Study shows violent video-games reduces empathy in young men

An Italian study on the subject was published earlier this week

Study shows violent video-games reduces empathy in young men

A member of the public walks past some 18 Certificate Video Games at the Virgin MegaStore in Oxford Street, London | Image: Andrew Parsons / PA Archive/PA Images

Over 150 test subjects were chosen at random to test the potential effects of violent - particularly sexist or sexual-based violence - video games.

One third of the gamers involved in the test were asked to play the latest Grand Theft Auto game, another third to play a section from the violent (but not sexist-based violence) Half Life, and the final third played completely non-violent video-games.

Having played the games for 25 minutes, the players were then shown photos of a bruised girl, who the test organisers told them had been beaten by a boy. Each player was then asked, on a scale of one to seven, how much sympathy they had for the girl.

Those who had played Grand Theft Auto - which contains scenes including having sex with females and then attacking them to rob them of their money - scored the lowest, with a median empathy score of three.

Players who interacted with the other games had universally higher scores, while female players who took part with Grand Theft Auto scored an average of 5.3.

From this, the testers conclude, violent video-games reduce the empathy in males towards female victims, as games such as Grand Theft Auto treat females as nothing more than objects, and don't show the real-life repercussions of their actions.

Of course, the big issue with these findings is that most of the violence in the Grand Theft Auto video-games is male on male, but there was no information on whether the lack of empathy was female-specific or across the board.

Victoria Simpson Beck, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, ran a similar test back in 2012, and remarked “I’m trying to keep an open mind and think maybe it’s not sexism. Maybe they are now equalizing brutality against both sexes.”

Grand Theft Auto was also recently involved in a multi-million dollar lawsuit in Alabama, which claimed that "months of playing the game led a teenager to go on a rampage and kill three men, two of them police officers".

As a more immersive, interactive experience, there is perhaps more grounds for debate as to whether these claims are more founded that similar claims that have been made against forms of media through the ages, ranging from Catcher In The Rye to rap music.

But as a much newer form of entertainment, perhaps it's full influence will not be measurable for some time.