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Violent video games: Sensitisation or desensitisation? A mixed methods study

Fazal, Mobeen (2013) Violent video games: Sensitisation or desensitisation? A mixed methods study. Leeds Metropolitan University.


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This study analysed the effects of playing a violent video game on emotional desensitisation. A sample consisting mainly of university students (N=30) were assigned to play either a violent game (VG) or non-violent game (NVG) and were then exposed to a series of images depicting scenes of real-life violence. During both game-play and exposure to images, participants’ heart rate (HR) and galvanic skin response (GSR) were recorded. Also, the Self-Assessment Manikin scale was used as a measure of self-report valence (SRV) and self-report arousal (SRA) at both of these times. Self-report and physiological measures were combined in this study as previous research has henceforth been inconclusive in regards to the effects of VGs on reactions to depictions of real-life violence. Data from all four of these variables (HR, GSR, SRV, SRA) were analysed to ascertain whether playing a VG led participants to show attenuated reactions to the images i.e. desensitisation. Of these four variables, SRV was the only variable to indicate a significant difference between groups in terms of ratings given when exposed to the images. Contrary to previous findings, this finding indicated sensitisation as opposed to desensitisation, suggesting that playing violent games increases displeasure to real-life violence rather than decreasing it as desensitisation would suggest. Although findings for GSR and SRA were non-significant, they also point towards sensitisation. In regards to HR, findings were also non-significant, although descriptive findings suggest that playing VGs leads to desensitisation. These findings are discussed in relation to the extended general aggression model (Carnagey et al, 2007), although further study is suggested to clarify findings. In regards to the effects of VGs, such games can, for example, lead to changes in the individual’s state aggression, their pro-social behaviour as well as their physiological arousal (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

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