Crime and Violence: Desensitization in Victims to Watching Criminal Events

Produced by: 
Harvard University
Available from: 
July 2017
Paper author(s): 
Rafael Di Tella
Lucía Freira
Ramiro H. Gálvez
Ernesto Schargrodsky
Diego Shalom
Mariano Sigman
Topic: 
Conflict, Crime and Violence
Year: 
2018

We study desensitization to crime in a lab experiment by showing footage of criminal acts to a group of subjects, some of whom have been previously victimized. We measure biological markers of stress and behavioral indices of cognitive control before and after treated participants watch a series of real, crime-related videos (while the control group watches non-crime-related videos). Not previously victimized participants exposed to the treatment video show significant changes in cortisol level, heart rate, and measures of cognitive control. Instead, previously victimized individuals who are exposed to the treatment video show biological markers and cognitive performance comparable to those measured in individuals exposed to the control video. These results suggest a phenomenon of desensitization or habituation of victims to crime exposure.

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