A new study from Simmons College researchers comes to the conclusion that children exposed to more violent games for longer periods of time are less able to sympathize with others. The new study published in the Journal of Children and Media surveyed 166 Boston, MA and southern New Hampshire schoolchildren. The study was overseen by Simmons College professors Edward T. Vieira and Marina Krcmar. They examined the relationship between violent games and kids' attitudes toward violence.
The duo surveyed children age 7-15 about their favorite games, how many hours a week they played, and questions to gauge their ability to sympathize with others, to see things from another person's perspective, and whether they saw violence as an appropriate response in situations where it would be deemed justified or unjustified. The favorite "violent games" included Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Counter Strike, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and World of Warcraft.
"To make a judgment about violence, at least two skills are necessary," the paper read. "First, a child must be able to imagine the point-of-view of both parties in the aggressive conflict. Second, he/she should be able to feel some sympathy or imagine some sympathy towards each party. Only at this point can a moral judgment be appropriately made."
The researchers found that children with more exposure to violent games were less able to sympathize with others and that violent game players tended to have different perceptions on whether justified violent acts were permissible. The same group that had trouble being sympathetic also were more likely to accept unjustified violence, researchers said.
"Those who play more violent video games perceive violence in the name of retaliation and self-protection as more justified, much like the view of violence presented in video games," the paper continued.
Obviously there are limitations to this study including small sample size, and the fact that it is simply a survey. We're also not sure how the questions were phrased, and if participants were given a list of games to choose from or made their own choices. Below is what one of the study's researchers told GameSpot:
"Exposure to violent video games is directly associated with justified violence," Edward T. Vieira told GameSpot. "Therefore, there are cases where violence is justified such as self-defense or defending loved ones. One might have a 'normal' ability to empathize, for example, and see some types of violence as acceptable. We could apply this to societal issues such as capital punishment and wars."
"On the other hand, the study suggests that children who are heavy violent gamers are associated with less perspective-taking (empathy ability) and less perspective-taking predicts gratuitous violence (unjustified) as acceptable. This appears to make sense, because it suggests that there is no 'reason' for the violence; it is done for its own sake or some emotional motive. It intimates that the unjustified condition requires other factors such as perspective-taking. Therefore, the unjustified condition does involve gaming exposure, but gaming exposure mediated by the cognitive ability to perspective-take."