Study Shows Violent Media Desensitizes us to Needs of Others

A new study shows that watching violent media desensitizes us to the needs of others. Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa conducted studies that show exposure to violent media leads to less helpful behavior toward those injured or otherwise in need.

The study, published March 2009 issue of Psychological Science, showed that exposure to violent media produces measureable physiologic changes. Michigan professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson, authors of the current study, have conducted previous research showing that watching violent media lowers heart rate and skin conductance, a measure of stress.

The new study reveals that people exposed to violent media show significant delays in their willingness to help injured people. The study builds on the previous research. Bushman says, "People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are 'comfortably numb' to the pain and suffering of others, to borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song."

The authors reached their conclusions through two separate studies. In one experiment, 320 college students played either a violent or a nonviolent video game for twenty minutes. Afterwards, the researchers staged a fight during which one individual feigned an ankle injury, while groaning in pain.

It took the students who played the nonviolent video games sixteen seconds to offer, help, but the student who played the violent games averaged 76 seconds before rendering assistance to the “injured” person. They were also less likely to even report the fight, judging it as less serious than those who played nonviolent games.

In a second study, 162 adult moviegoers were split in half – one group watched a nonviolent movie, the other a violent one. When each group left the movie theater, the researchers observed how long it took the moviegoers to assist an individual with a bandaged ankle who had dropped her crutches and was struggling to retrieve them. It took the group who watched the violent movie 26% longer than people entering the theater, or leaving after watching a nonviolent movie, to render assistance.

The study is important, especially to parents. Watching violent media can desensitize us to the needs of others, as shown by the research. Less helpful behavior and numbness to the needs of other, from exposure to violent media, was found in both studies. "These studies clearly show that violent media exposure can reduce helping behavior," says Bushman.