Psychology of True Crime Obsession

If you are anything like me, a perfect night includes watching a true crime documentary in bed. The amount of true crime shows I watch sometimes worries me, like why would anyone enjoy watching murders? I thought about it so much that here I am researching it. I thought I might as well share with you guys some of the reasons why we love a good true crime show.

  1. Curiosity for human psychology

The simple answer is, psychology is interesting! We want to know why people do the things they do, especially things that are cruel. David Green, a teaching fellow at the University of Law explains that humans are fascinated with each other’s lives, and that’s why we will sit and watch documentaries about other people doing things that we can’t imagine. He says ”I believe that, as humans, we have a morbid fascination with events that can have such an impact on the lives of others. The same base instinct that draws us to look at a car crash in some ways draws us to these documentaries.”

Author, Caitlin Rother, added: “We want some insight into the psychology of a killer, partly so we can learn how to protect our families and ourselves, but also because we are simply fascinated by aberrant behaviour and the many paths that twisted perceptions can take.” What does it take for someone to become a murderer? True crime shows give a good insight into how these people become such monsters.

2. The excitement of ‘taboo’

There is something intriguing about watching something people do that we cannot dare to do ourselves. Committing any type of crime is taboo to an average person, so it is quite fascinating to know a human like you and me, can commit such horrific crimes, acting on their intrusive thoughts and letting go of their morals.

According to Tetlock’s term ‘taboo trade-off,’ humans are fascinated with things that are taboo but their morals keep them from allowing their minds to entertain these taboos. So in true crime shows we get to see people acting out their taboo thoughts and seeing what humans are capable of gives us a rush of adrenaline.

Psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll told “true crime stories allow us to explore the darker side of nature in a safe way”, and psychologist Emma Kenny told that watching crime shows can “trigger chemical reactions in our bodies, while also affirming our moral views about right and wrong”.

The ‘forbidden thinking’ theory argues that humans have dark impulses and true crime shows are an outlet for these thoughts but without having the consequences, and having the relief of not being the one carrying out such dark acts.

3. Satisfaction of solving a crime case

For some, the love of true crime might just be the satisfaction of solving a crime case! Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University, says “most true crimes on TV and in books are offered as a puzzle that people want to solve.” So we get to act and think like a detective and solve the crime, and in the end, we actually get all the answers!

“As humans, we are always looking for something new and novel. Whether it’s good or bad, we need something that creates an element of excitement. When we mix this desire with insight and solving a puzzle, it can give us a short, sharp shock of adrenaline, but in a relatively safe environment.

4. Women are more into it then man

In 2010, a study by the University of Illinois found that 70% of Amazon reviews on true crime books are by women. Michael Boudet who hosts the popular true-crime podcast Sword and Scale said that 70% of his fans are women between the ages of 25-45. It is observed that these women are most interested in stories that give insight into the killer’s motives, that contain information about how victims escaped, and that feature female victims. This can be explained by the evolutionary perspective; women are more fearful of crime than men; perhaps women are instinctively drawn towards stories where they can identify with the victim and use strategies for self-protection.

Crime author Francesca Dorricott says: “The largely female audience has a lot to do with gender inequality in society. Most women have been taught to restrain their actions, their thoughts, and sometimes even their imaginations. We can witness a solution to a stalking charge without ever being in danger ourselves, we can see a bad person put behind bars and feel relieved, we can explore our own behavior and thoughts without being judged.”

But there might be another reason why women love true crime. Melanie Haughton, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby, says: “There is a lot of romanticizing of these dark figures, like American serial killer Ted Bundy, who have committed awful acts, and women can be intrigued by the danger aspect.”

This is quite an interesting point and might need a whole new blog post. In the meantime, tell me, what is your favourite true crime show?

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