Psychologist examines the impact of violent video culture

In the era of the smartphone, violent video has become an unflinching part of our lives.

Whether it’s footage of a fight on a street, or cell phone video of a law enforcement officer deploying excessive force, they always go viral and we can’t stop watching them.

But what kind of harm can these videos actually do to your mental health?

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Psychologists say these videos are desensitizing us – and they may be an indicator as to why the Black Lives Matter movement started in the first place.

“There is some evidence that certain reward pathways in our brain light up when we see violence even if we’re kind of horrified,” said psychologist Andrea Bonior.

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Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist on the faculty at Georgetown University.

She says the videos can re-traumatize a person if they’ve experienced something similar in the past – not to mention the broader implications for everyone.

“There is some evidence especially in children or adolescence that overtime we do become desensitized,” Bonior said.

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Bonior says this occurrence happens disproportionately in black communities – effectively jump starting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I think it’s a very valid concern that it might be desensitizing other folks that are not people of color to the idea of people of color being harmed,” she said.
Bonior says everyone should think twice before giving such a video a “like,” a “share,” or a “comment.”

“These views are tallied. Depending on the site it means there’s advertising money. It means it’s going to spread more quickly. It means it’s going to harm more people.  And so I think we have a personal responsibility to think about how even viewing a video quite literally doesn’t just affect us, it helps that video gain power,” she said.

Bonior says we shouldn’t get rid of these videos because they do provide accountability, which could lead to effective change. However, she says there must be a middle ground where the viral nature of these scenes is limited.