Media Violence, Desensitization, and Psychological Engagement

Jeanne Funk Brockmyer

in The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398809
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Media Violence, Desensitization, and Psychological Engagement

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  • Social Psychology


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This chapter presents a framework for understanding desensitization to violence as an outcome of exposure to media violence. The term desensitization is defined, and behavioral and psychophysiological research documenting this phenomenon are presented. Aspects of moral evaluation, including empathy and attitudes toward violence, are discussed as proxy measures of desensitization. An individual’s propensity to become deeply involved in media experiences is proposed as one factor that increases the relative risk of desensitization. The term psychological engagement is recommended as an umbrella term for all levels of media involvement. Terms describing the progression of intensity of engagement, including immersion, presence, flow, and psychological absorption are discussed. Future research must be built on definitional consensus in this area. Psychophysiological and behavioral research will be complementary in elucidating the neural and psychological processes that underlie the desensitization process. The role of desensitization in increasing aggression and decreasing helping behavior requires additional study.

Keywords: absorption; desensitization; empathy; media violence; moral evaluation; presence; psychological engagement

Article.  7786 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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