Would you ever think violent and heinous behavior in video games could make the players feel more morally sensitive? Researchers from the University of Buffalo published a study in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking that suggests negative behavior in video games increase the players’ increased sensitivity toward moral codes violated in the game.

"Rather than leading players to become less moral," Matthew Grizzard, the study’s co-author and professor at the University of Buffalo’s department of communication, said in a news release. "This research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others."

The 185 study participants were randomly assigned to two different types of video games. One group of video gamers played as a terrorist shooter or were asked to recall real-life situations that had made them feel guilty. The second group played the game as United States soldiers or were asked to recall real-life situations that did not make them feel any guilt.

The participants were then asked to scale their guilt and then complete a 30 question moral foundation questionnaire. The researchers found positive correlations between video-game guilt and the moral foundations that were violated during the game.

"We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated — those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity," Grizzard said.

The players were guilt induced by having to experience a game that violated two of the five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity. The first type of behavior was marked by cruelty, abuse, and lack of compassion. The second was an injustice or denial of the rights of others.

"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," Grizzard said. "This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users."

Past studies found theat people who experience real-life guilt-inducing behaviors were also stimulated to be more morally sound and sensitive. The researchers were surprised to find video games could also replicate similar feelings in players.

"For instance," Grizzard said. "An American who played a violent game 'as a terrorist' would likely consider his avatar's unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a 'UN peacekeeper.'"

Source: Grizzard M, Tamborini R, Lewis, RJ, et al. Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2014.