Experts explain our ‘morbid fascination’ with true crime and serial killers
Do I need help?
A lot of us identify as being obsessed with true crime. We’re a nation of people who binge watch Netflix documentaries, Google cases non-stop, listen to crime podcasts and read books all about serial killers and murder. But why are we like this? Why are we obsessed with true crime? What is it about serial killers which we have such a morbid fascination with?
Experts and psychologists finally answer the questions about what goes on in our weird brains. And it turns out, we’re not actually that strange.
I’m obsessed w true crime. I shoulda been a damn detective. 🔎
— 👼🏻kayla👼🏻 (@beerncoffeemugs) March 6, 2020
So, why are we so obsessed with true crime?
One of the reasons why we are obsessed with true crime is the human interest factor
David Green, Teaching Fellow at the University of Law, told The Tab it’s our interest in other people’s lives and separation from the cases which makes us so fascinated. He said: “The reasons people are obsessed with crime generally and true documentaries specifically are multi-faceted. One of the key reasons that students are drawn to study criminal law and why I believe the public are drawn to true crime documentaries is the human interest factor. Crime can affect any of us, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or social status. It can happen at random and when it does happen, can devastate people’s lives.”
‘We have a morbid obsession with the lives of others’
David added that he thinks 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 said: “It exposes the rawest of human emotions and often results in people reaching the lowest points of their lives. Being the complainant, witness or accused in a criminal offence can have lifelong consequences. 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.”
True crime also gives us a rare glimpse into the criminal justice system
David said: “The second reason is that the inside world of a crime; the police investigation; the work of the solicitors and barristers; and the court proceedings are rarely, if ever, experienced by the public. This is even more so the case for serious offences. Many people go through their entire lives without being asked to perform jury service. All of this means that true crime documentaries have the ability to provide a rare insight to this hidden world. Our natural curiosity as human beings draws us to these documentaries and can allow those outside the Criminal Justice System a glimpse behind the veil.”
‘It’s a safe way for us to explore dark topics’
Psychologists believe our interest in true crime and serial killers stems from it being a simple way for us to explore a dark world from the comfort and safety of our own homes. At the end of a documentary, we can switch off and return to life as normal. Psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll told The Telegraph she believes our obsession because “true crime stories allow us to explore the darker side of nature in a safe way”, and psychologist Emma Kenny told The BBC that watching crime shows can “trigger chemical reactions in our bodies, while also affirming our moral views about right and wrong”.
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.”
‘We are a nation of true crime addicts’
If you think you’re alone in being addicted to true crime, you’re definitely not. David Green added: “It’s clear we’re a nation of true crime addicts. The popularity of this genre can be due to our natural human interest making us curious about the dark and the different, but it’s fascinating to see it can also be because we want to learn how to protect ourselves from harm.”
I suddenly feel a whole lot less weird for watching true crime documentaries 24/7.