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Virtually numbed: Immersive video gaming alters real-life experience


As actors in a highly mechanized environment, we are citizens of a world populated not only by fellow humans, but also by virtual characters (avatars). Does immersive video gaming, during which the player takes on the mantle of an avatar, prompt people to adopt the coldness and rigidity associated with robotic behavior and desensitize them to real-life experience? In one study, we correlated participants’ reported video-gaming behavior with their emotional rigidity (as indicated by the number of paperclips that they removed from ice-cold water). In a second experiment, we manipulated immersive and nonimmersive gaming behavior and then likewise measured the extent of the participants’ emotional rigidity. Both studies yielded reliable impacts, and thus suggest that immersion into a robotic viewpoint desensitizes people to real-life experiences in oneself and others.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    When the individual claiming 50 h of weekly video gaming was removed, the correlation remained largely unchanged, r(27) = .317, p = .056.

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    Thanks to a reviewer for raising this possibility.


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Correspondence to Ulrich W. Weger.

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Weger, U.W., Loughnan, S. Virtually numbed: Immersive video gaming alters real-life experience. Psychon Bull Rev 21, 562–565 (2014).

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  • Pain
  • Gaming
  • Immersion
  • Dehumanization
  • Social cognition
  • Imagery