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Male teens "desensitised" by violence

Tuesday October 19th, 2010

Male teenagers who spend their time on violent video games and watching violent TV may develop aggressive traits, according to controversial findings published today.

The research suggests exposure to constant violent images desensitises adolescents and neutralises their emotional response to aggression.

The findings are controversial because the impact of fictional representations and constant imagery has been debated for decades.

The new study used brain scanning techniques to measure the effect of violent scenes on teenage boys.

The study showed emotional reactions decreasing as teenagers were exposed to increasing numbers of clips of violent scenes.

The boys were shown four second long clips taken from some 60 videos depicting different degrees of violence and aggression.

Researcher Dr Jordan Grafman argues that the changes can become embedded in the developing adolescent brain - and that this is linked to the development of aggressive behaviour.

The findings are reported in the Oxford Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Dr Grafman, of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, Maryland, said: "The important new finding is that exposure to the most violent videos inhibits emotional reactions to similar aggressive videos over time and implies that normal adolescents will feel fewer emotions over time as they are exposed to similar videos.

<!"This finding is driven by reduced posterior brain activation and therefore the frontal lobe doesn't react as it normally would.>

"The implications of this are many and include the idea that continued exposure to violent videos will make an adolescent less sensitive to violence, more accepting of violence, and more likely to commit aggressive acts since the emotional component associated with aggression is reduced and normally acts as a brake on aggressive behaviour."

He added: "Most people can distinguish between playing a video game and real live behaviour, but given the right circumstances where the rules are a bit more ambiguous (what if a bully provokes me) and provocative (someone is trying to take my lunch money), would an adolescent tend to be more aggressive and accept that aggression as normal behaviour given prior exposure to video games - I think so.

"Particularly if they are a heavy user of games and, in our device-driven world, that will be more and more likely in the future."

Fronto-parietal regulation of media violence exposure in adolescents: a multi-method study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq079.

Tags: Infancy to Adolescence | Menís Health | Mental Health | North America

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