PS3 News: Violent Game Debate: A Chat With Dr. Bartholow, Part II - PS3 News

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Violent Game Debate: A Chat With Dr. Bartholow, Part II

It's time to finish our discussion on violent video games, desensitization, and aggression.

Yesterday, we published the thoughts of Dr. Bruce Bartholow, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri; his recent study demonstrated a link between desensitization and aggressive behavior. Today, we'll finish up by touching on the more positive elements of gaming, as noted by Dr. Bartholow during our talk.

"There are some papers now that claim to show some cognitive benefits of certain types of games. These are pretty interesting because they show that people who play action games may distribute their attention more broadly. There are different interpretations of those findings; for instance, that it's not a good idea to let your attention be drawn out too broadly, but there are still benefits."

We've seen studies that suggest that gamers have better problem-solving and multitasking capabilities, and this got me started on the topic of desensitization and whether or not it's all bad. I was of the belief that because certain people need to be desensitized (members of the military, doctors, etc.) in order to effectively deal with emergency situations, a desensitized gamer would also be good in a pinch.

But Dr. Bartholow forwarded me another study that proved the opposite:

"There's a study where subjects played a violent or non-violent video game, and then viewed film clips that depicted violence and other offensive things. At the end of that, there was a mock emergency in the hallway; they actually hired actors to set up an elaborate scheme, where a fight would break out just outside the laboratory door. When the fight was over and someone was in pain, the subjects were measured...how fast they responded and helped. Those showing signs of desensitization were less likely to get up and help, and more likely to rate the seriousness of the event lower."

It was then that I realized desensitization can often involve a certain apathy for our fellow man, and because violence affects us less, we're more inclined to assign less importance to things that may require our assistance. Lastly, Dr. Bartholow hinted at what might be his next study, or at the very least, a study he would find intriguing:

"One question I have is- for kids who are chronically being exposed to lots of violence; does that experience change the way parts of the brain develop? At this point, I have no idea; it may be that there's enough pre-programmed stuff going on that might not let the kid change that much. But we don't know."

He's talking about the parts of the brain that deal with aggression and violence, and if the development of these parts is affected, that could be serious. But at the end of the day, Dr. Bartholow reminds us that he's a scientist and "not a social policy person." He's also a parent so he's sensitive to such issues but as we often say, in small doses, violent video games "probably aren't a problem."

We'd like to thank Dr. Bartholow for taking the time to speak to PSXE - and also to participate in the community by responding to our readers - and we hope everyone got a little something out of this.

Tags: video game study, violent games, violence in games

6/2/2011 8:56:12 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (25 posts)

Simcoe
Thursday, June 02, 2011 @ 9:58:29 PM
Reply

Great work with these sets of articles Ben!! And thanks to Dr. Bartholow for helping explain this study in more detail and with the proper context!

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WorldEndsWithMe
Thursday, June 02, 2011 @ 10:01:51 PM
Reply

I appreciate the intelligent approach to this subject for sure.

I'm surprised about the study that caused people to think the fight was less of a big deal. I would probably be looking for an excuse to jump into something if somehow a game really got my blood boiling. So it makes you think stuff isn't a big deal? That conflicts with a lot of other findings. Do violent games make you a wuss?

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Highlander
Thursday, June 02, 2011 @ 10:06:06 PM
Reply

Awesome interview and article series Ben. *THIS* is the reason we come to this game news site, and no other. Truly excellent reading.

I found this last point that the kind Doctor made to be perhaps the most important thing said of all.

<<<He's also a parent so he's sensitive to such issues but as we often say, in small doses, violent video games "probably aren't a problem.">>>

So, we're kind of back to the whole "all things in moderation" thing again. If someone plays a constant and unremitting diet of violent video games, that's the entertainment equivalent of living on Hershey bars. There's nothing wrong with a Hershey bar every now and again but not for breakfast, lunch and supper. The message being that people need to play a variety of games and not one specific game or genre always.

I'd be really interested if Dr Bartholow is able to proceed with the additional study he mentioned. Like Worlds, I think that the finding about desensitization from the other experiment is very interesting. And it does tie in with an increase in aggression - at least in my opinion. What I mean is that if you are finding situations less violent than they are, showing you are less sensitive to violence, then you are also going to judge your own conduct according to the same skewed perceptions. Meaning that you may actually be more aggressive, without realizing that you are being more aggressive.

Last edited by Highlander on 6/2/2011 10:08:53 PM

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Jed
Thursday, June 02, 2011 @ 11:41:31 PM
Reply

Big thanks to Dr. Bartholow for coming out and answering and commenting on our questions.

I was also surprised by the study by the study where the ones playing violent games were less likely to get into the fight. But then when you think about it, the desensitized would think less of a violent situation.

I like how it shows that even though someone might be desensitized, it does not necessarily mean that they are more likely to be violent.

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Jed
Thursday, June 02, 2011 @ 11:48:04 PM

P.S. Articles like this are why I love PSXE. Thanks.

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Fane1024
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 1:24:54 AM

I think both you and World misunderstood. As I understand it, they were less likely / slower to stop the fight and to help the injured party, not less likely to join in the violence.



Last edited by Fane1024 on 6/3/2011 1:26:14 AM

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MyWorstNightmar
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 11:26:34 AM

Ha, well perhaps the study should have gone like this...

1. Test subjects come out of room after playing violent video game, or non-violent video games.
2. Actor then approaches test subject and attempts to pick a fight with them.
3. How likely would the violent video game participant vs. the non-violent video game participant react/engage in the altercation.

Many things to consider. Would we see that the person playing the violent video game's "violence appetite" was appeased, or defused by playing the violent game, thus less likely to engage in a physical altercation, whereas the person playing the non-violent video game didn't have that venting outlet just prior the staged fight, and might be more likely to engage the actor.

According to the study, Dr. B found the participants to be capable of violence after the games, but then the other study shows them less likely to help a victim because they didn't think the fight was that big of a deal. So would that also mean that someone showing aggression towards them, would be viewed as not that big of a deal because they have been desensitized?

Last edited by MyWorstNightmar on 6/3/2011 11:37:45 AM

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Underdog15
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 3:22:02 PM

@MyWorstNightmare

This isn't about making someone violent or not violent. People all react differently based on their genetic makeup. However, the brain activity would be the same. That is what they are measuring. They are compared only against themselves.

You and I might have the exact same change in our brains to the altercations, however perhaps you would start throwing punches while I would try to quickly find a non-violent approach to ending the conflict. Either way, we both deemed it a serious event, but our way of handling it was different.

It is not about how we handle it. It's about how serious we perceive the conflict. If we are desensitized, you might not throw punches, and I might not intervene peacefully because neither of us saw it to be as big a deal as it actually is. Violent disposition has next to nothing to do with this particular study.

It's about desensitization. And the findings show those involved in violent video gaming had the smallest amount of cognitive response and perceived the issues as less intense when confronted with an emergency situation.

That's what it's about. Violent behavior may be a symptom of the emergency situation, but it's whether or not we perceive the emergency situation to be as serious as it actually is. It's not about the behavior, as we all behave differently. It's about the mental reaction.

Last edited by Underdog15 on 6/3/2011 3:24:53 PM

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A2K78
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 12:53:46 AM
Reply

"I was of the belief that because certain people need to be desensitized (members of the military, doctors, etc.) in order to effectively deal with emergency situations, a desensitized gamer would also be good in a pinch."

What a ridiculous question to ask. Look at this, but I have tons of family members who are in the medical profession and also know individuals who serve in the military and law enforcement and neither of these individuals ever felt the need to be exposed to various forms of violence in order to handle their profession. Secondly if someone in the military felt the need to be exposed to violence in order to go out on the battlefield, then pscyhological problems such as PTSD,battlefield trauma and suicide would not be such a problem.

Anyhow overtly violent games might not cause an individual to become violent, but its one of the many contributors. The biggest contributor being the fact that we live a in society were we are taught if that if someone hit you, then you should hit them back.

Overall I as I said, I personlly believe that industry need to get serious and draw a line on what on what's being depicted in games because down the line the industry will be accused of selling/marketing smut to children.

Last edited by A2K78 on 6/3/2011 12:55:13 AM

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D1g1tal5torm
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 6:13:26 AM

Actually agree with this.

However I do think there are some professions that benefit from, less desensitisation more training. A classic example of this is a pilot.

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Highlander
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 10:06:42 AM

I agree with this post as well, right up to the last sentence...

"Overall I as I said, I personlly believe that industry need to get serious and draw a line on what on what's being depicted in games because down the line the industry will be accused of selling/marketing smut to children."

It's violence we're talking about - mostly, not sexual content. As it happens, while I have very little issue with visually appealing, and sexy characters, I do not want sex in my video games - at all. To me, that would be 'smut' in games. So I agree with both sentiments you seem to be expressing. However if we are discussing specifically the violence in games, it's not smut they are in danger of being accused of selling/marketing. there's a category of movie that no game should ever be compared to, and that's the snuff movie - which is more what I think you were trying to say in this last sentence? If the industry was seen to be marketing games that were in that same general area, I think we'd be in danger of gaming being regulated in draconian fashion.

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Lawless SXE
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 3:23:38 AM
Reply

It's always good to learn a little bit about psychology and the human condition. It really does get me thinking. I'd like to respond more thoroughly, but I have a splitting headache, so I'll leave it at that.

Thanks for conducting this interview Ben, and a thank you also to Dr. Bartholow for taking time out from his undoubtedly busy schedule to shed a bit of light on this highly controversial topic.

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Beamboom
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 5:56:12 AM
Reply

Yeah, I'd like to add praise for this interview.
Interesting and balanced, not being fanatic in either direction, staying on topic and with a scientific, objective approach.

I shall admit that they were not the first headlines I clicked on, but am very glad that I finally did.

Very good. More please!


Last edited by Beamboom on 6/3/2011 5:57:45 AM

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professorb
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 8:37:33 AM
Reply

Dr. B here again... I would also like to add my thanks to Ben for this series of discussions, and to the other members of this community for the intelligent and measured reaction and discussion regarding my work. I've seen my previous work discussed on similar sites in the past, and generally those discussions tend to be simply defensive and, ironically, hostile. I appreciate very much that members of this community have been, for the most part, courteous to me and responsive to the evidence presented in my work. Thanks.

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Underdog15
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 9:59:40 AM

No prob, prof.

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maxpontiac
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 10:05:49 AM

Things like this is what makes PSX so special. 99% of the community here (in the few years I have been here) are thoughtful with their responses and respectful to others.

I appreciate your study, for it has given me things to think about.

Good day, sir!

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Highlander
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 10:10:59 AM

Hi Dr. B,

Thanks for coming to our site and adding to the discussion. I think you and I could both probably come up with a reason why some gamers react defensively to this kind of information. Some hold their favorite games very dearly and anything perceived as a threat receives a heightened reaction. And - perhaps ironically - after a near constant diet of violent games, their reactions and perceptions lead to overly passionate and aggressive reactions to anything that threatens their personal status quo. In some ways, it's almost a vindication of your work that there are gamers that react in that manner. At least, that's my take on that kind of thing.

I will hope that I can spend more time reading this study and any followup. Interesting stuff, and an intriguing topic.

<lame joke warning>
I may not be a psychologist, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night...
</lame joke warning>

Last edited by Highlander on 6/3/2011 10:11:40 AM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 10:22:34 AM

I would never risk the interview with other communities, which I know would just abuse the interviewee and embarrass the staff. I wish I could say that all gaming sites and all journalists and all gamers would be as mature and as NORMAL as those of us at PSXE. Maybe that day will come; who knows? ...but can you imagine attempting this at Destructoid or something?

Highlander: Okay, that was a little funny. ;)

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 6/3/2011 10:23:20 AM

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coverton341
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 11:24:20 AM

Dr. B,
I have to say that I was a bit sceptical at first of this study, but at the end of the day think that it is an excellent study that contributes greatly to understanding desensitisation and response. Too many times we see misleading studies or opinions passed as facts and seeing a well thought out and designed study such as this is a breathe of fresh air. It gives me something to consider as I pursue a profession in child psychiatry.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer questions of the community, put into context this study, and share your opinion on the subject.

Ben,
Thanks for going the extra mile and getting into the depths of this study. I appreciate the level of professionalism the staff of this site has, and I believe your psychology background makes this site a more mature and educated one with a friendlier community as you know when to draw lines and put your foot down.

Top-notch bunch this community is. Glad to be a part of it.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 12:01:14 PM

Thanks to all.

But I've said it before and I'll say it again- we're nothing without you guys. :)

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Highlander
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 12:52:53 PM

Yeah, we iz a great comunity. Oh by teh way, Xbotz are teh suck...

</fanboy mode>

XD

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Mornelithe
Saturday, June 04, 2011 @ 9:48:42 AM

@ Dr. B: The plain truth of the matter is most gamers have been the subject of ridicule, and 'closet geek' syndrome for quite a long time. I think many simply have defense mechanisms that automatically lash out, without really thinking about what it is they're reading or responding to.

I think as society becomes more accepting of video games in general, you may see peoples reactions to this calm down. But, there have been so many articles regarding video games and violence, allot of people just get tired of hearing it. You know?

I'm glad we were able to have this discussion however, or, at least, I was able to partake in it in some small way.

Have a good day.

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Underdog15
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 10:16:25 AM
Reply

In regards to the end of the article when contemplating the possible effects of violent gaming on children, I have to say that I firmly believe that possibility is why we should be respecting game's ratings.

I work with youth for a living as an employment counselor, and much of my past employment was working recreational programming and development for children. One thing I've observed, although admittedly and obviously it did not include research by scientific method, was that even "well-adjusted" youth and children are affected by anything they invest in.

It's true that a well-adjusted and well-brought up child may not necessarily start fights, speaking crudely, or become complacent due to video games, but it does affect them in a variety of ways.

For example, I have noticed that an overwhelmingly high percentage of kids who's parents allow them to watch any movie and play any game of any rating just because they are "well-adjusted", may be more aggressive in competitive activities or participate with a "revenge" type mentality. Additionally, although not always the case, it seems to me that even though they are not violent kids normally, they sometimes even feel a sense of accomplishment when they hurt someone when playing a sport.

I think the fact that children and youth are so impressionable is because they are still developing their minds. Most haven't even figured out who they are yet. Even if violent games and movies don't have a major impact, it almost definitely will have at least a little bit. I believe ratings are meant to protect minors - not restrict them.

Theoretically speaking, an adult should be secure enough to not allow mature themes to affect them when exercised in moderation. Of course, that's not nearly as commonplace as it should be, but our society feels anyone over 17 is a good cutoff for being able to make their own decisions.

At any rate, I would be interested to see what the credible findings would be in such research. I think it's gullible to think media has no influence over people, and even more gullible still to think it affects others, but not me.

I consider myself to be a well-adjusted individual. I'm confident in my abilities, who I am, and where I'm going. I'm not violent, but I am competitive. I know myself very well, and I think I'm very secure. However, I know for a fact, that when I spend larger amounts of time than normal engaging in violent video games with mature themes, I am affected by it. Often my temper will shorten, I'll get angry more quickly, I will sleep less, and will dream violent dreams. (One week, where I played an obscene amount of CoD with my friends online, I once woke my wife up by kicking and lightly jabbing at her. Furthermore, I was speaking in my sleep about how I needed to "get the kill". I switched over to LBP for a week. lol. She loves telling that story at friendly get-togethers...)

Violent games don't appear to affect me to your average bystander, but I guarantee they do without moderation. To think any "well-adjusted" child, who's mind is still developing, can handle it better is a gullible thought. I would love to see the future findings of such an investigation.

Last edited by Underdog15 on 6/3/2011 10:23:24 AM

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BikerSaint
Friday, June 03, 2011 @ 11:25:44 PM
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One great article strung over 2 great threads, so thanks to Ben, Dr.Bartholow, and of course our very own posters.

Take a well deserved bow, everyone!!!!!

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Mornelithe
Saturday, June 04, 2011 @ 9:44:37 AM
Reply

Hmm, where to begin here. Firstly, as far as the military goes, I don't think they're programmed to be desensitized to violence. I think they're programmed to be able to react in a moments notice, regardless of the situation. To be able to follow orders, to be able to carry out the mission, being able to think quickly and effectively, while under extreme amounts of stress, that's really what the army trains. I think over time, being in active conflict can have a desensitizing effect. But, that's not really relevant to the discussion at hand.

Moving on, it's an intriguing notion, that video games or leisure activities that may include violence, could change our reactions to certain events. I wonder, would reading also cause this? If there's anything more violent than video games, it's A) Reality, and B) Our imaginations. I mean, I don't know about all of yours, but there isn't a game engine yet that comes close to what I've got going on in my brain.

Now, I can say that, growing up, I was a very...very sensitive, and caring individual. Really, I know, it sounds crazy but yeah, I was quite compassionate, and honestly, given the right circumstances, I still am. I'm not sure that this is the result of gaming, however. I think, mainly, it's interaction with other people. Having that compassion, and concern for fellow people continuously used and abused, made me more selective about who it is I care about. Or, rather, who I'll put myself in harms way for, who I'll drop what I'm doing to help, for etc...

I know that in some ways, I'm still a very caring, and compassionate person. Because, I still cry over certain things. Yeah, I'm 32 (Tomorrow), but there are things that still jerk the heart strings. Though, they're things that I've suffered, so...maybe it's simply the link to those emotions that I have in my brain that's triggered when I see/read such things happening either in a book, a game, a movie, or in the news. It happens though, so I know there's still some human left in me hah.

I keep thinking about how America pretty much welcomes violence though, like most violent things are pretty much condoned on TV. Encouraged in the media, encouraged throughout our society really. Could that have just as much of an affect on us, and the development of our brains as video games? Personally, I'd have to say yes, because I see the world way more, than I play games. I wasn't born with a controller in my hand, but I was born into a world that seemingly loved violence.

This is me though, and I realize I'm not necessarily the same as anyone else. Though, I'm not so arrogant to say that I'm unique in some way either, I just don't quite think gaming is as responsible for how I am, as some studies suggest.

Sorry, for the long response. You got me thinking again Ben!

My thanks to Ben, and Dr. Bartholow for these articles. Made me think about quite a few things, honestly and openly. Definitely refreshing to reflect on yourself deeply from time to time.

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