Images of violence desensitise viewers to others’ pain, suffering

February 22nd, 2009 - 5:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 22 (IANS) Violence-themed video games and movies desensitise people to the pain and suffering of others, according to the latest research.
These findings of two studies conducted by University of Michigan (UM) psychology professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson fill an important research gap in the literature on the impact of violent media.

In earlier work, Bushman and Anderson demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitisation - lowering heart rate and skin conductance - when viewing scenes of actual violence a short time later.

But the current research demonstrates that violent media also affect someone’s willingness to offer help to an injured person, in a field study as well as in a lab experiment.

“These studies clearly show that violent media exposure can reduce helping behaviour,” said Bushman.

In one of the studies, 320 college students played either a violent or a non-violent video game for approximately 20 minutes. A few minutes later, they overheard a staged fight that ended with the “victim” sustaining a sprained ankle and groaning in pain.

People who had played a violent game took significantly longer to help the victim than those who played a non-violent game - 73 seconds compared to 16 seconds. People who had played a violent game were also less likely to notice and report the fight. And if they did report it, they judged it to be less serious than did those who had played a non-violent game.

In the second study, the participants were 162 adult movie-goers. The researchers staged a minor emergency outside the theatre in which a young woman with a bandaged ankle and crutches “accidentally” dropped her crutches and struggled to retrieve them.

The researchers timed how long it took movie-goers to retrieve the crutches. Half were tested before they went into the theatre, to establish the helpfulness of people attending violent vs. non-violent movies, said an University of Michigan release.

Half were tested after seeing either a violent or a non-violent movie. Participants who had just watched a violent movie took over 26 percent longer to help than either people going into the theatre or people who had just watched a non-violent movie.

These findings are scheduled for publication in the March issue of Psychological Science.

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