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

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 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 Technicians typically use a numbing gel to help desensitize the area before and after the laser treatment to minimize discomfort. Jessica Cruel, SELF, 25 Jan. 2022 For long-term care, immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots) is a great tool that helps desensitize your body to specific allergens over time, helping to gradually minimize symptoms. Korin Miller, SELF, 22 Jan. 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.

First Known Use of desensitize

1898, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for desensitize

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The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

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Last Updated

3 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Desensitize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for desensitize


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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