A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Alex: What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.
From: A Clockwork Orange
Somewhere along the way as I was growing, violence took a wrong turn in the media. Movies, TV, print; all began to show more graphic violence. I don’t know what the starting point was, or when; I just know that it started getting more detailed, more bloody. Of course, there were horror movies, slasher types that were full of gaudy special effects and makeup, but somewhere along the way, the technology got really good, and bloodletting began in full swing. For a highly sensing boy, I saw this is as a turnoff. What happened to the days, when a gunshot went off, there was a quick cut and a dead body laid on the ground? Sometimes with blood, sometimes without. I got the message; the character was dead, I didn’t need to see him bleed out, to make that point. The excessive reliance on violence for dramatic conflict seems like lazy writing to me. The subtlety of death and dying died, and so did a certain naivete upon the viewing public.
Modeling of violence in the media can desensitize us all into the acceptance of violence or at least aggression as an acceptable method for resolving egregious problems or for seeking justice. Whether it is an endless war against perceived enemies, capital punishment as a means of justice or at a personal level arming oneself to the teeth, to protect against “bad guys.”
I’m not interested in playing video games, but nowadays watching almost any historical drama on television or in films is rife with realistic and I could argue hyper-real blood and guts, as villains are slain to exact justice. One can simply no longer turn away from the violence and even as adults, the visceral and subtle unconscious effects alter all of us.
There have been many studies over the years vilifying the effects of passively watching violence in the media. The National Institute of Mental Health found that children watching violent media may become desensitized to other’s pain and suffering , may become more fearful and may be more likely to behave in aggressive and harmful ways to others. It has even been suggested that this learned behavior may follow into adulthood. Violent video games have a similar effect. Ninety-eight percent of video games contain violence and since 97% of adolescents play video games the reach of violent modeling goes way beyond Saturday morning cartoons.
Violence is found in music, YouTube, radio, on cell phones, the internet and now especially in social media. This constant exposure to aggression creates aggressive thoughts and can produce less empathy towards others. The focus of aggression is the intent to harm another, where the other is looking to avoid this harm. It takes many forms: relational aggression, i.e., spreading harmful rumors; cyber-aggression via electronic messages; and, verbal aggression. With over 42.5 aggressive acts per hour on television and with a clear increase in violence in movies over the last 40 years, it is no wonder that the effect culturally on children is growing. These children, of course, grow up to be adults. When these acts of aggression take a more severe form, we are looking at violent actions.
Now, I know many of you may be saying, well, all these studies have not been able to prove long-term effects or that many of the studies are flawed or invalid. Some would even argue that viewing violence has a cathartic effect on aggression. Yet, there are no studies showing this to be true. It is very difficult, if not ethically impossible to construct a study in which a cause and effect relationship can be established by watching violent media with behavior in which murder or violence is the end result of the study.
Yet, it is clear we can measure arousal rates when watching violent media, heart rate, respiration, and higher blood pressure. In fact, there have been MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) studies where noticeable differences in brain activity have been shown after just one week of watching violent video games. Other studies have noted short and long-term effects associated with this video violence. Primary among the short-term effects have been the arousal via emotional stimulation, which causes a visceral response. And, of course, mimicry, which causes the viewer to imitate behavior watched, in a less violent, but nonetheless aggressive way – generally more aggressive thoughts.
The long-term effects may affect observational learning skills and alter emotional state, thought schemas, normative beliefs about violence and executable behavior scripts. It may cause desensitization with increased exposure, aggressive behavior, bullying, increased fears, depression, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances. The key to all of this is repetition. Repeating the viewing, especially with video gaming, where repetition increases skill level, increases the retention and acceptance of violence as a means to an end.
This clearly affects children and adults. The continuous bombardment of violence or aggressive behavior, especially with the actions of hero characters, models that the world is a dangerous place and that justice is only served by righteous indignation, often in violent form. Because this is constantly presented as reality via the media, the unconscious mind, not the greatest at distinguishing reality from fiction learns that violence, if not honorable, is at least tolerable to settle injustices.
How does violence in the media effect HSPs and in particular HSMs? Why would we watch it, if it is offensive and abhorrent to our sensibilities? I personally find excessive violence in film or television to be distracting to the story. It creates a strong visceral reaction, a shock if you will, that I feel in my body. I never get sick to the stomach, but feel a slight, steady revulsion to excessive violence, even knowing that it’s not real. If it is severe enough, I will turn my head, but as of late, I force myself to bear through it. It’s over soon enough, but the story is altered for me. Even with plot justification for the violence, I tend to be tenser watching the remainder, as if waiting for someone to jump out from behind me, to startle me. Gratuitous violence is just that – plugged into storylines at regular intervals to give the mind and body a shock. It sells tickets.
My larger concern is what is all of this violence doing to us as a culture? Is it altering the way our brains perceive violence? I mean, one could argue that we have always been violent, aggressive creatures. But, at what point do we rise above our baser instincts and evolve, moving past violence. If it is affecting us all, does it mean we HSPs are being altered along with the rest of humanity?
Why does violence appeal to us? Is it like sex, just a primal force of nature that our higher level cognitive powers haven’t learned to deal with. It seems that we crave violence, like sex, drugs and rock and roll. But, unlike sex, aggression is not a drive in humans. Sure there might have been evolutionary reasons for aggressive behavior to protect territory, but is it really necessary now? Perhaps, we see violence as a prelude to death. Pushed and pulled, drawing us in towards our warlike nature.
In the U.S. alone child abuse occurs about every 10 seconds. We have the highest rates of youth homicides and suicides in the industrialized world. School shootings and mass shootings have sadly become commonplace. Americans are more than seven times as likely to be murdered than in the largest industrialized countries. We spend more of our tax revenue on defense, weapons, and wars than all countries combined. We spend more on prisons than on education, emphasizing the punishment instead of the cause. See the patterns?
And I don’t know if there is a violence watching threshold. Are we getting close to the point where we have no reaction to watched violence? Denial of the effects of media violence is partly due to psychological reactance, which states that the more forbidden the fruit, the more attractive it is, the more we seek it, and the angrier we get towards those that would deny it.
I’m not about censorship or restricting artistic freedom. But to what detail do we need to see death, to get the point. We are a violent and bloodthirsty people. We justify the bloodbath, by some type of screwed up divine sanction. Manifest destiny, or preservers of freedom, vindication or justice, sanctimonious crusades, we take our wrath out in blood. And we model it in our art. Then we wonder about violence in our world. Violence in our words, our actions, we eat drink and sleep violence. Our heroes are vampire sucking, life-destroying robots of violence. In fact, we equate good with righteous violence.
As HSMs we need to aid in tamping down the violence in our sphere of influence. Perhaps, taking more care with our children in monitoring or sanctioning violent media viewing. If you are teachers, counselors, therapist, ministers or others in the helping professions, use your opportunities wisely to offer suggestions to caregivers and parents about the effects of violent media watching on children and adults. We can lead efforts to offer guidelines, based in part on our sensibilities to the media themselves for acceptable levels of dramatic aggression that serves a dramatic purpose without sensationalizing extreme blood, mutilation or gore. This should be gentle guidance, not out and out restrictive suggestions. We react differently to violence than non-HSPs, we do more feeling, thinking, recounting and I would say more reviewing with emotion and arousal. Maybe some throttling is in order to offer our wise counsel. Others may enjoy or thrill to the exploitative violence in the media, much like a teenager thrills at a joy ride in a stolen car. But repeated exposure, with the consequences sinking unconscious and manifesting in unsavory ways, is something that we as a society must guard against.
Watch the news, read a paper, listen to the radio. It’s already happening.
Alex: It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.
From: A Clockwork Orange
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.