Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sexist video games decrease empathy for female violence victims


Public Release: 13-Apr-2016
Sexist video games decrease empathy for female violence victims
Danger comes when males strongly identify with game character
Ohio State University

Young male gamers who strongly identify with male characters in sexist, violent video games show less empathy than others toward female violence victims, a new study found.

After playing a violent, sexist game, these male players reported lower levels of sympathy and compassion (compared to those who played games without a sexist component) when shown a photo illustration depicting an adolescent girl who had been physically abused by an adolescent boy.

"Most people would look at these images and say the girl pictured has to be terrified. But males who really identified with their characters in the sexist, violent games didn't feel as much empathy for the victim," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

Although many studies have shown how violent video games can increase aggression, this research -- done with Italian high school students -- shows that games depicting the objectification of women create additional issues, Bushman said.


Results showed that male players who strongly identified with their character in the sexist and violent games showed the least empathy. And that was because they were more likely to agree with what are called "masculine beliefs."


Bushman said it was significant that males who played one of the Half Life games -- which were violent but didn't have a sexist component -- didn't show the same lack of empathy as those who played the GTA games that combined sexism and violence.

"Violent video games are bad enough, but when you add sexism to them, that is especially toxic," Gabbiadini said.

Identification with characters is a key component in what makes these games so troubling, according to Bushman.

"If you see a movie with a sexist character, there's a certain distance," he said.

"But in a video game, you are physically linked to the character. You control what he does. That can have a real effect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, at least in the short term."

These results should concern parents whose sons like to play games like GTA, Bushman said.

"You may think the games are just harmless fun. But when boys play them and identify with the male characters in the game, it can lead to agreement with some pretty disturbing beliefs about masculinity and how to treat women."

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