Trauma happens when the mind or body is subjected to a negative impact so great that it’s unable to absorb the shock. This in turn leads to a person’s loss of psychological balance. Disturbing images have a unique power to inflict traumatic injury upon the human brain, especially in the case of the young, vulnerable, and impressionable. That’s because shocking images stick in the mind. They convey a sense of immediacy that sets off chemical reactions in the brain that are much like those created by firsthand, real-life experiences. They are a kind of virtual reality in and of themselves.

Our Shrinking World

It’s no wonder that image-induced psychological trauma is on the rise in contemporary society. Pictures, both still and moving, have been the centerpiece of our culture ever since the advent of film and television, and this emphasis has been exponentially reinforced with the arrival of the internet. Nowadays we’re bombarded with visual input twenty-four hours a day. To make matters worse, our world has shrunk under the influence of communications technology and social media. Things we would never have seen firsthand fifty to one hundred years ago have become part of our daily routine.

Like it or not, we’re now regularly subjected to all kinds of shocking, surprising, and upsetting visual experiences: scenes of brutal combat, school shootings, beheadings, sexual acts of every variety—all in real time and full-color high definition. And that’s just “entertainment”! Never mind the trauma-inducing stuff we see on the news. Images like these are accessible to anybody of any age who has an iPhone, an iPad, or a personal computer. That includes the vast majority of kids ages ten and up. To top it all off, the people who possess the power to do something about this situation are remarkably reluctant to intervene.