Shock value wears off quickly but it can affect our ability to predict other people's reaction. Desensitization is the main culprit behind our inability to guess how people may react to shock imagery.
Remember the first time you saw Madonna in the 1980's, Marilyn Manson in the 1990's, or even Lady Gaga today? How about after they became staples of media coverage and seeing those "shocking" images more frequently? Chances are you became desensitized to the shocking imagery. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, desensitization can play a role in how well we can judge the reaction of other people and that has its own series of consequences.
The study was led by Troy Campbell, PhD candidate, from the Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Ed O'Brien, PhD, from the University of Michigan. The study involved two groups of people and exposing them to a painful noise for either five or 40 seconds. After the experience, researchers asked the participants to predict how painful the sound would be for others who had never heard it, if there would be any guilt involved with exposing a person to the sound and to describe how painful the last seconds of exposure to the noise was.
For the participants who heard the sound for 40 seconds found the last seconds to be less painful and predicted that the listening experience would not be as painful for other people. In addition to that, the participants exposed to the noise for 40 seconds said they would feel less guilty in subjecting other people to the noise. The responses by the group who heard the noise for 40 seconds led researchers to the conclusion that this group had become desensitized.
When becoming desensitized, we forget that others may not feel the same way as we do. When not adjusting our perceptions for others, it can lead to inaccurate predictions of a person's reaction and ultimately to poor decisions.
The Lady Gaga study exposed participants to photos of some shocking images of the musician and asked them how others may react to the same images. Contrary to popular belief, that more exposure would give you more insight and be a better predictor, the constant exposure to shocking images made people worse at predicting another person's reaction.
This can trickle down to how people give advice to others. Due to constant exposure, a person may not adjust their opinion or prediction based on the very first time they saw an image or even heard a joke. Instead, people are basing their advice, opinion and prediction on the very last time they saw an image or heard a joke.
Next time you want to show a friend something crazy or funny on YouTube, think back to the first time you saw it and chances are you'll make a better decision about showing the video to your friends.
The Lady Gaga study was presented at the Assocation for Psychological Science's 24th Annual Convention and should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.