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Desensitization is the emotional inurement or hardening to violence (signs of pain on part of others and its consequences), so that person who experiences it ceases to view violence as a very significant form of behavior. Those who are desensitized to violence are unlikely to have inhibitions against engaging in the action (Baron, 104).

In an experiment related by F. Staude Muller et al (2008), participants were shown “slasher movies” on 3 successive days. Mullin & Lintz (1995), who conducted this experiment, found that these movies of sexualized violence made the participants show more hostility, anxiety and depression. As the experiment progressed, however, the participants became more desensitized to the violence. Desensitization was also proven to be occurring when participants were involved with violent video games.

On the other hand, playfighting (PF) in juvenile mammals (Bosche, 2009) can be compared to the effect of VVG (Violent Video Games). Playfighting is not aimed at actually hurting the opponent, though it is much more real, physical and immersing than any VVG could be. PF is vital for the development of social skills while young animals have no problem distinguishing it from real fighting. This may support the view by Klimmt et al (2006) and Russel (2003) quoted by Bosche that habitual VVG players are generally completely aware cognitively emotionally and behaviorally of the difference between reality and the game(s). However, even these researchers admit that when the players get very involved-“becoming these characters on the screen”-they become animalistic, and can inculcate seriously inappropriate mental models of fighting and combat (Bosche, 2009).

PE (Prolonged Exposure), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy) are therapies dedicated to heal the effects of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, and they use desensitization in a healing way (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2010, EMDR Institute, Inc., 2010). PE uses education, breathing, exposure to real-world situations, and talking through the trauma. EMDR differs by its use of physical manipulations.

Example / Application - Video Games

The California Supreme Court, who decided to ban video games with undue cruelty depicted in them, quote research that finds a cause and effect relationship between video game use-abuse and desensitization to violence. First amendment (freedom of speech) upholder Judge Callahan in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied proof of such a relationship (Holland, 2010). Desensitization can be used to explain the possible aggressive behavior here because: 1. There is a spiraling tendency for the public to buy more violent video games, in our consumer society. 2. Desensitization explains ongoing behavior while holding on to an individual video game, so that the player activates progressive levels of involvement in that particular game.

Judge Calahan’s ruling against seeing desensitization as a point of origin, seems to parallel the “playfighting” perspective (Bosche, 2009). In this case, he is ignoring Klimmt et al (2006) and Russel (2003) quoted by Bosche (2009) that warn of how players can get completely -cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally/physiologically-involved in the game. Of correlations around the world, between VVG players and people who are combat soldier oriented, or displaying aggression in their daily life, research seems to be nascent. Therefore, in my opinion, desensitization had a lot to do with this/these ruling(s) of video games.

Desensitization could be used here to prevent the aggressive behavior by subjecting participants to an experiment as mentioned above (Mullin and Lintz, 1995). They would be reminded at the conclusion, how at first before desensitization was completely progressed, there was negative affect. Perhaps the feeling then could be revived by some mental cue/hook/cognitive trace, or even physiologically. This would confront them with the desensitization. Video games may be used in PE (Prolonged Exposure) or EMDR, etc., by helping create virtual situations where people confront their “demons.”

Example / Application - Columbine

It’s evident that Harris and Klebold weren’t so much victims of aggression. Rather they were aggressors and self-desensitized media consumers, they mulled on aggressive-themes in their blogs and diaries. They were obsessed with violent behaviors as an expression and catharsis of social identity problems (Toppo, 2009).

Harris had a manic side, Klebold – a depressive tendency, both suicidal on a psychotic level. This issue may be explained by the concept of desensitization, because for over a year this duo kept psyching each other up for an Oklahoma-City style terrorist bombing. They desensitized themselves to any criticism or doubt from friends, parents, teachers, psychologists, police personnel or judges, and fooled them all.

The Columbine issue may not be able to be explained by the concept of desensitization because the duo didn’t seem to be subjected to any particular process other students didn’t go through. According to Toppo (2009), Columbine at the time was some kind of hotbed of trends for its lax parenting and gun laws, rock ‘n’ roll -peer pressures, experimental education, violent video games, antidepressant drugs. All the students were subjected to the same situation.

On the other hand, they may have had individual characteristics in their personality that led them to this outcome of rampage. They weren’t treated appropriately with medications. Perhaps the meds would’ve treated a chemical imbalance they had and dealt with an extreme imagined sensitivity to their social situation. Furthermore, with the environment they grew up with, needed to actually desensitize themselves to the world they grew up in. Altogether, in my opinion, therefore, the topic of desensitization had a lot to do with Columbine. Therapies for surviving victims of Columbine may involve PE, EMDR, etc. that are mentioned above.


Anderson C.A., Akiko, S., Nobuko I., Swing E.L., Bushman B.J., Sakamoto A., Rothstein H.R., Saleem M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta- analytic review. (APA) Psychological Bulletin 136, 2, 151-173.

Baron, R.A., Richardson, D.R. (1994). Human Aggression (p. 104). Plenum Press, NY.

Bosche W. (2009). Violent content enhances video game performance. Journal of Media Psychology 2009: 21, 145-150.

Cook, J.M., Biyanova, T. & Coyne, J.C. (2009). Comparative case study of diffusion of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in two clinical settings: Empirically supported treatment status is not enough. (APA) Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 5, 518-524.

EMDR Institute, Inc. (2010). A Brief Description of EMDR. Retrieved May 7, 2010 from

Fanti, K.A., Vanman E., Henrich C.C. & Avraamides M.N. (2009). Desensitization to Media violence over a short period of time. Aggressive Behavior 35, 179-187.

Holland, J.J. (2010). Top court to rule on state video game regulation. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from

Salvatore, R.P. (2009). Posttraumatic stress disorder: A treatable public health problem. Health and Social Work, 34, 2.

Staude-Muller F., Bliesner T., Luthman S. (2008). Hostile and hardened? An experimental study on (de-)sensitization to violence and suffering through planning, video games. Swiss Journal of Psychology 67(1), 2008, 41-50.

Toppo, G. (2009). 10 years later, the real story behind Columbine. Retrieved May 2, 2010 from

United States Department of Veterans Affairs (2010). Cognitive Processing Therapy. Retrieved May 7, 2010 from cognitive_Processing_therapy.asp

United States Department of Veterans Affairs (2010). Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Retrieved May 7, 2010 from

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