The Effect of Video Games on Moral Decision Making: Empathy as a Moderator

Marissa Tan Hui Yen


Past research indicates that video game playing can increase aggressive behaviours. Recent studies, however, show that video games can also lead to positive outcomes. Limited studies, however, show how video games affects moral decision making – and whether empathy moderates this relationship. This study investigates whether empathy moderates the relationship between video gaming and moral decision making. An online laboratory experiment was conducted with 100 participants who played a video game and then answered questionnaires assessing empathy and moral decision-making. Results indicate that video games did not influence altruistic moral decision making, b = -.03 p = .460 This relationship was also not moderated by empathy. The main effect of playing video games on altruistic moral decision making was also not significant, b = -.03 p = .119. Results suggest a more complex interplay between different forms of empathy, namely emotional and cognitive empathy, that were not assessed in the current study. Moral licensing may have also influenced the results given its interaction with moral decision making. As such, doing one altruistic task should lead to an egoistic task later on, creating an endless cycle of altruism and egoism. Further research into empathy and moral licensing in moral decision making research is recommended in light of the current results.

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