College Students, Violent Media and Desensitization

A 20-year-old male college student sits down to watch “Avengers: Infinity War” on a normal Friday night with friends. Let’s say, hypothetically, 30 minutes later, he hears shouting outside and thinks nothing of it, probably somebody screwing around he thinks. Later, he finds out that someone got mugged just outside his house. This is an example of desensitization. It starts when people react slowly to potential violent threats and tend to be less sympathetic when they do happen. According to a study done by the National Library of Medicine, those who are exposed to “sexually violent movies led to less empathy for victims of violence several days later in experimental studies with male college students.” This is the definition of desensitization.

With the birth of modern media, younger generations are increasingly exposed to violence. One example can be found through the viral scandal involving Logan Paul. On Dec. 31, 2017, he posted a video of someone who had died by suicide in Japan’s Suicide Forest. Six million people watched the video before YouTube removed it. The video’s popularity demonstrates how people are intrigued and entertained by brutality.

Technology and media seem to play a large role in this trend. Technology today makes it easier to find and watch brutality. Honglan Le, a sophomore biochemistry major agrees, “We are more aware of violence because of media.” This affects college-aged students because we are the first generation that cannot remember the world without the media we have today. Having easier access to graphic content, can affect our emotional state.

People react to violence in different ways. According to the New York Times, violence in the media can cause either heightened alarm or desensitization. Basically, our brains do not know how to react to all the pain, so we become less empathetic and more aggressive. This was proved in a study at Indiana University School of Medicine. According to Psychology Today, when young men played a violent video game for one week there were visible alterations in their MRI brain scans. Graphic video games affected their emotional and decision-making center of the brain. This is disturbing, as the movies, video games and news we consume are often full of brutality. In fact, CNN says 90 percent of movies, 68 percent of video games, and 60 percent of TV shows show some depictions of violence.”  

Violent media affects its consumers negatively, as a result, when someone is in need, people are less likely to respond. The more we are exposed, the more our brains are desensitized. An experiment done at the University of Michigan demonstrates this. Two studies were done where college students were exposed to violent and nonviolent media and then given a situation where they needed to help someone. Those who had been exposed to violence were slower to respond or simply ignored the situation. The slower reaction to those in need shows that violence is normal in our society. If various forms of media continue to expose our brains to violence, desensitization can only get worse.

Younger generations are particularly affected by desensitization. Our parents did not grow up with nearly as much technology and it has developed drastically. Think about it: 30 years ago smartphones did not exist. As generations are exposed to violence at younger and younger ages it negatively affects society as a whole. We are becoming desensitized.

With all of this, there has to be a way to counteract desensitization. The answer is simply to unplug.  Engage in activities that are outside of the screen, such as reading, drawing and playing sports. Creativity is often linked to our emotions and helps to counteract the effects of desensitization. We need to control their media time and not let it control us. Giving up on watching media is not realistic, but we can easily step away from it. If someone designates time to be on social media and to check the news it will limit screen time and allow them to be engaged with their loved ones. This helps us to reconnect with our emotions and build relationships which helps with empathy and keeps us from becoming complacent. The key to combating desensitization is to focus on what matters because empathy helps us relate to others and want to help.

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