In October, 2011, a plane crashed on a busy road in Vancouver, Canada, and a number of passers-by stepped up, some even racing into the flames to pull out burning victims. Surprising? Not really when you consider the effects of psychological phenomena such as desensitization and altruism.
What is desensitization? Thanks to social media ours has become a culture without boundaries. People regularly tell-all, and many are willing to share photos of an increasingly intimate nature. The media delivers news, and with it, 24/7 instant access to disturbing and traumatic images. And You Tube has allowed such moments to go viral. Case in point: Last month the most downloaded video depicted an Indy racer's violent car crash.
The proliferation of violent images in our culture has caused us to become desensitized to trauma. Where some years ago spectators of a crash might have been immobilized at the sight of burning wreckage, today we have seen it all before on our TV sets and laptops, and we have become inured to the shocking and violent nature of such images. Instead of being paralyzed with fear, desensitization freed on-lookers from paralyzing anxiety, enabling them to help at the moment of crisis.