MEDIA VIOLENCE AND DESENSITIZATION
Desensitization is a well-documented consequence of years-long exposure to media violence. From early exposure, children—especially boys—learn that aggression pays off (Bushman, Gollwitzer, & Cruz, 2015). Aggression—especially if it means you “win” the game, “defeat” the adversary, or “force” a resolution to a conflict—earns the aggressor attention, praise, respect, reverence, adoration, money, and power. These are the rewards that often accompany aggression portrayed by the film industry (e.g., Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard), making it more likely that the aggressive behavior will persist. The number of films in this series is evidence of their popularity. From classical conditioning theory, we learn that bad behavior paired with rewards can make the bad behavior desirable; moreover, the prevalence of violence in the media, over time, normalizes it. Studies show that when exposed to violent films daily over a week’s time, participants rate films as less violent with each film viewed (Dexter, Penrod, Linz, & Saunders, 2006). This is evidence of desensitization.
Desensitized people tend not to acknowledge the effects of media violence, because they don’t see that there’s a problem. However, a growing body of research finds that desensitized individuals downplay or tend not to acknowledge egregious harm done to others; because a steady diet of violent media normalizes violent behavior, injury suffered by people in real life does not seem like cause for concern (Vossen, Piotrowski, & Valkenburg, 2016). That’s the nature of desensitization, and that is indeed a problem.
Convinced there is no harm in violent media consumption—that their behavioral tendencies will not have been influenced by it—desensitized consumers probably would not be interested in changing their media viewing habits (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004).
For this Assignment, you will examine the concept of desensitization, methods used to increase the desirability of violence, and ways for parents to reduce aggression exhibited by their children.