Teenaged boys who play violent video games three or more hours a day may be desensitized to the physiological and emotional effects of the games, a new study suggests.
“High versus low experience of violent gaming seems to be related to different physiological, emotional and sleep related processes [after] exposure to violent video games,” according to a new study by Malena Ivarsson, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University.
The study included two groups of boys, between the ages of 13 and 15. Fifteen boys played violent video games at least three hours a day. The other 15 played no more than an hour a day.
The researchers monitored the boys’ reactions to playing two different video games: a violent game (“Manhunt”) and a nonviolent cartoon game (“Animaniacs”). The boys played the games at home, on two different evenings, for two hours each.
The researchers then monitored the boys’ physiological, emotional, and sleep reactions.
Although there were few differences in reactions while playing the games, some significant differences appeared later, the researchers report.
For instance, while sleeping later that night, boys in the low-exposure group had faster heart rates after playing the violent game, compared to the night after playing the nonviolent game.
In contrast, for boys in the high-exposure group, heart rate was lower on the night after playing the violent game.
There were also some differences in heart rate variability (HRV), which measures beat-to-beat variations in heart rate. The patterns of HRV differences suggested blunting of sympathetic nervous system reactions among boys in the high-exposure group, the researchers report.
On sleep questionnaires, boys who played less reported lower sleep quality on the night after playing the violent game, compared to the nonviolent game. They also reported increased feelings of sadness.
For high-exposed boys, there was no difference in sleep quality after playing the two games, according to the researchers.
However, both groups had higher anxiety and stress levels after playing the violent game.
“The violent game seems to have elicited more stress at bedtime in both groups and it also seems as if the violent game in general caused some kind of exhaustion,” the researchers write in the study.
“However, the exhaustion didn’t seem to be of the kind that normally promotes good sleep, but rather as a stressful factor that can impair sleep quality, especially for low exposed gamers.”
The differences between the boys may represent a desensitizing effect of frequent exposure to violent video games, the researchers speculate. They add it’s also possible that boys with certain traits may be attracted to violent games. The researchers noted they had difficulty recruiting boys with high exposure to violent gaming to participate in the study.
The study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health