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Bad Video Game Behaviors Boost Moral Sensitivity

Update Date: Jun 28, 2014 10:19 AM EDT

Violent video games have gotten a bad reputation over the years. Even though parents have expressed their concerns over the impact that these games can have on young children and teens, there have not been a lot of evidence directly tying video games to bad behaviors. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of bad video game behaviors and found that these behaviors increased the players' sensitivity to the moral codes that they broke in the game.

 "Rather than leading players to become less moral," Matthew Grizzard, PhD, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication, and co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin said reported in the press release. "This research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others."

In this study, the researchers recruited 185 participants who were randomly divided into two groups. In the first group, the volunteers played a guilt-inducing game or recall a real-life situation that induced guilt. The other group was the control group where participants played non-guilt inducing games or recalled real-life events that did not induce guilt. All participants had to fill out a three-item guilt scale and a 30-item questionnaire about the importance of five specific moral domains, which were care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

The researchers found that the participants in the guilt-inducing group had higher levels of sensitivity to the moral codes that they violated. The team reasoned that when guilt is provoked in the virtual world, it could encourage pro-social behaviors.

"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," Grizzard stated. "This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users."

The study, "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," was published in the journal, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

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