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Computer Games Lead to Similar Emotions among Competitors

Researchers from Finland have discovered that playing computer games can harmonize players’ emotional responses and brain activity.

Scientists measured the activity of facial muscles and imaging the brain while individuals were gaming, and found that people go through similar emotions and display matching brainwaves.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

Experts say that it is well known that people who communicate face-to-face will start to imitate each other.

For example, people adopt each other’s poses and gestures, much like infectious yawning.

What is less known is that the very physiology of interacting people shows a type of mimicry — which we call synchrony or linkage, explains Michiel Sovijärvi-Spap, lead researcher.

In the study, test participants play a computer game called Hedgewars, in which they manage their own team of animated hedgehogs and in turns shoot the opposing team with ballistic artillery.

The goal is to destroy the opposing team’s hedgehogs.

The research team varied the amount of competitiveness in the gaming situation: players teamed up against the computer and they were also pinned directly against each other.

The players were measured for facial muscle reactions with facial electromyography, or fEMG, and their brainwaves were measured with electroencephalography, EEG.

The research scientists found linkage in the fEMG: two players showed both similar emotions similar brainwaves at similar times.

A linkage was also in the brainwaves with EEG, tells Sovijärvi-Spapé.

Remarkably, the more competitive the gaming becomes, the more in sync are the emotional responses of the players.

Although counterintuitive, investigators discovered the effect increases as a game becomes more competitive.

That is, the more competitive the game becomes, the more the players’ positive emotions begin to reflect each other. All the while their experiences of negative emotions increase.

Researchers believe the findings point to areas for further study.

For example, feeling others’ emotions could be particularly beneficial in competitive settings: the linkage may enable one to better anticipate the actions of opponents.

Another interpretation suggested by the group is that the physical linkage of emotion may work to compensate a possibly faltering social bond while competing in a gaming setting.

Since our participants were all friends before the game, we can speculate that the linkage is most prominent when a friendship is ‘threatened’ while competing against each other, conveys Sovijärvi-Spapé.

Source: Aalto University School of Business and the University of Helsinki

Computer Games Lead to Similar Emotions among Competitors

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Computer Games Lead to Similar Emotions among Competitors. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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