by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
fmri, research, violent video games

Another Study Showing The Impact Of Violent Media On The Brain

from the been-there,-done-that? dept

Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about some new research showing how violent video games impacted the brains of children as monitored using fMRI equipment. The end result was basically that there was an effect -- but it was basically what you'd expect. Violence made stimulated parts of the brain corresponding to being "emotional," which is what anyone would expect. Slashdot is now reporting on a similar study that really doesn't seem all that different (even if the press release about it claims that there hasn't been such evidence "until now"). Basically, the finding shows that when viewing violent media, the part of the brain that suppresses inappropriate aggression is less active. Again, though, that seems perfectly reasonable. If you're witnessing violence, it seems perfectly natural that your brain would prepare you to be ready for violence yourself if needed. What it doesn't show is that it actually does make you more violent. Unlike some research, this seems like perfectly good research and the researchers don't seem to be pretending it says more than it actually does. However, for those looking to support the idea that violent video games makes people violent, they won't find it here (unless they extrapolate out well beyond what the study covers).

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    SteveD, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 4:58am

    They will

    "unless they extrapolate out well beyond what the study covers"

    Knowing the media, they probably will.

    Incidently Mike, do you ever sleep?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Pat, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 5:03am

    Me thinks thou doeth protest too much....Not unlike doctors, who once refused to believe that washing hands to remove germs would help patients not to die, refusing to think things through on the studies (Why would it take a study - wouldn't you think commonsense would dictate the same results?) that prove continual watching of violence breeds violence in the brain of the viewer, is almost criminal in itself. People/kids have been inundated with violence from movies, TV, video games and look at the resulting behavior. We are such a violent society that it's beyond scary. But there will be those, as the writer of the above segment, who will try to convince themselves, and everyone else, that isn't so. Yes, Virginia, there is a social consequence, and it's called violence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Peter, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 5:48am


    I think the point Mike is trying to make here is that there is no conclusive evidence either way. All that has been shown scientifically is that there is a link between the violent media and the immediate activation of associated centers in the brain. The connection assumed by the press/politicians is that this activation has a lasting effect on the brain which leads to violent behavior. In the absence of supporting data this is no more than an assumption. That is not to say that a lasting effect does not exist, and perhaps common sense even suggests it might, but extrapolating that information from these preliminary studies and presenting it as a scientific fact is what is dangerous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:17am


    "We are such a violent society that it's beyond scary." Show me a gentle, non-violent society (read; existing nation) that we can say is the beacon of hope that we can all aspire to be like one day. ... ... That's right...there isn't one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Matthew, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:20am


    People/kids have been inundated with violence from movies, TV, video games and look at the resulting behavior.
    And there was no violence before TV?

    We are such a violent society that it's beyond scary. But there will be those, as the writer of the above segment, who will try to convince themselves, and everyone else, that isn't so.
    The human animal has the same traits that it always has. Fortunately, society has evolved and dampened that to some effect with homes, cars, fast food, and so forth. However, the nature of the beast is not gone; merely dormant.

    But that my kids start jumping all over the room when there's a kung-fu flick on TV does not translate into them roving the streets searching for prey and vandalism.

    Doctors used to prescribe smoking. They're not perfect. That's why it's called practice, and they are ever searching for knowledge and understanding. I'll take that over someone hiding under the sheets quoting Shakespeare (sort of) any day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    SteveD, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:24am

    Here we go again...

    Please don't start down the Virginia tech route. That isn't evidence that we shouldn't let the mentally ill play videogames, but that theres something wrong with a system that lets the mentally ill purchase firearms.

    Ultimately this debate reaches back to Aristotle and Plato, and somehow I doubt even MRI scans will be able to settle it one way or the other.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    atomatom, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:24am

    >We are such a violent society that it's beyond scary.

    We're not nearly as violent as we used to be. Violent crime has gone down as violent video games have become popular. It only seems like society is incredibly violent because as population grows, there *is* more crime in total, but not on average.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Sniperdoc (profile), Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:35am


    Ya... ok. Pretty much was the dead guy said. :)

    Violence hasn't become more prevalent. It's become known and available to the public because it's more wide spread due to media displaying it (bad news). Good news doesn't get ratings, bad news does.

    Every house hold in the world has a TV now. We're not just sittin' in front of our Victrola listening to the latest "Whispering Hope" by olive Kline-Elsie Baker record.
    Society has become inundated with violence around them. I've been playing video games and watching violent movies since I was 9 years old. Now 24 years later, I still do all those things and I haven't killed anyone, shot anyone, raped my pet ferret or beat my wife.

    Keep in mind that those folks who run into schools and shoot people are unstable to begin with. Those folks that believe videogames and media are the cause of violence are shirking responsibility onto a third party. It's the parents, teachers, and to some degree the environment the kids grow up in that cause of "unstable" individuals.

    Just because I play Manhunt 2 doesn't mean I'm going to start driving around whackin' people. I hope to think that I have enough reasoning and judgement capability to not do that. Hell, even when I've been drunk I haven't gotten in a fight yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Violent Criminals, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:36am

    Ask the

    Do they ever ask the violent criminals in jail if video games infulenced their behavior? Seems like they could provide some insight to the issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Overcast, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:44am

    Yeah, I agree - particularly the news and even more so reporting of this study and that study makes me feel oh so violent.

    You know - maybe if Charles Mansion, Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, and others wouldn't have played all those violent video games, they wouldn't have went on murderous sprees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:47am

    Re: Ask the

    If it helps them plead some sort of "insanity" I am sure all of them will jump at the chance to blame it on violent video games. Lawyers would love to have that excuse. It is always easy to blame someone/something else for the mistakes you made. If you ask most criminals, though, they are innocent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Haywood, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 7:00am

    Grand Theft Auto made me less violent

    I got it out of my system. All the repressed anger found an outlet. I do apologize to all the electrons I murdered. On the minus side, if I wasn't cured, I'd be really good at it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    TheDock22, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 7:07am

    Does anyone wonder?

    What children were involved in this study? And what parent would let their child be hooked up to brain scanning technology while spoon fed violent media for a couple hours?

    If there was even a slight indication that violent media was bad for children, the study would never have been done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Scheffy, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 7:13am

    So that portion of the brain became less active while they were watching... and? Unless they followed these people around for days/weeks/months both before and after they watched those clips, all the while keeping them hooked up to the same machine they used during the viewing, this doesn't show anything about the lasting effects, if any, of what they had watched. That's the most important link in this whole media-wide conspiracy theory that not a single study has been able to come close to confirming. All this study shows is that their brains react as if they're watching something violent when they're watching something violent. It's like saying your brain adjusts to fast-moving objects because you're in a car. Nobody needs an fMRI machine to make that conclusion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 7:23am


    In your list of sources of violent media, don't forget the news, or life it self. many children grow up where they see violence on a daily basis in their front yards. We shouldn't be trying to prove we should shield children from violence, instead we should be teaching them how to deal with violence and why it's wrong so that maybe they won't continue the violence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Gabriel Knight, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 9:00am

    There's so much comedy on television and in games today... do you think it's causing comedy in the streets?

    The idea that we do emulate what we're shown as acceptable behavior has a point - if we show our good guys (our Jack Bauers or the like) resorting to violent, evil methods on a regular basis... those methods may become more acceptable in society. However, here - as in all things - context is key. When we watch / play / involve ourselves in violent media - a war game or the like - they come with context. Jack's violent because the world is at stake, this game is violent cause it's set during a war, that game because you're role playing a criminal. Context is important.

    I think (not backed up by any statistics) that many gamers would be more comfortable using a weapon in real life than an average person would be. They have had enough virtual experience wielding weapons (guns or whatever) that doing so in real life might be easier to adjust to. However - they've wielded weapons against zombies, demons, enemy agents, or while being / role playing a criminal (assassin or just plain thug) - so choosing to wield a weapon in real life with out that context would not be something they'd be comfortable with. They've not learned that it's ok to hurt innocents - in fact most media punishes for that kind of behavior, either by showing in the movie that the bad guy loses in the end, or in a game environment by deduction of points / lives / whatever.

    There's an interesting thought though, if it's not the violence we should be worried about so much as that we've just changed the way (and consequences) we're teaching are involved with a criminal lifestyle. Violence on tv isn't the problem - but making heroes out of criminals might be. In the 50's movies had a "rule" that you didn't show criminals benefiting from their crimes (by the end it had to go wrong for the criminal, they never got to keep the money and they usually died - even the criminal's you were rooting for like the original Ocean's Eleven or the like) Today's films (and games) show criminals succeed or win on a semi-regular basis. We're, somewhat, making a criminal lifestyle look like a viable alternative. Sometimes even something to aspire to or look up to.

    Hitman, GTA, Sopranos, Ocean's whatever, etc - they don't always paint a rosy picture - but they certainly don't teach the moralty play values of "every wrong deed goes punished" that we used to... The new media is truer to life (maybe), and possibly even in some lights educational (life *isn't* a morality play and believing it is can be problematic) ... but are we encouraging crime as an option when children dream of their futures? I want to be an astronaut! I want to be a teacher! I want to be mafia boss! I want to be an assassin! =)

    It's a thought. Maybe we're training our children to be more comfortable with violence - exposure and repetition makes it less shocking and easier to deal with - but does that make them want to be *bad*, violent or against society? Not unless we teach them that as well...

    Just thinking out loud,

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Thom, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 9:08am


    Have you ever cut up a chicken? I don't mean that cooked piece of meat on your plate or even a piece of raw breast from a grocery store package. I mean a whole fryer.

    If you have then you know what it's like. If you haven't then go to the grovery store, buy one, and try it. Cutting through flesh and tendons, peeling back the skin, snapping the backbone - it's gory, disgusting, and gross - at least the first time. It gets easier though and less disgusting, until you don't give it a second thought. We become acclimated to the grossness of butchering the chicken.

    It's the same with everything that makes us uncomfortable. The more we experience it, the more we are around it, the more acclimated we become and the easier it gets.

    Violent media doesn't make a person violent, but violent media does lessen our natural retraints against such acts. We grow accustomed to, less or even undisturbed by, violent imagery, acts, and violence by ourselves.

    If you want to be a fool and claim there's NO connection between violent media and violence then go butcher a few chickens. See how you feel the first time and the last. It's the same effect. Or maybe go jump off a bridge, bungee of course, and notice how what scared you to death the first time quickly becomes an exhilirating high that you seek out. Same effect, just a different degree of experience.

    Watching or participating in any violence, even fake violence, encourages violence by lessening our nervousness and fears of it. Deny it and you are an idiot or a fool. What you need to be doing is recognizing how it affects us and acting to counter it.

    Yes, butchering a chicken provides a similar effect. It acclimates one to the blood and guts and gore one would experience inflicting violence on another creature or human. Does it make you want to kill? Not unless you're a sick puppy already. Does it make it easier to inflict wounds on another? Absolutely, because you've lost your aversion to gore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Jon, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 9:25am

    There is a clear causal relationship between violent media and actual violent capability going back to the civil war.

    That doesn't mean that video games will make you a violent person, but there's a clear difference between what you're capable of with no influence vs. what you can actually do if given some realistic influence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Hozer, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 9:47am


    people are full of shit. they only use violent games and movies as an excuse for there own ignorance.
    what ever happened to commonsense??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 10:36am


    Mike is just saying that it isn't conclusive. The only thing that they CAN say conclusively is that violent video games increases your CAPACITY for violence. Like the study says, the part of the brain that helps inhibit violence is less active.

    That's a preparation. Your brain is letting your body know to get ready, a fight is imminent. Same thing happens if a fight breaks out in front of you or if you watch a war movie.

    Which brings me to a question. In the U.S. the Department of Justice does a sort of census on violence. If violent media (e.g. movies, TV, video games) is making children more violent how is it that violent crimes among juveniles is at a 40 year low, and has been since 2000?

    I thought there was a surge of youth violence, Senator Hillary Clinton even told me so. Surely people aren't lying to me for their own profit! Why you'd think that would be illegal or something . . .

    I don't doubt the D.O.J.'s ability to be somewhat accurate in such cases, and in this case I believe it since from older co-workers it seems kids got into a lot more physical fights. I remember a conversation I overheard between classmates when I was 15 and a "fight" broke out in the lunchroom. I believe the words were: "Man, my Da would laugh at me if I told him that that was a fight. He only threw one punch before it was over."

    Oh, kids are superviolent alright. It has NOTHING to do with other sources, its just the less-than-30-years-old violent video game.

    **Disclaimer: Most of that was sarcasm. People are too bloody dense nowadays to understand it so I suggest you get a dictionary.**

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 10:50am


    You are such an idiot. Just look at history and the world around you and ask yourself if we are a violent society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    MikeyUSAF, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    People are stupid

    Regardless of the findings that violent media desensitizes you to violence, it doesn't make a person more violent. Prime example, myself, I have been playing violent video games since I can remember, and when I was at a more impresiionable age, my parents taught me the difference between reality and fiction, and that the two should never meet, especially with regards to violence against another human being, and driving erratically or whatever simulations video games depict. I have never shot anyone, or hit a woman, or acted violently, unless it was a self defense issue. Also, I disagree that violent media makes you that senseless to true violence, for example, playing Call of Duty 4 on my xbox 360, is a great experience, but as great as it may be, you do not react the same as you do to the game when a freakin RPG blows a vehicle up right in front of you, you really think call of duty prepared me for that, hell no, you are an idiot if you think that. When violence faces you directly it is a totally different experience, I have been robbed at gunpoint, no video game or movie made me prepared for the feeling of helplessness that brought on, so stop being a retard and parent your damn children and stop pawning off your lack of such skills on media, because I will not stop watching my violent movies or playing my violent games, because it will not affect the minds of sensible human beings, only stupid people that lack intelligence the ability to reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Clay, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 12:28pm

    More proof

    Just reading this article made me think about killing researchers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Jordan, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:59am


    Thank u im on a debatte team and your study won the argment for us thxQ!!!!!!!;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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