Study: Sexist Video Games Diminish Empathy For Abused Women

New research suggests sexist, violent video games like Grand Theft Auto diminish the levels of empathy male players feel toward female victims of violence. Pictured, attendees try new games and gaming gear during E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo held at the LA Convention Center in Los Angeles on June 11, 2014. File photo by UPI/Phil McCarten

MILAN, Italy, April 14 (UPI) — Males who play sexist, violent video games may be eroding their empathy for female victims of violence.

In a recent study, high school students in Italy felt less compassion toward an adolescent girl who was abused by an adolescent boy if they had just played a violent, sexist video game.

The male players who most identified with the male character in the video game were more likely to show less empathy toward the female victim.

As part of the study, Bushman and a team of researchers from Italy had 154 Italian high school students play video games — some violent and sexist in tone and content, some not. All the study participants were between 15 and 20 years of age.

The players were then shown a picture of an adolescent female who was being abused or appeared to have been abused by an adolescent male. Participants were asked to rate the levels of sympathy and compassion they felt toward the victim in the photograph.

Those who had played violent, sexist games — including Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto Vice City — felt less empathy. And those who reported feeling most sympathetic toward the viewpoint of the male character in the video game were the least likely to feel empathy toward the female victim.

Empathy levels of female players were unaffected by the types of video games, while males who played violent, non-sexist games like Half Life or non-violent, non-sexist games like Dream Pinball 3D were more empathetic than those who played Grand Theft Auto.

“Most people would look at these images and say the girl pictured has to be terrified,” Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, explained in a news release. “But males who really identified with their characters in the sexist, violent games didn’t feel as much empathy for the victim.”

The new research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“This finding gives us a better idea of what exactly a combination of violence and sexism in video games does to harm male players,” said study author Alessandro Gabbiadini, a researcher at the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy. “Violent video games are bad enough, but when you add sexism to them, that is especially toxic.”


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