par ces patients confirmaient la présence de difficultés interpersonnelles.Ces éléments témoignaient de la nécessité d’explorer le profil de CS des patients avec un diagnostic de JAP ou JVP pour améliorer d’une part la compréhension des processus addictifs, et d’autre part de proposer des soins ciblant les difficultés mises en évidence. Nous avons ainsi mené trois études sur des joueurs de jeux vidéo ou de jeux d’argent, présentant ou non une addiction.La première étude a démontré des particularités dans le traitement attentionnel des informations sociales chez des joueurs de poker en comparaison de sujets contrôles. La seconde étude a mis en évidence un lien entre les difficultés d’identification des émotions faciales et le JAP, ainsi que des particularités sur le plan de la métacognition sociale en lien avec le JVP. Enfin, les résultats préliminaires de la troisième étude incluant des patients en début de prise en charge pour un JAP ont montré l’importance de prendre en compte les données rapportées par les patients dans le cadre de la CS.Ces résultats sont discutés au regard des aspects cliniques et scientifiques, et mis en perspective avec de futures recherches possibles.
Full-text available
Background. Aggression is a worldwide issue that has significant consequences for both the victims and societies. However, aggression is an umbrella terms with subcomponents such as motivation (i.e., Reactive versus Proactive) and forms (i.e., Physical versus Verbal) which aggressive behaviors may occur. Yet, brain circuits differentiating these subcomponents remains largely unknown. Method. A systematic search strategy was conducted up to May 1st 2023, using PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science, to identify relevant studies. Coordinate-based meta-analysis was conducted on General Aggression, Reactive Aggression, Proactive Aggression, Physical Aggression and Verbal Aggression using spatial convergence (ALE) and effect-size (SDM-PSI) approaches. Results. Sixty-seven studies met the inclusion criteria. Meta-analysis revealed similar yet distinct neural correlates for General Aggression (i.e., Amygdala, Precuneus, Intraparietal Sulcus, Angular and Middle Temporal Gyri), Reactive Aggression (i.e., Amygdala, Periaqueductal Grey, Posterior Insula, & Central Opercular Cortex), Proactive Aggression (i.e., Septal Area, & Amygdala), Physical Aggression (i.e., Dorsal Premotor Cortex, Dorsal Caudate, & Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex), and Verbal (i.e., Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex). Exploratory analyses revealed the importance of affective, cognitive and social cognition processes as well as serotoninergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic systems in the neural underpinnings of aggressive behaviors. Conclusion. Our findings highlight the importance of examining the subcomponents of aggression (i.e., motivation and forms) within a transdiagnostic framework. Hence, characterizing the neurobiological substrates of aggression may expand our search for targeted neuromodulation and pharmacological treatments.
Background Computer games are becoming increasingly more common as a form of leisure activity. While these games can be captivating, there are concerns about the potential risks associated with excessive use.ObjectiveA controversially discussed question is whether violent computer games directly contribute to increased aggression in individuals, thus posing a risk to society.Method In this narrative review the results of different research approaches are discussed.ResultsCorrelational field studies have reported a positive association between aggressive personality traits and the frequent use of violent computer games. Experimental laboratory studies have often found a positive correlation between the extent of violent game use and aggressive thoughts, but weaker effects on aggressive behavior. In contrast, there is discussion about the potential for computer games to regulate aggression in the sense of managing moods; however, longitudinal studies have yielded contradictory findings. The results of systematic reviews were also similar, which have shown weak correlations at best between violent computer games and in particular aggressive thoughts, whereby the quality of the individual studies was often criticized.DiscussionIn summary, the existing body of research presents an inconsistent picture, characterized by partially contradictory results. While some studies have found significant correlations between aggressiveness and exposure to violent video games, the question of causality has not yet been answered with certainty. The assumption that violent computer games are directly responsible for violent behavior appears to lack sufficient empirical support at present.
In contrast to findings that violent video game (VVG) exposure has a desensitizing effect on empathy and physiological reactivity to scenes of violence [1], no desensitization was found for player responses to pain stimuli in three lab experiments. Compared to a non-violent game, VVG exposure neither affected physiological responses, nor participants’ self-reports of perceived pain caused by thermal stress. In addition, the level of game immersion did not affect pain perception, pain tolerance, or aggressive behavior (study 3). In contrast, violent game preference was associated with lower reports of perceived proximal pain, distal pain, and greater antisocial behavior. However, all studies confirmed the detrimental effect of VVG on emotion: participants reported lower positive and greater negative affect after playing the violent compared to the nonviolent game. In sum, the present findings speak against a generalized desensitization effect of VVG on the player. Rather, our findings further support the notion of pain and pain-related responses as complex and multidimensional, modulated by individual, physiological, and contextual factors [2]. KeywordsViolent video gamesDesensitizationPainPain perceptionMood
Full-text available
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.
Full-text available
A controversy exists about the effects of violent video game play, with some studies showing “positive” effects on spatial attention, others showing “negative” effects on aggression, and others suggesting that there are no important effects. The present study examined neural recruitment during violent videogame play among 13 late adolescent gamers, half of whom habitually played violent games and half of whom habitually played nonviolent games. Participants played a video game in violent and nonviolent modes while undergoing functional MRI scanning. Nonviolent gamers had an increase in emotional response regions when playing the violent game; violent gamers demonstrated an active suppression of these same regions. In addition, nonviolent gamers showed increases in spatial attention, navigation, and cognitive control regions, whereas experienced violent gamers showed no change from baseline. These results provide neurological support for both aggression desensitization and improvements in spatial attention, but not for the hypothesis that violent games have no appreciable effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
Full-text available
Novelty seeking (NS) is a personality trait reflecting excitement in response to novel stimuli. High NS is usually a predictor of risky behaviour such as drug abuse. However, the relationships between NS and risk-related cognitive processes, including individual risk preference and the brain activation associated with risk prediction, remain elusive. In this fMRI study, participants completed the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire to measure NS and performed a probabilistic decision making task. Using a mathematical model, we estimated individual risk preference. Brain regions associated with risk prediction were determined via fMRI. The NS score showed a positive correlation with risk preference and a negative correlation with the activation elicited by risk prediction in the right posterior insula (r-PI), left anterior insula (l-AI), right striatum (r-striatum) and supplementary motor area (SMA). Within these brain regions, only the activation associated with risk prediction in the r-PI showed a correlation with NS after controlling for the effect of risk preference. Resting-state functional connectivity between the r-PI and r-striatum/l-AI was negatively correlated with NS. Our results suggest that high NS may be associated with less aversion to risk and that the r-PI plays an important role in relating risk prediction to NS.
Full-text available
Although alcohol consumption is linked to increased aggression, its neural correlates have not directly been studied in humans so far. Based on a comprehensive neurobiological model of alcohol-induced aggression, we hypothesized that alcohol-induced aggression would go along with increased amygdala and ventral striatum reactivity and impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) under alcohol. We measured neural and behavioral correlates of alcohol-induced aggression in a provoking versus non-provoking condition with a variant of the Taylor aggression paradigm (TAP) allowing to differentiate between reactive (provoked) and proactive (unprovoked) aggression. In a placebo-controlled cross-over design with moderate alcohol intoxication (~0.6 g/kg), thirty-five young healthy adults performed the TAP during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Analyses revealed that provoking versus non-provoking conditions and alcohol versus placebo increased aggression, and decreased brain responses in the anterior cingulate cortex/dorso-medial PFC (provoking<non-provoking), and the ventral striatum (alcohol<placebo) across our healthy sample. Interestingly, alcohol specifically increased pro-active (unprovoked) but not reactive (provoked) aggression (alcohol x provocation interaction). However, investigation of inter-individual differences revealed (1) that pronounced alcohol-induced pro-active aggression was linked to higher levels of aggression under placebo, and (2) that pronounced alcohol-induced reactive aggression was related to increased amygdala and ventral striatum reactivity under alcohol, providing evidence for their role in human alcohol-induced reactive aggression. Our findings suggest that in healthy young adults a liability for alcohol-induced aggression in a non-provoking context might depend on overall high levels of aggression, but on alcohol-induced increased striatal and amygdala reactivity when triggered by provocation.
Full-text available
Published studies using functional and structural MRI include many errors in the way data are analyzed and conclusions reported. This was observed when working on a comprehensive review of the neural bases of synesthesia, but these errors are probably endemic to neuroimaging studies. All studies reviewed had based their conclusions using Null Hypothesis Significance Tests (NHST). NHST have yet been criticized since their inception because they are more appropriate for taking decisions related to a Null hypothesis (like in manufacturing) than for making inferences about behavioral and neuronal processes. Here I focus on a few key problems of NHST related to brain imaging techniques, and explain why or when we should not rely on "significance" tests. I also observed that, often, the ill-posed logic of NHST was even not correctly applied, and describe what I identified as common mistakes or at least problematic practices in published papers, in light of what could be considered as the very basics of statistical inference. MRI statistics also involve much more complex issues than standard statistical inference. Analysis pipelines vary a lot between studies, even for those using the same software, and there is no consensus which pipeline is the best. I propose a synthetic view of the logic behind the possible methodological choices, and warn against the usage and interpretation of two statistical methods popular in brain imaging studies, the false discovery rate (FDR) procedure and permutation tests. I suggest that current models for the analysis of brain imaging data suffer from serious limitations and call for a revision taking into account the "new statistics" (confidence intervals) logic.
Modern neurosurgical concepts call for not only "seeing" but also for "localizing" structures in three-dimensional space in relationship to each other. Hence there is a need for a reference system. This book aims to put this notion into practice by means of anatomical and MRI sections with the same stereotaxic orientation. The purpose is to display the fundamental distribution of structures in three-dimensional space and their spatial evolution within the brain as a whole, while facilitating their identification; to make comparative studies of cortico-subcortical lesions possible on a basis of an equivalent reference system; to exploit the anatomo-functional data such as those furnished by SEEG in epilepsy and to enable the localization of special regions such as the SMA in three-dimensional space; and to apply the anatomical correlations of this reference system to neurophysiological investigations lacking sufficient anatomical back-up (including PET scan).
This article responds to five comments on my "Angry Birds" meta-analysis of video game influences on children (Ferguson, 2015, this issue). Given ongoing debates on video game influences, comments varied from the supportive to the self-proclaimed "angry," yet hopefully they and this response will contribute to constructive discussion as the field moves forward. In this reply, I address some misconceptions in the comments and present data that challenge the assumption that standardized regression coefficients are invariably unsuitable for meta-analysis or that bivariate correlations are invariably suitable for meta-analysis. The suitability of any data should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and data indicates that the coefficients included in the "Angry Birds" meta-analysis did not distort results. Study selection, effect size extraction, and interpretation improved upon problematic issues in other recent meta-analyses. Further evidence is also provided to support the contention that publication bias remains problematic in video game literature. Sources of acrimony among scholars are explored as are areas of agreement. Ultimately, debates will only be resolved through a commitment to newer, more rigorous methods and open science.
The issue of whether video games-violent or nonviolent-"harm" children and adolescents continues to be hotly contested in the scientific community, among politicians, and in the general public. To date, researchers have focused on college student samples in most studies on video games, often with poorly standardized outcome measures. To answer questions about harm to minors, these studies are arguably not very illuminating. In the current analysis, I sought to address this gap by focusing on studies of video game influences on child and adolescent samples. The effects of overall video game use and exposure to violent video games specifically were considered, although this was not an analysis of pathological game use. Overall, results from 101 studies suggest that video game influences on increased aggression (r = .06), reduced prosocial behavior (r = .04), reduced academic performance (r = -.01), depressive symptoms (r = .04), and attention deficit symptoms (r = .03) are minimal. Issues related to researchers' degrees of freedom and citation bias also continue to be common problems for the field. Publication bias remains a problem for studies of aggression. Recommendations are given on how research may be improved and how the psychological community should address video games from a public health perspective.
Although the relation between TV-violence viewing and aggression in childhood has been clearly demonstrated, only a few studies have examined this relation from childhood to adulthood, and these studies of children growing up in the 1960s reported significant relations only for boys. The current study examines the longitudinal relations between TV-violence viewing at ages 6 to 10 and adult aggressive behavior about 15 years later for a sample growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Follow-up archival data (N 450) and interview data (N 329) reveal that childhood exposure to media violence predicts young adult aggressive behavior for both males and females. Identification with aggressive TV characters and perceived realism of TV violence also predict later aggression. These relations persist even when the effects of socioeconomic status, intellectual ability, and a variety of parenting factors are controlled.