Scientists Used Brain Scanners To See What Happens When We Watch Violent Movies

Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Scans show that our brains change when watching violent images.

A study published today in the journal PLOS One found that each person’s reaction to violent images depends on that individual’s brain circuitry, and on how aggressive they were to begin with.

The brain scans revealed that both watching and not watching violent images caused different brain activity in people with different aggression levels.

The findings may have implications for intervention programs that seek to reduce aggressive behaviour starting in childhood.

“Our aim was to investigate what is going on in the brains of people when they watch violent movies,” says Nelly Alia-Klein, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at the US Friedman Brain Institute and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The findings support the theory that people with aggressive traits to begin with process violent media in a very different way.

“How an individual responds to their environment depends on the brain of the beholder,” says Dr Alia-Klein.

“Aggression is a trait that develops together with the nervous system over time starting from childhood.

“Patterns of behaviour become solidified and the nervous system prepares to continue the behaviour patterns into adulthood when they become increasingly coached in personality.

“This could be at the root of the differences in people who are aggressive and not aggressive, and how media motivates them to do certain things.

“Hopefully these results will give educators an opportunity to identify children with aggressive traits and teach them to be more aware of how aggressive material activates them specifically.”

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