‘Bad’ video game behavior increases players’ moral sensitivity: May lead to pro-social behavior in real world

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By Science Daily

New evidence suggests heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated.

That is the surprising finding of a study led by 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.

“Rather than leading players to become less moral,” Grizzard says, “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.”

The study, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” was published online ahead of print on June 20 in the journalCyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

Grizzard points out that several recent studies, including this one, have found that committing immoral behaviors in a video game elicits feelings of guilt in players who commit them.

The current study found such guilt can lead players to be more sensitive to the moral issues they violated during game play. Other studies have established that in real life scenarios, guilt evoked by immoral behavior in the “real-world” elicits pro-social behaviors in most people.

“We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard says.

Researchers induced guilt in participants by having them play a video game where they violated two of five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

“We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated — those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity,” Grizzard says. The first includes behaviors marked by cruelty, abuse and lack of compassion, and the second, by injustice or the denial of the rights of others.

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