The study of 40 volunteers found that playing violent ‘first person shooter’ games, in which a player kills enemies in a virtual environment, enabled participants to tolerate an ice water pain challenge for longer than if they had played a non-violent golf game.
Participants played both the violent and non-violent game on separate occasions for 10 minutes and then placed one of their hands in ice-cold water to test their reaction to pain. On average, participants kept their hands in the icy water for 65 per cent longer after playing the violent game, indicating that playing the game increased the participants’ pain tolerance. Heart rate was also shown to increase.
The researchers suggest the increased pain tolerance and heart rate can be attributed to the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, which can activate descending pain inhibitory pathways in the brain reducing sensitivity to pain.
The study was prompted following research by the same Keele University team showing that swearing increases people’s tolerance for pain.
Dr Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University who led the study, said: “We assumed that swearing eases pain by sparking an emotional reaction in participants – most likely to be aggression – in turn setting off the body’s fight or flight response. This latest study was a test of that assumption in which we set out to try and raise participants’ aggression levels by having them play a violent video game. We then tested the effect on pain tolerance. The results confirm our predictions that playing the video game increased both feelings of aggression and pain tolerance”.
Intriguingly, the new study suggests that playing violent video games may be a good way to cope with pain, at least in the short term. Dr Stephens continued: “Pain researchers have already been exploring the use of virtual reality as a way of helping people better deal with pain. A group in Seattle, USA encouraged children with severe burns to explore a snowy virtual landscape while their dressings were changed. This reduced the amount of pain and discomfort they felt during this procedure”.
The results have been published in the journal Psychological Reports, which specialises in empirical, theoretical, mainstream, and alternative views on issues in psychology.
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