AARHUS, Denmark — Watching true crime shows may help prepare you if you find yourself in a similar situation, according to an expert on morbid curiosity. Coltan Scrivner, a research scientist at Recreational Fear Lab, feels there’s an almost primal reason people are endlessly fascinated by true crime content.
According to Scrivner, morbid curiosity about dangerous people likely began some 300,000 years ago when humans began using language and engaging in proactive aggression instead of reactive aggression.
“Now this presents a problem for people because with proactive aggression it’s hard to tell who is plotting to harm you,” says Scrivner. “So this puts a selection pressure on our minds to learn to seek out information about people who are potentially dangerous.
Can true crime prepare us for real situations?
“True crime can have a learning component to it or at least a perceived learning component. We feel like we’re more prepared in these kinds of situations. So if this dangerous situation were to occur, you feel a little more prepared and know what you should or shouldn’t do.”
This claim is supported by research data collected by OnePoll. The new survey of 2,000 self-reported true crime fans found that 76 percent feel that consuming content about true crime helps them avoid similar situations happening to them.
The average respondent consumes five true crime programs each month, with 75 percent saying they watch the latest program the instant it’s released and 71 percent typically binge-watching the entire thing in one sitting. The survey also found that 44 percent of respondents admit they have a “favorite” serial killer and 67 percent would like the opportunity to chat with one.
Over seven in ten of those polled (71%) also admit to feeling less trusting of other people due to how much true crime content they consume.
Does true crime content make people violent?
But can watching too much content about violent crime make one more likely to commit a violent crime? Scrivner doesn’t see a connection.
“So there are distinctions between becoming desensitized to seeing graphic content on your television and being OK with graphic content happening around you. A great example of this would be the research on violent video games over the course of the last 20 years,” continues Scrivner. “It was a huge deal because people were concerned that as video games became more realistic and as the violence became more realistic that it would cause kids, in particular, to become more violent.
“But the research is pretty clear at this point that playing violent video games doesn’t make kids more violent, I would be fairly sure that the same is true of something like true crime, where watching true crime doesn’t make you less empathetic towards the victims or more empathetic towards the killer or anything like that. It might have some psychological effects but it’s very unlikely that it would have any effects along those lines.”
This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 American true crime fans was commissioned between December 16, 2022 and January 4, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).