Desensitisation of Violence and Suffering Due to Media (And How it Relates to Anxiety)

Anxiety of Being Attacked

Having had debilitating depression and anxiety for many years, as a matter of survival I had had to become more aware about what affected my mood.

A few years running up to 2004, I had had a huge anxiety about being attacked. For a couple of years I had even been training in martial arts due to my fear of being attacked. I was tall and had a shaved head, and so this might have surprised people at the time had I told them. However I was genuinely in fear when I ventured in to town or I was in a crowded place like a party. I thought anyone might pull a knife on me, or just attack me. It was a constant state of heightened anxiety which made me very tired and on edge.

What to Do?

I needed to get to the bottom of this fear. I eventually realised that my estimation of how dangerous any given situation was, was way off the mark. Where did this fear of being attacked come from. After quite a lot of exploration I realised that the media might have something to do with it. The media tends to show all the negative and dangerous happenings in the world, this can make one overestimate the dangers in the world. (Indeed most people are surprised that violence in the world has been going down for over a thousand years, Check out Stephen Pinker talking about this on TED:

One particular behaviour I was experimenting with back in 2004 was the avoidance of any form of media, including news on the television, newspapers, and I guess the internet (although I can’t remember how much I browsed the news online back then).

After a few months of avoiding the media; the world, or rather my place in it, seemed like a far less dangerous place.

Desensitisation to Violence and Suffering

Lessons learned from this self-imposed media blackout came to a head on 26th December 2004 (The day of the Tsnuami  when I visited my friend for Boxing Day celebrations. On this day I had spoke to noone else and had had no exposure to the media. I knocked on my friend’s door.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Painting)

He made me a cup of tea, and said he was really worried about his friend in Thailand. I asked him why. He asked me if I had seen the news, and I explained I had not. He told me about the tsunami and how lots of people had been killed. I was shocked, it really hit me. There were two reasons for this:

  1. I had become re-sensitised to distressing things (so hearing the news was more potent)
  2. A friend telling me the news firsthand, with his own personal story attached, and not hearing the news from a reporter on television was more hard hitting

He switched on this television and it was all over the channels. It was devastating, and I felt shocked.

Related Research

Desensitization to media violence over a short period of time (go to research article)

This study investigated the desensitization to violence over a short period of time. Participants watched nine violent movie scenes and nine comedy scenes, and reported whether they enjoyed the violent or comedy scenes and whether they felt sympathetic toward the victim of violence.


As a result, viewers tended to feel less sympathetic toward the victims of violence and actually enjoy more the violence portrayed in the media.

Conclusions / Lessons Learned

  • Try avoiding the media for a bit to see if it helps (obviously hard for people who work in the media)
  • Don’t feel pressure to watch lots of news based on a desire to ‘know what’s going on in the world’.
  • If you can’t change something or learn from it, is it truly worth knowing about?
  • Being over-connected to tragedy via the media makes can make us care less or feel worse
  • I’ve known friends feel really depressed about the world and humanity. When I show them the Stephen Pinker video that violence has gone down over a thousand years, they often show surprise and feel better
  • We can learn really important news off friends, family and those we meet

 Copyright MEN HEAL 2015.

3 thoughts on “Desensitisation of Violence and Suffering Due to Media (And How it Relates to Anxiety)

  • May 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Another top interesting post!

    • May 21, 2015 at 11:56 am

      Thanks Murray. Let me know if you’d like to write an article. Could be on music or what gives you hope. Or something else.

  • November 24, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Your right media can bring negative to your life.. Year ago i stop watching tv news and go with my social life.. Just keep it up.. try to avoid media for the time being. Wish you all the best


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