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

transitive verb

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

Example Sentences

The shot will help to desensitize the nerve.
Recent Examples on the Web Spitalinick said the Charlottesville defendants were free with hate speech, including racial epithets and jokes about the Holocaust, in an effort to desensitize the jury. Globe Columnist,, 26 Oct. 2022 The current tech may also desensitize motorists to real emergencies and create liabilities for companies. Morgan Korn, ABC News, 6 Aug. 2022 Strategic thinking training should enable participants to practice rapid change in an effort to desensitize them. Bill Hall, Forbes, 21 June 2022 Immunotherapy involves exposing you to small, controlled amounts of allergens to desensitize your immune system response. Rachel Nall, Msn, SELF, 24 May 2022 It was also used to desensitize gun powder for naval guns, a corrosion inhibitor for brass casings and waterproofing for airplanes, ammunition, and also in motors and electric coils. Steven Savage, Forbes, 30 Apr. 2022 Some of the trainers at least wanted to desensitize Tilikum in case someone fell in. Tim Zimmermann, Outside Online, 30 July 2010 Morally, portraying the enemy as ready to commit the most depraved crimes helped desensitize combatants and added further fuel to a fast escalating cycle of entirely conventional violence. Claas Kirchhelle, Wired, 11 Mar. 2022 Swing voters are far more concerned about how social media and videogames may undermine the mental development of children, desensitize them to violence, delay their socialization, and put their personal data at risk of exploitation. Karl Rove, WSJ, 9 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

First Known Use

1898, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

Dictionary Entries Near desensitize

Cite this Entry

“Desensitize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Medical Definition


transitive verb

variants also British desensitise
desensitized also British desensitised; desensitizing also British desensitising
: to make less sensitive : reduce sensitivity in
desensitize a nerve with a local anesthetic
: as
: to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent
: 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
: 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.
desensitization noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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