- The longitudinal relationship between media violence and empathy: Was it sympathy all along?
- Media Psychology
- Volume | Issue number
- 20 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)
Previous research with adolescents has reported a negative relationship between media violence and empathy. There are, however, two important conceptual issues in this earlier literature that deserve further research attention. First, studies often treat empathy as a one-dimensional construct while it consists of both an affective and cognitive component. Second, while aiming to measure empathy, several studies have measured sympathy instead. Driven by these concerns, this study was designed to investigate the longitudinal relationship between media violence, affective empathy, cognitive empathy, and sympathy. Using data from a two-wave panel study with 943 adolescents (10–14 years old), a cross-lagged model tested whether media violence exposure negatively influences empathy and sympathy (desensitization) or whether empathy and sympathy negatively influence media violence exposure (selection). Results were in line with desensitization. However, rather than showing that media violence leads to a decrease in empathy (which previous studies have shown), results indicate a decrease in sympathy instead. These findings provide clarification to existing work as well as offer methodological and practical implications.
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