I am not easily swayed by studies. I have a problem with the results and how they come to their conclusions. I think a lot of controlled studies are flawed, but that is my personal opinion. However, one study proves to me to have some substance. Donnerstein and Linz did a study in 1985 regarding the effects watching pornography has on the male mind regarding rape and women. I will explain why I think this particular study has some validity.
While searching the internet I came across an interesting article. Diana Russell takes an indepth look at this study on her website. In this article she sites 7 studies done that she uses to support her theory about “the role of pornography in undermining some males’ internal inhibitions against acting out the desire to rape”. I will concentrate on #7 – Desensitizing Males to Rape, the study by Donnerstein and Linz. I strongly recommend reading this site to get more information detailing the study done on these men. I will assume most people reading this post are familiar with the study; therefore I will not summarize. I will, however, quote one part of the article which describes a scene in one of the movies shown. “Donnerstein (1983) describes "Toolbox Murders" as follows: There is an erotic bathtub scene in which a woman massages herself. A beautiful song is played. Then a psychotic killer enters with a nail gun. The music stops. He chases the woman around the room, then shoots her through the stomach with the nail gun. She falls across a chair. The song comes back on as he puts the nail gun to her forehead and blows her brains out. According to Donnerstein, many young males become sexually aroused by this movie (1983, p. 10).”
My theory is that they do not become sexually aroused by the violence that is portrayed. Perhaps they became sexually aroused by the bathtub scene on its own with or without the killing. I do believe that the adrenaline is kicked up and the excitement is intensified due to the violent nature of what follows. My heart rate goes up and I feel my pulse race when I watch a suspenseful movie especially one that has such violent content. Music is added to enhance that feeling as well. I think it is a dangerous combination when viewed by someone who cannot control their emotions. Therefore my conclusion would be that there has to be additional outside influences that contribute to reactions of males to imitate the violence toward women. I don’t believe the movie alone would do it.
The main purpose of this study however, is proving that men are desensitized over time. After 5 days of watching the 10 hours of movies, they are shown a documentary re-enactment of a real rape trial. A control group also saw the trial; however, they were not exposed to the 10 hours of violence. The results were astounding. Those that watched the violence “rated the victim as significantly more worthless, (2) rated her injury as significantly less severe, and (3) assigned greater blame to her for being raped than did the subjects who had not seen the film”.
Now what about real life vs. media?
The reason why I think this study has some sound arguments is that I can easily apply this to real life. These men were desensitized clearly from the movies they saw. How can this be? I don’t have the answers but I know this can be so. There are many professions that desensitize people. Doctors are one such example. Before I am attacked, consider this carefully. Most doctors come across people with fatal illnesses. Some doctors say it is never easy to relay this information to their patients or their families and yet some say it gets easier over time. What would happen if a doctor constantly cries over their patients and let their emotions get the best of them? In order to maintain their sanity and continue, they must build a protective shield and become thick skinned so to say – dare I say desensitize themselves?
Then there are the police officers. I am married to one, my father was one; I think I know what I am talking about when I say they definitely have to protect their sanity when they are on the job. When my husband first saw a dead body, he almost threw up. However, over time it was like second nature viewing a corpse. After a while, I even heard him laugh with fellow officers about one such scene whereby an elder lady was found dead in her apartment. She was naked and lying on the bed with a bottle of whiskey between her legs. He had to laugh; either that or cry. I don’t know which is worse though, becoming desensitized to make it through the days or literally go crazy from the reality that is all around. All I know is that people do get desensitized over time.
But now the question lies with what happens next. Does that mean you are more willing to repeat what you see or just merely that you are no longer shocked by what you see? Another thing I know but ashamed to admit is that years ago while reading the paper I would get disgusted with all the articles pointing out terrorism in the Middle East. I thought it was pathetic, and then I remember feeling “what else is new” and turned the page. I became desensitized to the media reports. And then the World Trade Towers were struck and I was annoyed at myself for dismissing what was happening on the other side of the world. And this hit home, real close to my home. It woke me up, yet, again, I see bombing after bombing in Iraq and my heart goes out to the soldiers and the families, yet I turn the page and I don’t read the articles. But that doesn't mean I will go out and bomb my neighbors, it just means nothing surprises me anymore.