Psychologists have previously demonstrated that repeated exposure to a trauma or fear can decrease your emotional response to that stressor. For example, repeated exposure to memories from a traumatic experience can decrease an individual’s emotional response to these memories. This is one of the reasons why talking about these experiences can be an important part of counseling and also why your psychologist may recommend exposure therapy.

New research indicates that exposure to violent video games causes a decreased brain response to violence, and increased aggressive behavior. In this study, adults were assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game for 25 minutes. Violent video games included Call of Duty, Hitman, Killzone, and Grand Theft Auto. Immediately after playing the video games, researchers measured brain responses while showing participants neutral and violent photos. Of particular note, participants who had not played many violent games prior to the study had a reduced brain response to the violent photos, indicating desensitization. Participants who had played a lot of violent video games prior to the study also had small brain responses to the violent photos, regardless of whether they had played violent or non-violent games during the evaluation. One explanation for this response is that these participants’ history of playing violent games may have desensitized their brains and decreased their emotional response to violence.

Following this task, participants engaged in a competitive task in which they were allowed to blast their opponent with a controlled amount of loud noise. Aggression was measured by the noise level that the participants chose. The group who played violent video games blasted their opponents with louder noises than the group who played non violent games, indicating a more aggressive response.

It remains uncertain what effect violent video games have on children, whose brains are still developing. However, the results of this study suggest that caution and prudence should be applied when selecting activities for your developing child.

For parents who are concerned about the impact of violent video games on their children’s behavior:

  • Limit the amount of time your child spends playing violent and/or aggressive video games.
  • Discuss views on violence and aggression with your child, and talk about why he/she likes violent games.
  • Explore other activities, such as non-violent games, sports, or a new hobby.
  • Foster empathy in your child by getting involved in volunteer activities that help people in need. Fostering empathy may help counter the desensitization caused by violent video games.
  • If your child is already exhibiting aggressive or violent behavior, consider counseling. A qualified psychologist can help you understand the root of the aggression and develop a treatment plan to help your child.