True Crime Shows: Why Do We Love Them?

We seem to see a new—and wildly successful—book, podcast, or show devoted to crime everywhere we turn these days, from 'Serial' to 'Dr. Death,' true crime podcasts are plentiful. There's even a Netflix parody series about true crime, which raises the question: Why are we so fascinated by true crime? To begin with, being obsessed with true crime isn't weird at all. Dr. Michael Mantell, the San Diego Police Department’s former chief psychologist, said, "I think our interest in crime stories serves a number of different healthy psychological purposes."

There has always been a fascination with good versus evil, and true crime gives us a glimpse into the minds of those who have committed the most basic taboo and perhaps, as well, the most fundamental human instinct. As children, we are drawn to the tension between good and evil, and true crime represents that fascination. We’d never commit murder, so we want to understand what motivated these people to do so.

The studies of true crime have shown us that people tend to focus on threats to their well-being, according to Megan Boorsma. Psychologists believe that women seem to enjoy true crime more than their male counterparts, because they want to learn how to improve their chances of survival in a dangerous situation.

It was found in 2010 that women were more likely than men to read true crime books that contained tips for defending themselves. Considering that women fear becoming victims of crime more than men, it makes sense that they would be drawn to stories that contained fitness-relevant information. The researchers concluded; "the characteristics that make these books appealing to women are all highly relevant in terms of preventing or surviving a crime." Amanda Vicary, the study’s lead author, said that "by learning about murders—who is more likely to be a murderer, how do these crimes happen, who are the victims—people also want to learn about ways to prevent becoming a victim themselves."

As an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Mt. Sinai, Sharon Packer, a psychiatrist, says watching, listening, or reading about real crimes can be like a dress rehearsal. Seventy percent of intimate partner homicide victims are women, according to crime novelist Megan Abbott. "I’ve come to believe that what draws women to true crime tales is an instinctual understanding that this is the world they live in," Abbot communicated in the Los Angeles Times. "And these books are where the concerns and challenges of their lives are taken deadly seriously."


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