We Are Being Desensitized
Junious Ricardo Stanton
“Long-term socialization effects of the mass media are also quite likely increased by the way the mass media and video games affect emotions. Repeated exposures to emotionally activating media or video games can lead to habituation of certain natural emotional reactions. This process is called ‘desensitization.’ Negative emotions experienced automatically by viewers in response to a particular violent or gory scene decline in intensity after many exposures. For example, increased heart rates, perspiration, and self-reports of discomfort often accompany exposure to blood and gore. However, with repeated exposures, this negative emotional response habituates, and the child becomes ‘desensitized.’ The child can then think about and plan proactive aggressive acts without experiencing negative affect.” The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research by L. Rowell Huesmann https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704015/
As we look at what is happening in our country we are forced to admit we live in a violent society, a culture where we are inundated with daily reports and images of hurt, harm and murder, individual attacks, mass shootings and assaults. It’s as if we are going mad but when we stop to analyse what’s going on we see the culture we live in condones and encourages antisocial behavior. The ongoing escalation in violence in the US, in my opinion, coincides with the increase of violence promoted and shown in the mass media which is now ubiquitous and omnipresent.
The availability of violent programming in film, television, streaming services and video games are having a devastating impact on our psyches and behavior, especially in young children. “Children in the United States spend an average of between three and four hours per day viewing television and the best studies have shown that over 60% of programs contain some violence, and about 40% of those contain heavy violence. Children are also spending an increasingly large amount of time playing video games, most of which contain violence. Video game units are now present in 83% of homes with children. In 2004, children spent 49 minutes per day playing video, and on any given day, 52% of children ages 8–18 years play a video game games. Video game use peaks during middle childhood with an average of 65 minutes per day for 8–10 year-olds, and declines to 33 minutes per day for 15–18 year-olds. And most of these games are violent; 94% of games rated (by the video game industry) as appropriate for teens are described as containing violence, and ratings by independent researchers suggest that the real percentage may be even higher. No published study has quantified the violence in games rated ‘M’ for mature—presumably, these are even more likely to be violent.” The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research by L. Rowell Huesmann https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704015/
You say, so what? Just watching violence on television or playing violent video games doesn’t make a person violent or induce them to act inappropriately. Well, that is the question. Do watching violent programming and playing violent video games impact our psyche and undermine human impulse control? There are studies that show this is indeed the case. “More recent studies have confirmed that high exposure to television violence for children and adolescents is also associated with higher levels of aggression and violent behavior. Exposure to violence shown through media is consistently associated with problem behaviors, such as increases in aggression and anxiety. Children could also end up with lower empathy and compassion for others.
Some children exposed to various forms of media violence – not just television violence but violence on the internet, in movies and in video games – can come to view the world as a mean, scary place where they are not safe and they can do little to protect themselves from harm. This is a particular problem for very young children, such as those under the age of six, who have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.” Here’s how witnessing violence harms children’s mental health https://theconversation.com/heres-how-witnessing-violence-harms-childrens-mental-health-91971
What we are experiencing is more and more children are showing less empathy and compassion for others. While media is not the sole cause, media consumption is a major factor. Our children watch around five hours of television per day and this doesn’t include other media. “Most television programming contains violence. Children who witness considerable media violence can become desensitized — or less shocked by violence, less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and less likely to show empathy for victims of violence. Violent media — and specifically violent video games — desensitize children. Many popular games are even similar to modern military training techniques that desensitize soldiers to killing. For example, only about 20 percent of soldiers in World War II actually were able to shoot the enemy. However, during the Vietnam War, 90 percent of soldiers could shoot and kill without hesitation. The change was attributed to new training procedures that included having soldiers practice shooting human-shaped figures rather than bulls-eyes (Grossman and Siddle, 1999). Lifelike video game violence desensitizes children in the same way, and leads to automaticity — or the learning of a behavior to the point that it becomes reflexive.” How violence in media effects children’s behavior by Terry Levy https://evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com/violence-media-affects-childrens-behavior/
Many parents lack empathy or they are chronically stressed out, frustrated and angry; and their children emulate them thus passing their dysfunction onto another generation. What can we do to address this pressing problem? In future articles we’ll look at practical ways we can heal ourselves and our community.