The psychological article titled “Comfortably Numb: Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others” is written by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson.
In the abstract, which is only one-paragraph long, the authors briefly and clearly inform the audience of the purpose, structure, general content, and the final conclusion of this essay as in this paper, they conduct two studies in order to test the hypothesis that exposure to violent media reduces aid offered to people in pain.
Moreover, by presenting a quote describing the power and the possible danger of movies before the introduction, the authors not only imply their negative attitudes towards violent films, but also begin this academic article with a sense of artistic aesthetics. This artistic aesthetic is able to attract those who don't have much knowledge in psychology, and smoothly leads the audience to their academic research.
In the introduction, the authors define the psychological term “desensitization” in the first paragraph in simple and straightforward words: a process to make people numb to the pain and suffering of others. Then they state that the relationship between desensitization and helping behavior can be explored by integration of a pioneering work on helping by Latane and Darley in 1968 and their work on physiological desensitization to aggression. They provide two dendrograms (tree diagrams) to illustrate two summaries of the basic concepts and logic of helping behavior and desensitization to aggression. Based on the diagrams, the authors then indicate that three of the five factors necessary for someone deciding to help a victim are relevant to this paper’s topic and the possible effects that desensitization can exert on them. In the last paragraph of the introduction, the authors say the purpose of the article is to fill in two gaps in current desensitization literature. There are no published studies testing the hypothesis that violent media stimuli known to produce physiological desensitization also reduce helping behavior or field experiments testing the effect of violent-entertainment media on helping an injured person. The authors conducted a lab experiment (study 1) and a field study (study 2) to achieve their purpose.
The structure of this article is fairly clear. When discussing the two studies conducted, the authors analyze each of them in the following order of sections: “method,” which is divided into the descriptions of “participants,” “procedure,” “results,” and “discussion.” In both studies, the authors describe the experimental processes in extreme detail in the section of “method.” Meanwhile, in the lab experiment, they demonstrate strict control over variables, such as the amount of time spent playing video games and the distribution of male and female participants in violent and nonviolent games. Furthermore, in order to eliminate gender differences, two parallel versions of the fight were used, one involving male actors was used for male participants, and one involving female actors was used for female participants. While in the field study, although the subjects that were observed had to be random moviegoers, the authors attempted to reduce other factors that could influence the results by asking the confederate to drop her crutch 36 times, 9 times in each of the four experimental conditions, before or after the showing of a violent or nonviolent movie. When presenting the analyses of the results, the authors compare data obtained from the experiments and discuss some possible limitations. In the first study, they used four types of violent games and four types of nonviolent games in order to test whether different types of games produced different effects on any dependent variables; however, no significant differences were found. In the second study, the authors indicate that the time that elapsed before subjects helped the young woman increased when the number of bystanders increased, and women helped less often than men, but these effects had no statistical significances. Moreover, they illustrate the data obtained from the second study with a bar chart, rendering the result fairly easy and straightforward to comprehend. In the section of “discussion,” the authors concisely conclude the pattern discovered from each study and provide the obstacles to helping.
At the end of the paper, the authors draw a conclusion that the desensitization hypothesis is supported by the results they obtain from their two experiments. Film violence indeed exerts a negative influence over the audience by affecting their judgement of the sufferings of the injured, and thus, the audience is less likely to help.