de·sen·si·tize | \(ˌ)dē-ˈsen(t)-sə-ˌtīz \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from desensitize

desensitization \(ˌ)dē-ˌsen(t)-sə-tə-ˈzā-shən \ noun
desensitizer \(ˌ)dē-ˈsen-sə-ˌtī-zər \ 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

Dave Grossman, who through his Killology Research Group has made a career of suggesting video games and other violent media are desensitizing young people to violence. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "What to expect from Trump’s game industry summit today," 8 Mar. 2018 The career businesswoman became desensitized to personal attacks within a couple of months of arriving in Washington with her husband Jared Kushner, also a frequent press target. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Press again bashes Ivanka, who privately lobbied to change family separation policy," 22 June 2018 In fact, many of us have become desensitized to big new ideas, because in our previous experiences, few concepts actually come to fruition. Josh Linkner, Detroit Free Press, "Want to make your meetings more effective? Ask about the ‘Do Different’," 22 June 2018 But recent research has overturned the popular consensus that mass killers are fueled, inspired or otherwise desensitized to violence by playing violent games. Alex Horton, Washington Post, "What Parkland parents think of a new video game that lets people shoot up a school," 29 May 2018 Sometimes the wisest are the youngest in our lives, the ones who haven’t yet been desensitized to the atrocities of our world. Katie Reilly, Time, "A Valedictorian Was Barred From Delivering His High School Graduation Speech. He Spoke by Megaphone Instead," 28 May 2018 And simulated violence can desensitize children to real-life suffering, and is linked to increased anxiety and fear. Pamela Druckerman, New York Times, "Are iPhones Bad for Kids?," 8 Mar. 2018 A few minutes will desensitize the skin for hours of relief. Joe Graedon, M.s., And Teresa Graedon, Houston Chronicle, "Changing washcloths daily helps control acne," 23 June 2018 People seemed to cope in one of two ways: turning away from the problem or overthinking it and becoming desensitized. Jerod Macdonald-evoy, azcentral, "Every teen suicide is a tragedy, here's what Arizona is doing to prevent more," 8 June 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of desensitize

1898, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about desensitize

Share desensitize

Dictionary Entries near desensitize







desert armor

Statistics for desensitize

Last Updated

24 Aug 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for desensitize

The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for desensitize



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 \
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- \ noun

More from Merriam-Webster on desensitize

See words that rhyme with desensitize

Comments on desensitize

What made you want to look up desensitize? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


evasion of direct action or statement

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!