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Playing Nonviolent Games May Not Make You More Sensitive

New research suggests that the “automaton-like” nature of the typical immersive video game avatar can desensitize players to their own pain and that of others, regardless of the level of violence in the game.

What’s the Latest Development?

In a paper published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, psychologists Stephen Loughnan and Ulrich Weger described two experiments: In the first experiment, test subjects were asked to report how many hours they spent playing video games before participating in a challenge that involved experiencing increasing levels of pain. Those that played more hours were more successful at the challenge than those who played less. In the second experiment, participants spent seven minutes playing either a nonviolent immersive game or a puzzle game before tackling the same pain challenge. Those that played the immersive game — which involved them viewing a 3D world through the eyes of an avatar — did better on the challenge. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Loughnan and Weger say that both experiments demonstrated decreased sensitivity to personal pain, and they think it may have something to do with the avatars players inhabit. “[They] often have automaton-like, robotic characteristics … including a mechanistic inertness, rigidity, and a lack of emotionality and warmth.” Further tests involving viewing and rating photos of people with different emotional facial expressions indicated a decreased sensitivity to others’ pain as well. While the researchers don’t suggest monitoring games, they recommend that, given increasingly vivid immersive games, people pay attention to their “awareness of what it really means to be human.”

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Read it at Pacific Standard


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