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).

Examine the concept of desensitization, methods used to increase the desirability of violence, and ways for parents to reduce aggression exhibited by their children.

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Sample Answer



Desensitization is a process in which people become less sensitive to a stimulus over time. In the context of media violence, desensitization refers to the decrease in emotional and physiological arousal that people experience when they are exposed to violent content. This can lead to a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Increased tolerance for violence in real life.
  • A decreased ability to empathize with victims of violence.
  • An increased likelihood of aggressive behavior.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to desensitization to violence, including:

  • The frequency and intensity of exposure to violent content.
  • The realism of the violence.

Full Answer Section


For example, studies have shown that people who are exposed to more violent media are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior themselves. This is because they become desensitized to the violence and see it as a normal way to solve problems.

There are a number of methods that can be used to increase the desirability of violence. These include:

  • Portraying violence as exciting and glamorous.
  • Rewarding the aggressor with success or status.
  • Depicting the victim as deserving of violence.

For example, many violent films and video games portray the aggressor as a hero who is rewarded for their violence. This can make violence seem more desirable to viewers and players.

There are a number of things that parents can do to reduce aggression exhibited by their children. These include:

  • Limit their children’s exposure to violent media.
  • Talk to their children about the negative consequences of violence.
  • Teach their children how to resolve conflict peacefully.
  • Model non-violent behavior.

It is important to note that there is no single solution to the problem of desensitization to violence. However, by taking steps to limit their children’s exposure to violent media and teaching them how to resolve conflict peacefully, parents can help to reduce the risk that their children will exhibit aggressive behavior.

In addition to the above, here are some other ways to reduce aggression in children:

  • Provide children with opportunities to express their emotions in a healthy way.
  • Teach children about empathy and compassion.
  • Set clear limits and expectations for behavior.
  • Be a positive role model for non-violent behavior.

If you are concerned about your child’s aggressive behavior, it is important to talk to a healthcare professional or mental health professional. They can help you to assess the problem and develop a plan to address it.

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