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Desensitization is a psychological process used to overcome phobias and other extreme emotional reactions. For an example, if some person is suffering from ophidiophobia, desensitization might involve exposing them to harmless snakes so they would get used to them and not panic at the sight of one. When desensitization is used in therapy as in this example, it's called "exposure therapy."
Another example of desensitization can be found in a link that some studies have established between excessive violence in media such as video games and a decrease in empathy for the victims of excessive violence.
Desensitization and non-fanaticism
The term has also been appropriated by certain political activists who use it to smear anyone who does not share an identical level of dedication to their particular cause. Their reasoning goes somewhat like this:
- When I see action X, I get sick to my stomach.
- When other people see action X, they do not get sick to their stomachs.
- Therefore, since they are not outraged, they must not be paying attention.
- But some people are paying attention and are not outraged.
- Therefore, these people have something wrong with their minds: they have been desensitized to the horrors of action X.
Among popular things crusaded against in this manner are violence and sex, or what the crusaders consider to be their root causes.
- Some people, such as the disbarred lawyer and anti-video-game crusader, Jack Thompson, have claimed that people who played violent video games were "desensitized" to violence itself and were therefore disproportionately violent.
- Others, such as the noted pseudo-sexologists Paul Cameron and Victor Cline, have advanced the idea that the viewing of pornography will desensitize people to horrid perverted aberrant behaviours, such as adultery and gay sex.
- Still others combine violence and sex, such as in the case of Andrea Dworkin's anti-pornography campaign, or the related claims that pornography "desensitized" serial rapists such as Ted Bundy.