New York: Young male gamers who strongly identify with male characters in sexist and violent video games show less empathy towards female violence victims in real life, say researchers.
They found that males who played "Half Life 1" or "Half Life 2" games -- violent games sans sexist component -- did not show the same lack of empathy as those who played the "Grand Theft Auto" (GTA) games that combined sexism and violence.
"Males who really identified with their characters in the sexist, violent games didn't feel as much empathy for the victim," said Brad Bushman from The Ohio State University in Columbus.
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 behaviour, at least in the short term," Bushman added in the paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The team analysed 154 high school students, aged 15-20 years.
Some of the participants played GTA games that contained both violence and sexism. Bushman noted that in these games, women are secondary characters who are used as sexual objects by players.
The second group played "Half Life 1" or "Half Life 2" which are violent but do not portray women in a sexual or sexist manner. In fact, the female character in the "Half Life" games plays an active role.
The third group played games which have neither violence nor sexism.
Afterward, all players were shown one of two photo illustrations depicting a young girl who was the victim of violence. “Most people would look at these images and say the girl pictured has to be terrified,” Bushman noted.
The findings showed that after playing a violent, sexist game, male players reported lower levels of sympathy and compassion compared to those who played games without a sexist component.
These males were likely to agree with what are called "masculine beliefs.”
The study also identified which players are most likely to be affected by sexist and violent games and how exactly the games have their impact.
"This finding gives us a better idea of what exactly a combination of violence and sexism in video games does to harm male players," noted lead study author Alessandro Gabbiadini from the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy.