From PsychWiki - A Collaborative Psychology Wiki
Desensitization in our society is causing many people to become insensible to erroneous actions. There is not a day in one’s life when one will turn on the local news cast and not being able to watch an account of people being murdered or gunned down. This desensitization has become obvious through the actions of adults who demonstrate that they don’t seem to mind the violence that occurs continuously in our society. We do not really show any sort of feeling or take any action to stop this violence that we see from our living room. According to Kirsh (1998, as cited by Staude-Muller, Bliesener and Luthman, 2008 ), desensitization may produce an impact in the way people judge situations and alter behaviors in social situations. The desensitization hypothesis predicts that exposure to prolonged confrontation with violence on the screen will create habituation to the recipient watching the violence. These reactions to violence in the media, as well in other areas of life, weaken the perception of violent behaviors and also their consequences. This desensitization produces a reduction in the severity of violence that is perceived and the empathy for victims that experience violence.
McCart, Smith, Saunders, Kilpatrick, Resnick and Ruggioro (2007) found in previous studies that desensitization to community violence is experienced by urban youth. The reason is because youths that live in a high-crime urban areas may have to learn to cope with violence. Therefore, they experience lower levels of response to cues related with aggression. According to Potter (2000), desensitization to graphic violence can be a coping strategy used as a reaction to fear that is often unpleasant; therefore, viewers of violence may become desensitized to reduce their own fear. Thus, continued exposure to violence of any kind is more likely to increase desensitization, while a reduction to exposure to graphic violence (TV. Or game violence) may reduce desensitization.
According to Mullin (1995), viewing of violence may lead to an increase of desensitization to violence, which may result in calloused attitudes to violence and may decrease the likelihood of taking action on behalf of those suffering. Mullin conducted a study to examine the effect created by continuous exposure to sexually violent films on emotional desensitization. The study suggested that desensitization was obvious in men who were exposed to slasher films that portray violence in a sexualized fashion. Participants demonstrated reduced sensitivity to victims suffering from domestic violence after they were exposed to such films. Findings reveal that excessive exposure to TV violence may contribute to a society that is becoming increasingly desensitized to real life violence (Thomas, 1977).
An example of aggressive behavior that applies to desensitization are the four men who were arrested in May 20, 2009. The are accused of planting explosives near two synagogues in New York, and for plotting to shoot down a military plane that would potentially result in a holy war against America. These four men were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States. One of them said; “If Jews were killed in this attack….that would be alright” (Yahoo News, 2009).
Desensitization can be observed in these four men due to their decrease in sensitivity and their desire to inflict direct violence toward others. Their aggressive behavior may be analyze as coping strategies of desensitization which predisposed them to engage in violent acts. Their empathy toward possible victims has evaporated and they really don’t care if Jews, Americans or even their own people may die in the attack. It seems that desensitization has produced in them a reduction in the severity their violent acts.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on Columbine High school killing twelve fellow classmates and one teacher. They became so desensitized to violence that they acted without regard for others. Their actions reached to a point to where they perceived them as no big deal, it was not so hard for them to get the courage to bring a gun to school and shoot their classmates and teacher. They became less sensitive to violent acts. They become so desensitized that they even have the courage to perpetuated one of the most horrendous violent acts in the history of the United States. By becoming desensitized all restraints were greatly reduced, including fear, guilt and the disapproval of others. Instead they became merciless and violent toward others without remorse or shame.
According to Nickerson (2008) school shootings are carefully planned. He also reported that approximately two thirds of the shooters have a tendency to be insolated from social groups. These findings may suggest that being away from others may also influence desensitization because the person decreases communication and interaction with others which may cause a lost in sensitivity toward human beings. Also, in order to have the inner control to carefully plan a violent act, the perpetrator needs to disregard all forms of emotional reactions and composition toward others which seem to be a sign of desensitization. These signs of desensitization were present in Harris and Dylan who were completely disconnected from any form of emotions that evoked compassion and respect, and instead they demonstrated to be insensitive and merciless toward others.
Fitzgerald, J, Associated Press Writer. www. News, yahoo.com.
Mccart, M. R., Smith, D. W., Saunder, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H., Ruggiero, K. J. (2007). Do urban adolescent become desensitized to community violence? Data from a national survey. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(3), 434-442.
Mullin, C. R. (1995). Desensitization and resensitization to violence against women: effects of exposure to sexually violent films on judgments of domestic violence victims. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(3), 449-459.
Nickerson, A. B. (2008). Review of school violence: Fears versus facts. School Psychology Quarterly, 23(1), 153-157.
Potter, W. J. (2000). The context of graphic portrayals of television violence. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(2), 301-323.
Staude-Muller, F., Bliesener, T. & Luthman, S. (2008). Hostile and hardened? An experimental study on (de-)sensitization to violence and suffering through playing video games. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 6(1), 41-50.
Thomas, M. H. (1977). Desensitization to portrayals of real-life aggression as a function of television violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(6), 450-458.
◄ Back to How to explain aggressive behavior? page