A friend of mine asked me a question about the video record of the death of James Foley. It has apparently gone viral on the internet with many, many watching it. She asked me why this is so and why it is shared so much online.
One can answer this question from many perspectives and I will address it from only the individual psychological perspective.
Desensitization is a natural human psychological process that has important implications for our own mental health. People need to desensitise from time to time just like we need to exercise ourselves physically from time to time. When we exercise we put our muscles and body under stress. One reason we do this is because when the body recuperates it come back stronger.
The human psyche is no different. When we see violent images we naturally desensitise and after recuperation we come back mentally stronger. It all a matter of degree. This is a good thing for the psychology of people in general as long as one does not overly desensitise to violence just like one does not overly exercise.
The problem for most current western societies is they have made their worlds almost totally devoid of all violent images. For instance the media, from a visual image point of view has become almost totally banal. They display only the most tame of violent images such that one could not even call them violent. The problem with this is people become hypersensitized. If you don’t desensitise from time to time then you become hypersensitized. It could be said that one becomes psychologically weak or under exercised and we loose our psychological resilience provided by desensitization. Most living in a western society are like this at the moment.
When a violent video appears on the internet it could be there is a natural tendency by many to seek it out because we crave the natural desensitisation process that we are denied so much these days.