For parents who worry about what reprehensible effects those violent video games could have on kids' behavior, new research says abhorrent acts in the virtual world could actually be pro-social in the real one, encouraging good moral choices.
Researchers from three universities worked with a total of 185 participating subjects before arriving at the shocking conclusion that carrying out evil acts in the virtual world makes players more sensitive when they put down the joystick due to feelings of guilt provoked during game play.
"Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity," says study leader Matthew Grizzard, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication in New York. "This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others."
Researchers divided gaming subjects into a test group that played games in which they carried out violent acts in the role of a stereotypical, evil villain, and a control group whose games were violent, yet "guilt-free" because their roles were those of heroes such as policemen or soldiers.
Non-gaming subjects were asked to recount memories of guilt-inducing or non-guilt-inducing acts in reality, depending upon the group to which they belonged.
Guilt was inflicted upon the subjects in question by assigning them to play games or recount memories of acts that violated at least two moral codes in the domains of loyalty, fairness, respect for authority, care and purity.
Adding to the credibility of the research is that guilt exhibited by players post-gaming was relevant in particular to the respective codes they had violated as part of the game.
"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," says Grizzard. "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."
After gaming or recounting, depending, all participants were asked to complete a 30-unit questionnaire pertaining to the five aforementioned moral domains and rate the feeling of guilt evoked by their experience on a scale of one to three.
Data collected from gaming participants was correlated separately from that of those assigned to recall memories.
Grizzard notes that as moral code varies between cultures, so do reactions to the same game.
Titled "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," the study was published
online ahead of print on June 20 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.