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Study finds violent games ‘emotionally desensitizing’

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Video game industry critics have long held that people who play violent games become less affected by real world tragedies. Now they might have some science backing them up.

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Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar Games)

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany say a new study finds brain activity from heavy gamers is noticeably different than that of non-players -- and that violent games could be "emotionally desensitizing" after extended exposure.

The results from the study, which were published in the scientific journal Biological Psychology, are bound to be a source of controversy.

The psychologists, epileptologists and neurologists who ran this test came to their conclusions after exposing core gamers (defined by those who play first-person shooters for an average of 15 hours per week) and non-gamers to a series of images that trigger emotions in the human brain.

They monitored brain activity of both groups. In the amygdalas region, which is strongly involved in processing negative emotions, reactions were about even. But in the left medial frontal lobes, which controls fear or aggression, reactions among non-gamers were much more pronounced.

"First-person shooters do not respond as strongly to the real, negative image material because they are used to it from their daily computer activities," said Dr. Christian Montag from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Bonn. "One might also say that they are more desensitized than the control group."

Before anti-gaming forces take a victory lap, though, it's worth noting that the researchers were very clear in noting that this desensitization is not exclusive to the gaming world. And, they noted, the results are far from definitive.

"Our results provide indications that the extensive use of first-person shooters is not without its problems, but we will need additional studies to shed some more light on the connections between violent games, brain activity, and actual behavior," said Montag.

Similar studies have shown that exposure to violent games is virtually no different than watching an action movie.  Subjects have higher adrenaline levels for a short while, then they return to normal.

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