Call of Duty and other violent video games can dramatically affect a player’s ability to process everyday human emotions, says a new study published in the journal Social Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience. The experiment unearthed evidence that indicates people who regularly play first-person shooter games like Call of Duty have lower empathy because the game changes them at a neural level.
According to the British Psychological Society, the research team from Loyola University in Chicago divided their test subjects into two groups: frequent gamers and infrequent gamers. Frequent gamers were defined as people who played 30 or more hours per week. Infrequent gamers were the ones who played about five hours or less each week. They ended up with a total of 30 frequent gamers and 31 infrequent gamers. The infrequent gamers acted as the control group. All of the test subjects in each group were male and their average age was 21-years-old.
During the first part of the experiment, both groups were tested on their empathy via a questionnaire. The frequent gamers tested lower than the test subjects who played video games less frequently. In the next phase of the study, researchers measured participants’ brainwaves using electroencephalography. While their brain activity was being tracked, the test subjects were asked to do a stop-and-signal task, which meant that the had to look at photos of male and female faces that looked happy or sad.
The frequent gamers showed reduced brain activity linked emotional cognition during the task. According to the researchers, this indicates that they have more difficulty processing visual information and they’re attention span for facial stimuli is short. This could be linked to the gamers’ low scores for empathy.
The gamers showed more of a brainwave spike when they were shown happy faces, which could mean that they’ll have a reduced brain response to more aggressive faces. The team behind the study think that this could have happened because the people who play violent video games more than 30 hours a week are overexposed to threatening facial expressions. The games, therefore, could make the players “callous, cool and in control,” the study noted.
This isn’t the first time that gaming has been linked to mental health. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that gaming addiction will be officially be designated as a mental health disorder. The New Scientist reports that the WHO is still refining the definition of the condition. However, preliminary guidelines for diagnosing patients include a tendency to allow gaming to become a priority over other “life interests” for at least one year. They also say that people who continue gaming despite an awareness of its “negative consequences” could be suffering from the condition.