Gaming can weaken “moral maturity” study finds

Researchers warn that adolescents can lose sense of “right and wrong” after playing violent games for extended periods of time.

by Eddie Makuch on February 10, 2014

Adolescents who play violent video games for extended periods of time run the risk of diminishing their “moral maturity,” according to a new study from Canadian researchers.

As reported by The BBC, researchers at Brock University in Ontario studied the behavior of around 100 13- and 14-year olds from seven local schools and concluded that those who spend most of their time playing violent games could experience weakened empathy for others. These individuals could also lose their sense of “right and wrong” in some cases, the researchers found.

Overall, the study–“Violent Video Gaming and Moral Reasoning in Adolescents: Is There an Association?” from Mirjana Bajovic–attempted to get at the roots of the relationship between the types of games played, how long they are played, and how it affects attitudes.

For the purposes of this study, a “violent” video game was one in which the player kills or otherwise causes serious physical harm to another human character. Many of the study participants were able to play such games without any evidence of an attitudinal shift, and non-violent games like Mario or Rock Band did not have adverse effects on a person’s moral alignment, the study found.

However, Bajovic’s study found that teeangers who played violent video games for more than three hours a day were more likely to experience the diminishment of “moral maturity.” She said parents would be wise to help their children understand others’ perspectives by getting them involved with initiatives like charity work or other forms of community involvement.

Importantly, Bajovic’s study is correlational, meaning it can only suggest that there is a causal relationship between two variables, not prove it. Other factors at play in this case that were not studied (but should be in the future, Bajovic said) included the participants’ social relationships, cognitive abilities, personality, socioeconomic status, and other elements. What’s more, the data for this study was collected only from seven schools in Ontario and should not be extrapolated to children in other schools from other regions, Bajovic said.

You can read the full study at the Brock University website here [PDF].