Desensitization and violence: is it time to do something about our media?

Reporting on the violence of the Vietnam War shocked Americans, driving young adults into a country-wide peace movement. Now, do we have too much violence in our media? Has the ever-present stream of screen violence contributed to a desensitization that leads to real-life violence?

It’s easy to blame violence on violent media. But should we?

Let’s talk…

Violence leads to more violence.

in labs we’ve seen it

researchers have seen a correlation between violence on the screen and a lack of empathy for victims and an increase in mimicked violent behavior.

and, in real-life we’ve seen it

violence–especially from more than one location, community, home, or school–leads to
desensitization and an increased risk for violence behavior in real-life.

so the argument would be: if we know that we can be desensitized to real-life violence by real world events, and that that makes us potentially more likely to commit violence; and we know that media violence can make us less empathetic and more likely to mimic on-screen behavior; then we can assume media violence can lead to real-life violence.

why not control something that’s easy to control

we can turn off Tv’s, not buy games, etc.
it’s much harder to change other risk factors for violence, for example, where you live.

Not so fast: we can’t conclude media violence makes us more violent.

there are well-established risk factors for violence

The list below comes from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Individual Risk Factors for Youth Violence include:
• History of violent victimization
• Attention deficits, hyperactivity or learning disorders
• History of early aggressive behavior
• Involvement with drugs, alcohol or tobacco
• Low IQ
• Poor behavioral control
• Deficits in social cognitive or information-processing abilities
• High emotional distress
• History of treatment for emotional problems
• Antisocial beliefs and attitudes
• Exposure to violence and conflict in the family

My conclusion from this might be: People who are not at risk from other factors don’t predictably turn media violence into real-life violence.

desensitization is importance for some people

For people who do not have risk factors for violence, and who are exposed to a violent act, desensitization may be an important process to dealing with anxiety.

Killing Monsters

Gerard Jones makes a really interest case in support of media violence in his book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence.

In it, he takes apart the knee-jerk rhetoric, and suggests: children may conquer fears and develop more confidence through exposure to fictional heroes and villains.


Back to the News Made Simple article here.

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