Richard G. Petty, MD

Video Games and Violence

For years now, there has been a vigorous debate on both sides of the Atlantic about the impact of violence in the media and the behavior of young people. I’ve seen various statistics indicating that the average teenager, by the time he or she graduates from high school, will have seen thousands of people killed on television. Most professionals have seen young people who no longer have any concept of death: they assume that if someone is killed they will simply get up and play another scene. As bizarre as this sounds, there have been multiple reports of this happening with young people involved in some of the most notorious acts of violence seen in schools.

This month see the publication of an important report from Iowa State University, where a research team has been examining the effects of violence in the media for several years now.

This latest report, "The Effects of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-Life Violence," was published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Previous research has come to the intuitively sensible conclusion that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors and at the same time decreases helpful behaviors. This is very worrying when we discover that more than 85 percent of video games contain some violence, and approximately half of video games include serious violent actions.

The latest research involved 257 college students (124 men and 133 women). First, the investigators made some baseline physiological measurements of heart rate and galvanic skin response, which reflects sweating and blood flow in the skin. They then asked questions to control for the students’ preference for violent video games and general aggression. The participants then played one of eight randomly assigned violent or non-violent video games for 20 minutes.

When viewing real violence, participants who had played a violent video game experienced skin response measurements significantly lower than those who had played a non-violent video game. The participants in the violent video game group also had lower heart rates while viewing the real-life violence compared with the nonviolent video game group.

This research shows that people who play these violent video games get so used to violence that they become desensitized to it: it no longer affects them. Given the numbers of games and the enormous numbers of people playing them, the results are shocking: it could be said that modern entertainment media are systematically desensitizing millions of young people to violence.

Are you happy about that?

Shouldn’t we – both individually and collectively – be doing something about this?

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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