University of Michigan logo Lately there has been a lot of craze and frenzy about video games and action movies among youngsters. However, according to a latest study such violent games and movies desensitize people to the suffering and pain of others. This data is based on the findings of two studies conducted by Professor Brad Bushman from the University of Michigan; and Professor Craig Anderson from the Iowa State University.

These researchers had earlier exhibited that exposure to violent media causes physiological desensitization when witnessing actual violence scenes a while later. It lowers the heart rate and skin conductance. On the contrary, the present study states that violent media exposure also discourages people from offering their help to injured or distressed people.

Bushman says that, “These studies clearly show that violent media exposure can reduce helping behavior. People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are ‘comfortably numb’ to the pain and suffering of others, to borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song.”

For the purpose of one of the studies, more than 300 college students were asked to play either a violent or a non-violent game for a period of about 20 minutes. Following which a staged fight was overheard by these students, where the “victim” was shown to have been injured.

It was noticed that the students who had played the non-violent game were quicker to help the injured victim, as compared to the ones who had played a violent game. The non-violent gamers took 16 seconds to help, as compared to the 73 seconds taken by the students who play violent games. It was also discovered that ones who play violent games were less likely to become aware of and report of such incidents, as compared to the non-violent gamers. And even if they reported of such fights, they deemed them to be far lesser serious than it actually was.

For the purpose of the second study, about 162 adult movie goers were studied. A minor incident was staged outside the theater to gauge the reaction of these subjects. The incident involved a young woman with bandaged ankles and crutches, where she “accidentally” drops her crutches and tries to retrieve them. The amount of time consumed by the movie goers to help this young woman was measured. Half of the subjects were tested in order to verify their helpfulness before attending a violent or a non-violent movie; while the other half were tested after attending the movie. It was noticed that the subjects who had attended the violent movie took 26 percent longer to help, as compared to the others.

It is said that these studies are a part of an on-going research program conducted by Bushman.

Their findings are published in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.