The psychological effects of viewing death and violence on social media

Maiyah Mayhan | OW Intern | 7/6/2017, midnight
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“Habituation is when the brain takes info it has seen before and decides that it’s not a real-life imminent threat,” said Fernando. “The brain subconsciously calculates our proximity to danger.”

Fernando described habituation as this: Seeing a real-life video of death or violence shocks a person because their cognitive defenses are down. After seeing a lot of videos, the brain decides that there is no real danger to the body and normalizes them.

“With exposure to violence and death, and the latter, habituation is the brain’s tendency to constantly calculate how in-danger we are,” said Fernando. “The more we watch these real world disasters, the higher our level of physiological response is.”

Fernando also agrees that increased exposure to real-life death and violence can take a toll our psychological state.

“We may be traumatized by the exposure and not know it,” said Fernando. “We may start to develop symptoms of avoidance and dissociation, and these, in turn, could lead us to withdraw from those we feel close to, which begins a very negative spiraling cycle of diminished mental health, withdrawal, and isolation.”

As it turns out, the symptoms people may start to feel as a result of watching traumatic videos can be relative of a small case of PTSD.

“When we start to develop PTSD, we disassociate ourselves, or we shrug it off, we isolate ourselves” said Fernando. “Constantly watching video feeds of death is not a good thing. The lessening to empathy, disassociation, isolation, avoidance, emotional reactions, that transform into physical outcomes, lead us to becoming more vulnerable to these impacts.”

Although Fernando agrees that constant exposure to traumatic videos can be detrimental for mental health, she believes that some exposure is still necessary.

“Some exposure to such episodes may provide us the opportunity to ‘exercise our empathy muscles’” said Fernando. “Complete shelter from such real-world pain is probably not beneficial to us either.”