Student Voice: Has society become desensitised?

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By Yasmin Al-najar

It would be incorrect to say that, in some shape or form, society has not become desensitised to violence. At the beginning of this year alone, figures show a sharp rise in the number of murders and manslaughter deaths across England and Wales by 14% last year, producing the annual total of 574, that’s 11 deaths a week. According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a 9% rise in knife crime and a 4% rise in gun crime, which police believe are linked to the increase in gang violence, predominately in London and Manchester. In addition, official statisticians have declared that sexual offences have risen by 36%, but this figure only includes those who have come forward. We know that crime rates have risen, but why?

One of many reasons for desensitisation is the rise of technology. A study has confirmed that people spend an average of 8 hours 21 minutes sleeping a day, but spend an average of 8 hours 41 minutes on technological devices. That means that the average person now spends more time on their phone and laptop than sleeping. We are so immersed in our computers, Xboxes and mobile phones, that we are becoming detached from reality and increasingly isolated from human interactions, which contributes to our desensitisation.

The media projects violent images, perpetuating them in films, video games, music and even commercial products. A large amount of exposure to media influences the way in which we think and behave, and soon violence becomes an acceptable way to settle conflicts. The Macquarie University Children and Families Research Centre discovered that children who watch violent films are more likely to view the world as an unsympathetic, cruel and frightening place. Consequently, children are more likely to reveal physical aggression while becoming desensitised to violence. In this experiment, like many others, the MRI brain scans of children who have watched movie, television and video game violence shared a similar pattern to those who have been physically violent.

There will always be the question of whether violent tendencies are nature over nurture or vice versa. Doctor Alia-Klein stated, “How an individual responds to their environment depends on the brain of the beholder. Aggression is a trait that develops together with the nervous system over time starting from childhood; patterns of behaviour become solidified and the nervous system prepares to continue the behaviour patterns into adulthood when they become increasingly coached in personality.

“This could be at the root of the differences in people who are aggressive and not aggressive, and how media motivates them to do certain things.”

However, it is agreed amongst psychologists and scientists that the things that we watch will influence the way in which we think and behave, some more than others.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see an eleven-year-old playing Call of Duty, despite it being an 18-rated video game. Such games are packed with gang violence, sexual assault, fight scenes, torture, decapitations, bloodied corpses and disturbing images. Players are actually rewarded for the amount of people they kill, begging the question of what kind of message this sends out to society. However, victims of violence know that it is anything but a ‘game’.

The music industry is also partly to blame. Rihanna’s song ‘B***h Better have my Money’ released in 2015, caught widespread attention with the video being seen over 12 million times since its release.  The clip tells a story of an accountant who has defrauded Rihanna out of money, so in retaliation, she kidnaps his spoilt, wealthy, white wife. With the help of her friends, she shoves his wife into a trunk, strips her, swings her upside down from a rope, knocks her out with a bottle and causes her to almost drown in a swimming pool. After still not receiving the money, Rihanna pins the accountant to a chair and displays a collection of knives. The next scene shows her naked, covered in blood in a trunk of money. Members of the public have attacked the singer calling her video racist, gory, misogynistic and a glorification of violence, whereas others have praised her for empowering women and challenging the music industry’s stereotypes.

Even children’s toys cannot seem to get rid of this dark cloud of violence. Now stores are selling ‘Super Hero Girls’ toys, featuring Wonder Woman, Super Girl, Bat Girl, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. However, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy should not fall under this category. They are far from Super Heroes and in fact, their stories are pretty dark in  the comics, which are supposedly for young audiences as well.

So what can we do to reduce the prospects of desensitisation? The findings from research should help in teaching people to be more aware of how aggressive material triggers them and how to control violent impulses. The media should take responsibility and reduce the amount of gory and sexually violent images it projects on our televisions. The Government should do more to help those prone to aggression, support victims of violence and ban certain material from entering our homes. However, it is also up to the individual to lessen their exposure to violent material.


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