Violent Games Can Hinder Development of Empathy in Children, says Study

By James Brightman

Although there’s yet to be a study that conclusively proves a direct causal relationship between video game violence and real-life violence, psychologists are continuing to examine the effect violent media can have on children. A new study by Simmons College Communications Professor Edward T. Vieira, Jr., Ph.D. and published in the 2011 spring/summer edition of the Journal of Children and Media, notes that violent video game exposure can actually hinder a child’s moral development.

The study looked at moral reasoning among children ages 7-15, based on such variables as age, gender, perspective-taking, and the ability to sympathize. The research found that frequent exposure to violent video games can impact children’s perception that some types of violence are acceptable. “The study also found that children who spend a great deal of time playing violent video games (as defined by the Entertainment Software Rating Board) have an increased likelihood of accepting all types of violence,” reads the report. “The study confirmed that boys spend twice the amount of time playing violent video games as girls do, and highlighted the increased risk faced by boys who can become desensitised to violence because of frequent exposure to violent video play.”

“Certainly not every child who continues to play violent video games is going to go out and perpetrate a violent act, but the research suggests that children — particularly boys — who are frequently exposed to these violent games are absorbing a sanitised message of ‘no consequences for violence’ from this play behaviour,” said Vieira. “The concern arises when children are taking in this message and there is a convergence of other negative environmental factors at the same time, such as poor parental communication and unhealthy peer relationships.”

One of the problems with violent games, the study suggests, is that they often do not provide the perspective of the victim of a violent act. Moreover, repeated exposure to violent video games can “impede the perspective-taking development during a crucial developmental period.”

The study also made sure to note that although it polled children ages 7 to 12, many reported playing games rated “M” for mature. It did not say whether this was a result of bad parenting or lack of enforcement at retail.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.