Is it painful? Playing violent video games affects brain responses to painful pictures: An event-related potential study.

Ewa Miedzobrodzka, Johanna C. van Hooff, Elly A. Konijn, Lydia Krabbendam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous research showed mixed evidence on how violent video game exposure (VVGE) may affect empathy for pain in the brain. This study applied an event-related potential (ERPs) approach to improve understanding of how habitual and short-term violent game play may affect top-down and bottom-up empathy for pain brain responses. A total of 58 male participants with different levels of habitual VVGE performed a pain judgment task before and after 40 min of violent game play while their brain responses were recorded. Results showed that only late cognitive-evaluative ERP responses (P3, P625) were sensitive to the pictures’ painfulness, which were also affected by both habitual VVGE and short-term violent game play. As expected, participants with no habitual VVGE showed an ERP pain effect before game play: higher P3 and P625 amplitudes for painful versus nonpainful pictures. In contrast, a similar ERP pain effect was not observed in participants with high VVGE before game play, suggesting habitual desensitization. Short-term violent game play resulted in lower P3 and P625 amplitudes for painful pictures in the no VVGE group, indicating short-term desensitization. We discuss the observed VVGE desensitization effects in terms of top-down regulation of an empathetic response induced by painful stimuli. Though such adaptation could be beneficial in a violent game environment, possible long-term consequences associated with reduced empathic responsiveness in a social context should be further studied. In all, our findings contribute to the debate on the effects of VVGE on the brain by providing first ERP evidence suggesting empathy for pain desensitization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-23
JournalPsychology of Popular Media
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


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