Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Insane Video Game in the Membrane

A brain mechanism that links violent video games with aggression has been discovered recently, and now researches are working to see if there's a true relationship between this newly found brain phenomena and violent video games.

Bruce Bartholow (pictured right) and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that people who play violent video games show diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence. Interestingly, participants seemed to only become desensitized to images of true violence, but not other emotionally-charged images such as pictures of dying children.

The brain mechanism is being called the P300 response. It's a measureable signal seen in an EEG (electroencephalogram). "The P300 reflects an evaluation of the emotional content of an image," says Bartholow, "being larger if people are surprised or disturbed by an image."

The study:
The team recruited 39 experienced gamers of varying violent gaming experience. They then showed participants real-life images. Most of these images were considered "control" or neutral images such as a tree. But every once in awhile, researchers inserted violent and negative (but non-violent) scenes, while recording their EEGs.

Scientists found the P300 response within the individuals with the most experience with violent games was smaller and delayed. “People who play a lot of violent video games didn’t see them as much different from neutral,” says Bartholow. They had become desensitised, it seems. That's pretty chilling - the EEG readings when showing a frog on a log and some woman getting her head whacked off were pretty identical??? Wowzers. However, their responses were normal for the negative but non-violent scenes.

“As far as I’m aware, this is the first study to show that exposure to violent games has effects on the brain that predict aggressive behavior,” says Bartholow.

There have been many studies showing that people who play violent video games are more aggressive, more likely to commit violent crimes, and less likely to help others. Does Bartholow's study show this as well? Not really. However, it's a step towards showing a correlation between violent video games and real-life violent tendencies. However, could it be that all the other studies only prove that violent people gravitate towards violent games, not that games can change behavior?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Modern technology has made video gaming so lifelike, however. More studies will be working to either prove or disprove that these very real games make people more violent. Back in the old days, our video games seem very tame and quite safe for kids. However, upon a closer inspection, perhaps even old school classics could bring out the violent tendencies of any gamer.

Pong: This game is downright ancient. Think about it, though. You've got two little sticks, and only one can win. This little ball is zooming around the screen, and you have to get your "paddle" to deflect the ball. You let the ball go past you, you've lost a point. I remember my palms getting sweaty...heart beat racing when playing pong. This might not be direct violence, per se, but it's a precursor to the future generations of excitement and competition in the video gaming world. This is violent video gaming in its infancy, I tell you!

Donky Kong: Here, you are Mario (an everyday plumber) and you are trying to save Pauline from the evil clutches of Donky Kong, a giant zoo escapee. You run up these different levels while jumping over barrels Donky Kong is hurling towards you. That's pretty violent, wouldn't you say? The barrels smash Mario, or if you do manage to make it to the top, Donky Kong just snatches Pauline and has his way with her, so you've got sexual assault. Geez, what was Nintendo thinking?

Pac-Man: This game seemed innocent enough back in the day - it even spawned a song "Pac-Man Fever" and a Saturday morning cartoon. Here, you are pacman, a big yellow mouth. Your job is to swallow as many pills as you can. Obviously, this game was trying to teach us that taking drugs is good. While you're trying to down as many prescription pills as possible, you've got these four ghosts trying to catch you. The four ghosts are Blinky, Pinky, Inkey, and of course, Clyde. They catch you, they will eat you up. You happen to swallow a super pill, you can eat them up. I'm seeing a cannibalistic message here.

Oh the hummanity!


Grafs said...

I found that since I was not exposed to violent TV shows when I was little, movies with violence would traumatize me when I was older. Now that I'm desensitized, I can watch Saving Private Ryan without flinching. Weird.

Jamie Dawn said...

Desensitization is a scary thing. What happens in games and what's seen in violent real-life images are happening to someone else. It's when violence hits them personally that they will become disturbed by it.
I think some of our responses come from our original make up. So, maybe what you said is true that people who are naturally more aggressive, will seek out the violent games and not flinch.

BuffyICS said...

Maybe I should play more violent video games as well--I have the same problem as grafs when it comes to violence in movies, etc... I had to walk out of the theater during the torture scene in Syriana. Time to get out the ol' Grand Theft Auto game and start desensitizing!

Big Pissy said...

Video games weren't around when I was a child so I can't relate to that on a personal level... I can relate to desensitization as far as movies are concerned. What we see on TV is so much more graphic than it used to be, that movies that would have freaked me out before-don't even bother me now.... Hmmmmmm

Sherri said...

I've become much more sensitive as I've gotten older. I could watch anything when I was a kid. After I had my first son, maybe it's the 'parental influence', I find that I'm unable to watch anything that has to do with abuse or violence. Especially if it has anything at all to do with a child.

The Phoenix said...

Television is a much more passive activity. In fact, there is more brain activity during sleep that watching TV.

Video games are active, a gamer is participating in the violence. The military was rumored to have used violent video games/simulations in order to get them desenstitized to violence.

That's what could potentially make video games dangerous, if there is a causal relationship between them and real-life violence.

KC said...

I have not played any video games since PacMan in the 80's. As such, I have not been desensitized. I can't watch horror movies or scenes of graphic violence. I can't even watch my son play video games. Besides thinking that they are too violent, I also find them astoundingly boring.

PDD said...

Unless one has prefrontal lobe damage, one will have skin conductance response when viewing horrific images (the P300 response which seems as if it works as a detection of skin conductance response. I don't know all of the technicalities of the P300 since I didn't click the link for further reading. I'm at work.) So my question is, how horrific were these pictures, really? Or, if this is the case than we could possibly say that violent video games damages the prefrontal lobes.

No one becomes increasingly violent due to exposure of violent video games or violent movies/tv etc. One becomes increasingly violent because it's either in their DNA or their brains are now wired differently from all the crack they've smoking. One will commit a violent act regardless of watching a violent video game or violent movie. They will do it sooner or later independent of that.

I am so sick and tired of all of these nimrods going on and on about how violent movies and violent video games create violent people. Do we pretend to be this naive or are we this naive?

james said...

As has been said in earlier posts - games and movies aren't real. If you can't distinguish between them and reality, then you more than just anger and violence problems.

I collect and watch some of the most brutal and goriest Japanese horror/gore DVDs, yet I will hold the door open for whoever is approaching, give money to charity and always say please and thank you.

Violence breeds violence, not some pictures, a game, or a movie scene on the TV.

Keshi said...

Phoneix Im an extra-senstive person...I become very upset watching violence and gory stuff...I just shake and feel sick...

I believe that violence breeds violence no matter in what media it's promoted...better not familiarise ourselves with something makes us forget what it is to be peaceful and loving...


The Phoenix said...

Wow, lots of interesting responses to this study.

Again, this study was to see if video games had any desensitizing effect of real life violence or any other negative stimuli.

Skin conductive response is a physiological change due to a variety of stimuli, and it well studied in psychology. But physiological changes can be tricky when used as evidence, as some people are able to control their physiology (i.e. sociopaths).

David, I see your point questioning the validity of the study with regards to patients. Bartholow said that he recruited people specifically that play video games, and he used questionnaires to identify their varying gaming experience.

Like I said, what came first, the chicken or the egg???

Do these desensitized people naturally have low P300 responses to images of real-life violence? And because of the way their brain works, are then then drawn to play video games.

Or does it work the other way around? People naturally have higher reactions to violence, but then video games desensitize them.

I think a great study would be to take people that do not play video games. Measure their P300 responses to all sort of images to create a baseline. Have them play video games on a regular basis for varying lengths - say 12 months. Then measure their P300 responses afterwards.

Also, a huge problem I have with this study is that it might show how people become desensitized to IMAGES of real-life violence. That's quite different than watching someone get beat with a baseball bat live and in living color.

That could be resolved with another study, but we'd have to find people to beat the crap out of.

Jim said...

pac-man good.

have a valium and chill man.

have a quaalude and loose the clothes.

have some speed, it make you go slow.

No, the games don't seem to have affected me.

Odd Footnote: One explanation for the gory Roman gladiatorial sports is that they helped to desensitize the Roman citizen/soldiers to actual warfare.

Pixie said...

I do think teenagers today are much more tougher and desensitised then we ever were, I think the whole package though has had an effect on them , TV, Games and the internet.

the weirdgirl said...

I think the real question is whether viewing violent images breeds a disconnect between the image and having an empathic response to the pain associated with that violence. I.e. at what point do the viewers stop cringing and imagining the pain involved when they see an image of someone getting hurt? If violent images become so commonplace that a viewer no longer associates the "pain" as "real", even when they actually see someone hurt in real like (I'm thinking Jackass) then you may have the potential for increased violence. It's the same argument as the "objectification of women" that concerns people about the porn industry.

At the same time, I DO think someone who is going to commit a crime probably already has that disposition to violence. I don't think video games are going to cause a normal person to go bezerk. However, if a disturbed person can live out fantasies through video games will it make it easier for that person to commit violence in real life?

Anhoni Patel said...

Phoenix you crack me up. P300, huh?

Pong was NOT violent. Not really. Grand Theft Auto, the Ho's Edition is violent.

The Phoenix said...

I think you're onto something, WG.

The more a person is faced with a stimulus, the less brain or physiological response you're going to get. THAT is a fact. Whether it's the p300 brainwave or skin conductivity, what you end up with is habituation to a repeated stimulus - desensitization.

Whether the person is bordering becomming a mass murder or is very normal, this person is simply going to feel less of an impact while viewing ANYTHING over and over again.

I don't believe video games are going to make a normal person go out and kill. But I do believe it can make a normal person less affected when it comes to violent images. Now violence in person, I'm not so sure.

Several mass murderers have recently talked about using video games as a sort of pre-murdering spree arena. Almost like a training ground. They project their potential real life victims into the video games. What's going on here? I think it's a person that has great potential for real life violence that is drawn to violent video games.

Music, TV, movies, video games - these don't mold the person. And people want to blame them because they want to be able to point a finger at some cause of violent crime.

Reiki said...

wow. Lots of comments on this one Phoenix. I absolutely agree (with no scientific evidence to back me up whatsoever) that playing violent video games, watching violence on tv or movies does cause desensitization in a person to real life violence.

IT blurs the line between what is fantasy and what is reality. I do not ever think that it could cause a totally normal person to go crazy and commit all kinds of violent acts. I think it probably is a little of both, violent people are drawn to violent games, which in turn desensitize them to real life violence.

Once again, good post!

Laurie said...

I think violence in video games is very detrimental to impressionable teens.

I loved the games when I was a teen.. Defender and Missle Command were my faves. Harmless fun.

grrrbear said...

I sometimes find that the opposite is true for me. Watching Barney and Friends for example makes me feel much more violent urges than does watching Saving Private Ryan. Same thing is true for anything featuring Ann Coulter.

Where are the studies on that I wonder? Am I normal or is this my mutant power? I suspect the latter.

Crap, now I'm going to have to go to some "private school" where I can learn to use my power for good and not evil. So much work...

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MrV said...

Watching that ass clown on Fox Bill O'Riely turns me into an extremly violent Hulk like person but instead of green i turn into a light shade of purple.

Often the only thing that can calm me down is some good ol fashion semi violent hard core porn.....

james said...

I've started playing DOOM again because of this post and I went into work and shot everyone.

Oh no wait, that didn't happen because I can distinguish between reality and an image.

Being desensitized by violence and actually committing acts of violence because of violent images are two completely different things.

Greyson Winters said...

Ok, this is totally off-topic but a guy that likes the movie The Princess Bride without being forced to *endure* it by a member of the female gender? Where have you been all of my life? And thanks for visiting my blog. I'm going to post again today. Really. I mean it this time.

Ben Heller said...

Great Blog........
For all those people who are anti violent video games, I always put to them this point.

Has the video violence resulted in an increase in violent crime?
No - on Oct. 17, the FBI released figures showing that the U.S. violent crime rate declined again last year.
In fact, violent crime has dropped significantly over the past twenty years— just as video games have become more violent.

Also, to consider the reduction in violence should we not consider T.V also ?
Multiple murders are considered entertainment every single night. Top-rated television drama shows routinely involve killings and death, from "Law & Order" to "CSI" to "The Sopranos" to "ER." While many of the murders that entertain us are fictional, others aren't. Newsmagazine shows such as "Dateline NBC" and "48 Hours" regularly feature real-life murders packaged as entertainment mysteries.

Just my thoughts.


The Phoenix said...

You people are so funny.

I hope I never get desensitized to your guys' witty sense of humor.

P.S. I love the movie The Princess Bride because of the sword fight scene. Oh, that and the other parts too...that's how my masculine ego stays intact. That and Andre the Giant is in this movie.

ObilonKenobi said...

I think it depends on the type of violence that you watch. I've been watching Star Wars and fantasy movies for my whole life whic get sorts violent. Nothing like Grand Theft Auto which is the most violent video game I've ever seen. I am pretty desensitized to violence in video games. I never thought there was anything wrong with games like Doom but this game takes it to another level. The type of violence is more realistic. Movies and TV seem more detatched than video games which are more engaging.

angel, jr. said...

One of my cousins who grew up playing video games with no other sort of activity, grew up in my opinion, socially inept. My parents bought us video games, but my father insisted we have outside activities: piano lessons, tennis lessons and school/academic activities. To this day, my college graduate cousin is still obssessed with video games.

Bruce said...

there were no such things as video games when I was a kid. And with just three channels, we had to make our own amusement.

The Phoenix said...

As far as TV and movie goes, I remember watching Rocky on TV, then a bunch of us kids went out in the backyard to re-inact some of the scenes, essentially beating the living snot out of each other.

I can't tell you how many kids got hurt either from OR doing the crane kick a la Karate Kid.

:P fuzzbox said...

I was always a Joust fan myself. I think it has desensitized me to bird violence. Even the bird flu pandemic talk doesn't seem to bother me.

Eve said...

I can't even IMAGINE what one of the VIOLENT games would do to me?! Miss Pacman makes me kick the TV?!

RT said...

There are a lot of comments here and I didn't make it through all of them, so please forgive me if it's already been pointed out, but...

I wonder how many cops, paramedics and firemen they tested. If violence begets violence, wouldn't they be at the top of the list?

Personally, I'm not buying it that video games desensitize (and therefore makes us more prone to commit a violent crime, as articles like these are suggesting.) If that were true, then the crime rate would be going up, not down. Especially when compared to the amount of violent games available. If anything, maybe this test just goes to prove that these games are teaching us better coping skills... And we should all be playing them more.

The Phoenix said...

The study was trying to see if the brain's P300 response would vary among video gamers depending on how many hours spent playing.

Across the board,P300 responses were significantly lower when viewing violent images with the most veteran video gamers.

The study does NOT make the assumption that video games "makes us more prone to commit a violent crime" as you say. To make that leap is really incorrect, so I agree with you there. This study does not ever make that false leap, at any time.

You're onto something with firemen, policemen, and ER workers - they are desensitized to seeing people severely hurt. They NEED to be, otherwise they couldn't do their jobs. Desensitization is not necessarily a bad thing.

The study specifically was trying to measure and compare a very specific brain response to images - violent images, neutral ones, and negative/non-violent ones. That's it.

People forgetting the clinical scientific method will just assume this study shows video games make people more violent...and this study does no such thing, nor does it try to prove/disprove that assumption.

Mojotek said...

I was gonna make up my own response, but MRV got it right for me and I don't really need to repeat it.

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