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 desensitize (audio) \ noun
desensitizer \ (ˌ)dē-​ˈsen-​sə-​ˌtī-​zər How to pronounce desensitize (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 Individual or group therapy can help clients desensitize their brains to triggers and regulate their physical sensations. Washington Post, "Fear of flying? Use these tools to stay grounded when your anxiety is sky high.," 18 Mar. 2021 This helps desensitize dogs to having their paws handled. Zoe Malin, NBC News, "6 best dog nail trimmers of 2021, according to experts," 3 Mar. 2021 Beginning in the 1930s, wasp and bee allergies were treated by injections of extracts from whole ground insects to desensitize the immune system. Hannah Hoag, Quartz, "Life-saving wasp venom relies on a shaky supply chain," 16 Nov. 2020 So has the country been desensitized to mass shootings? Christopher Kuhagen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Milwaukee is your home, it’s in distress, and nobody seems to care': Marquette grad writes in LA Times about Miller shooting," 27 Feb. 2020 In short: We’re becoming desensitized to the devastation that the climate crisis is causing, which isn’t good because the worst is still to come. Mekita Rivas,, "Australia Fires Continue To Devastate — Here’s How You Can Help," 6 Jan. 2020 Many deaf-blind people can’t read Braille with gloves on because their hands are desensitized. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, "Who Is “Worthy”? Deaf-Blind People Fear That Doctors Won’t Save Them from the Coronavirus," 28 Apr. 2020 Conducting more realistic drills could desensitize children to the severity of a real active shooter situation, Phelps added. Max Londberg,, "'Furious': Some in CPS school thought shooter drill was real. Training update possible," 12 Feb. 2020 For fear, try to desensitize your pup to trigger noises by playing movies with the sounds of thunderstorms or fireworks. Hannah Harper,, "Have a Stressed Out Pet? Here Are 4 Ways to Help," 15 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for desensitize

Time Traveler

The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

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Statistics for desensitize

Last Updated

29 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Desensitize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce desensitize (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 desensitize (audio) \ noun

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