Does watching intense gunfights in video games prompt us to act more aggressively in real life?
The Norwegian killer is said to have played violent video games before he killed dozens of people in Oslo's government district and on the vacation island of Utoya earlier this year.
The shooting sprees in Erfurt, Emsdetten and Winnenden in Norway have revived the debate over whether violent games result in violent behaviour, the journal Biological Psychology reports.
"Compared to people who abstain from first-person shooters, they show clear differences in how emotions are controlled," reported Christian Montag from the Institute of Psychology, University of Bonn, (Germany) who led the study, according to a Bonn statement.
First-person shooters feature a first-person point of view with which the player sees the action through the eyes of the protagonist.
The group of subjects aged between 20 and 30 years played first-person shooters for about 15 hours per week on an average.
The researchers also recorded their responses using one of the brain scanners at the Life & Brain Centre of the University. The images included photos as they are used in the violent games, but also shots of accident and disaster victims.
When the subjects (who played violent video games) regarded the real, negative pictures, there was greatly increased activity in their amygdalas, a brain region involved in processing negative emotions.
"Surprisingly, the amygdalas in the subjects as well as in the control group (which did not play violent video games) were similarly stimulated," reported Montag.
"This shows that both groups responded to the photos with similarly strong emotions."
But the left medial frontal lobes were clearly less activated in the users of violent games than in the control subjects. This is the brain structure humans use to control their fear or aggression.
"First-person shooters do not respond as strongly to the real, negative image material because they are used to it from their daily computer activities," Montag concluded. "One might also say that they are more desensitized than the control group."
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