With the video game industry being an absolute juggernaut in terms of global reach and revenue – it made $91 billion worldwide in 2016, according to a report from SuperData Research – it makes sense for many physicians, clinicians, and psychological experts to continue their studies on the medium in order to understand its effects on the human body and psyche. With this being the case, there are bound to be conflicting pieces of research that either point to the possibility of video games having negative impacts such as a link to increased aggression, or having no connection to harmful effects whatsoever.

Now, a new paper published in the quarterly, peer-reviewed neuroscience journal Brain Imaging and Behavior claims that hardcore players of violent video games are not emotionally desensitized. By using brain scanning to search out emotional desensitization at a neural level, Hannover Medical School’s Gregor R. Szycik and his colleagues discovered that there is no evidence that gamers who excessively play violent titles are emotionally blunted.

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In order to determine this, the researchers conducted two studies, the first of which took 14 excessive players of violent first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and Battlefield and compared them with a second control group who had never played violent games before. The average age of participants was 22 to 23 and they were all male. The first study found that players averaged 4.9 hours violent gameplay per day, while the second study averaged 4.6 hours daily play. According to the research, those in the first group had also been playing these games since they were roughly six years old.

Interestingly enough, the two studies were quite similar, as the study’s participants had their brains scanned while looking at a range of emotionally positive, negative and neutral photos, with the majority of images coming from the International Affective Picture System. As far as the content of the negative images are concerned, participants were shown such subjects as graphic, violent attacks and even dead bodies. The positive images included cute animals, while the neutral images depicted things like natural vistas.

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As one might anticipate, there were larger increases in participants’ brain activity while looking at emotional pictures as compared to neutral images, especially when it involved neural regions related to emotional processing. The key finding, though, is that this effect wasn’t different between the groups, as the violent video game players elicited similar neural sensitivity to the emotional pictures as the control participants.

While the data pointed toward no emotional desensitization among those who play violent games, the researchers added that this does not necessarily mean there are no consequences to playing them, as the “results suggest [a need] to rethink the desensitization hypothesis.” For example, one possibility is that violent games affect players’ responses to emotional stimuli, instead of how their brains initially process the content.

All things considered, it’s safe to say that there is still not one conclusive study officially decreeing as a fact that violent or non-violent video games negatively or positively impact players. Sure, there’s plenty of research indicating that there’s no link between video games and violent behavior, but there are also lots of studies claiming that a connection between gaming and violence in players exists. Not to mention, there’s even evidence of some gamers’ brains being wired differently. As of now, though, it looks as if much more in-depth investigations still need to be done in order to suss out video games’ effects on human beings.

Source: Brain Imaging and Behavior (via The British Psychological Society)

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