Think playing too much “Grand Theft Auto” rots brains and corrupts souls? Recent findings suggest otherwise. A new study conducted at the University of Buffalo found that making poor decisions in video games can lead to better behavior in the real world.
The study, called “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” was led by Matthew Grizzard, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication. Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin, assisted.
“Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity,” Grizzard explained. “This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”
“We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard continued.
Researchers studied players’ reactions to guilt by having them play video games in which they violated two of five moral domains – care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority and purity/sanctity.
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“We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated: those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity,” Grizzard said.
“Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments,” the assistant professor added. “This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small but considerably important group of users.”
Last November, a U.K. study concluded playing video games didn’t lead to long-term behavioral problems like depression or attention deficit disorder in children.
The University of Glasgow survey was based on the observation of thousands of mothers who tracked the behavior of their children over time. Scientists wanted to know if there was a valid link between the amount of time spent gaming and the development of emotional maturity and healthy intellectual advancement.
The study focused on the impact of video games and television on 11,000 children -- and whether exposure to gaming could eventually lead to battles with anger, depression or ADD. Researchers were curious if games “may have more powerful effects due to active user engagement, identification with characters, and repeated rehearsal and reinforcement."
The study found that regular exposure to video games had virtually no effect on the behavior of participants. However, viewing three or more hours of television per day at the age of 5 did lead to a minor increase in behavioral problems in children aged 5 to 7, regardless of gender.