de·​sen·​si·​tize | \ (ˌ)dē-ˈsen(t)-sə-ˌtīz How to pronounce desensitize (audio) \
desensitized; desensitizing; desensitizes

Definition of desensitize

transitive verb

1 : to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent
2 : to make emotionally insensitive or callous specifically : to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it

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Other Words from desensitize

desensitization \ (ˌ)dē-​ˌsen(t)-​sə-​tə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce desensitization (audio) \ noun
desensitizer \ (ˌ)dē-​ˈsen-​sə-​ˌtī-​zər How to pronounce desensitizer (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

Physical desensitizing is something that biologists have long been aware of. Basic training in the armed forces tries to desensitize new recruits to pain. We can desensitize ourselves to the summer heat by turning off the air conditioning, or become desensitized to the cold by walking barefoot in the snow. But desensitize is more often used when talking about negative emotions. Parents worry that their children will be desensitized to violence by playing video games. Soldiers may become desensitized to death on the battlefield. Desensitizing may be natural and desirable under some circumstances, but maybe not so good in others.

Examples of desensitize in a Sentence

The shot will help to desensitize the nerve.
Recent Examples on the Web Or might long exposure to such sights desensitize us? Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "The Art of War in “Theater of Operations”," 25 Nov. 2019 Once a week, a massage therapist dug into her scars, helping to desensitize the tissue and push the muscle and skin apart. Grayson Haver Currin, Outside Online, "She Survived a Stabbing, then Climbed Mount Katahdin," 27 Sep. 2019 Imelda's immense rainfall is both amazing and also desensitizing – very rare, historic rainfall has now fallen along the western Gulf Coast a few times in as many years. Jeff Berardelli, CBS News, "Imelda's immense rain is now 7 times more likely than just 30 years ago," 21 Sep. 2019 Coyotes, in response to the increase of human presence and human attractants, are being habituated or desensitized to humans. Sara Cardine, La Cañada Valley Sun, "Coyote encounters too close for some La Cañada residents, pet owners," 5 Sep. 2019 Trauma can desensitize people as well as break down social networks, according to the report. Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post, "“This is a problem in Denver”: 700 young people killed, wounded or threatened with guns every year," 10 Sep. 2019 Following two mass shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump said the video game industry is partially to blame for glorifying violence and desensitizing would-be mass killers. Lisa Marie Segarra, Fortune, "Joe Lieberman Famously Blamed Video Games for Violence. Now Guns and the Internet Worry Him Even More," 10 Aug. 2019 And there are worries that even casual, offhand comments can desensitize people to prejudiced tropes that can marginalize and demonize Jews. Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press, "With antisemitism on the rise, criticism of Israel fuels political charges of hate," 11 July 2019 The danger for me was always becoming desensitized to that. Laura Barcella, Longreads, "‘Horror Is a Soothing Genre … It’s Upfront About How Scary It Is To Be a Woman.’," 14 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'desensitize.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of desensitize

1898, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

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Cite this Entry

“Desensitize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for desensitize


How to pronounce desensitize (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of desensitize

: to cause (someone or something) to react less to or be less affected by something : to cause (someone or something) to be less sensitive


transitive verb
variants: also British desensitise \ (ˈ)dē-​ˈsen(t)-​sə-​ˌtīz How to pronounce desensitise (audio) \
desensitized also British desensitised; desensitizing also British desensitising

Medical Definition of desensitize

: to make less sensitive : reduce sensitivity in desensitize a nerve with a local anesthetic : as
a : to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent
b : to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli which formerly induced it : make emotionally insensitive evidence that violence on television desensitizes children to actual violence— Stephanie Harrington
c : to decrease a response (as of a cell receptor) progressively following prolonged exposure to a stimulus formation of cAMP was reduced significantly in desensitized cells and remained low in the continuous presence of agonist— S. M. Nilius et al

Other Words from desensitize

desensitization also British desensitisation \ (ˌ)dē-​ˌsen-​sət-​ə-​ˈzā-​shən, -​ˌsen-​stə-​ˈzā-​ How to pronounce desensitisation (audio) \ noun

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