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Violent Video and Emotional Health

Are your favorite TV shows and movies all about zombies, werewolves and vampires? Do you spend hours playing first-person shooter video games? Or do your children do the same or watch you do it?

video-game-violence

Some people would argue that this exposure to violent video, death and fright has no effect on our brains or emotional health. Even a cursory understanding of neuroscience would tell me this makes no sense.

Our brains are learning machines. From birth we absorb a huge volume and complexity of information. We learn to speak, read and move. We understand subtle nonverbal social communication and acquire millions of bits of facts and knowledge. We can memorize scenes and images at a glance and describe them in detail.

How is it possible that this sponge of a brain does not absorb violent images in the same way?

I know it affects people negatively because most of my therapy clients who do watch and play violent media report nightmares involving images from these shows and games. When I ask children in play therapy to draw anything they’d like, most times the images are pulled from their favorite video games:  shootings, brain-eating zombies and weapon-toting monsters. Children’s brains are growing and learning at a rapid rate, making them especially susceptible to violent images.

Given that what we put into our brain directly affects our thoughts, moods, feelings and our dreams, why would we choose to regularly fill it with images that our disturbing, frightening and violent? Wouldn’t images involving love, compassion, thoughtfulness, and peace be more appropriate for our long-term emotional health?

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