Shows about Jeffrey Dahmer, The Night Stalker and other well-known serial killers have become widely popular in recent years and, while the curiosity may seem morbid, experts say there is a biological reason for it.
An expert revealed that watching true crime shows is our way of preparing for similar situations in the real world.
Such content ‘can have a learning component to it or at least a perceived learning component,’ said Coltan Scrivner, a research scientist at Denmark’s Recreational Fear Lab.
Scrivner also explained that this fascination likely began around 300,000 years ago when humans began using language and engaging in proactive aggression instead of reactive aggression.
These notions coincide with a new poll of 2,000 self-reported true crime fans, which found that 76 percent feel that consuming content about true crime helps them avoid similar situations happening to them.
True crime shows, like Netflix’s DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, may be our way of preparing for similar situations in the real world
‘Now this presents a problem for people because with proactive aggression, it’s hard to tell who is plotting to harm you,’ said Scrivner.
‘So this put a selection pressure on our minds to learn to seek out information about people who are potentially dangerous.
‘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.’
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was released on September 21, 2022 and instantly shot up to the top spot on Netflix’s Top 10 List.
The series was centered on the prolific serial killer’s crimes, which occurred between 1978 and 1991.
The criminal and cannibal, who was ultimately beaten to death in prison in 1994, was portrayed by Ryan Peters, who previously collaborated with Murphy on several seasons of American Horror Story.
Experts said this obsession in such stories and serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer (pictured) stems from around 300,000 years ago when humans began to interact proactively agressive
And on January 21, 2021, Netflix released Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer, which chronicles the life and crimes of infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez.
Ramirez, who was best known under the moniker the Night Stalker, was a serial rapist and serial murderer who terrorized Los Angeles from 1984 to 1985 and committed over a dozen killings, with victims ranging from ages six to 82.
Hailed as a real-life monster and self-proclaimed Satan worshiper, the hunt for Ramirez will be detailed in the four-part series as told from the perspective of the Sheriffs who hunted him down and the victims who escaped his grasp.
While some may think individuals who dive into true crimes may be more likely to commit violent crimes themselves, Scrivener does not 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,’ continued 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.
Shows like Netflix’s Night Stalker ‘can have a learning component to it or at least a perceived learning component’
However, research data from OnePoll shows humans are still obsessed with these wild, but true, stories.
The survey found that the average respondent consumes five true crime programs each month.
Approximately 75 percent said they watch the latest program the instant it is released and 71 percent typically binge-watching the entire thing in one sitting.
The survey also determined that 44 percent of respondents admit they have a ‘favorite’ serial killer and 67 percent would be thrilled at the opportunity to chat with one.
Over seven in ten of those polled (71 percent) also admit to feeling less trustworthy of other people due to how much true crime content they consume.
‘It might have some psychological effects but it’s very unlikely that it would have any effects along those lines.’
A 2010 study by the University of Illinois on why women are drawn to true crime programs found that they may be more likely to fear becoming a victim.
In this case, women feel these shows provide a playbook for survival tactics if they find themselves in the arms of a serial killer.
American interest in true crime as a form of infotainment dates back to the early 1900s.
Kelli Boling is an assistant professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told Scripps News: ‘Normally these were women journalists that were writing these columns, and mostly it was because they weren’t allowed to write on the news, and so they were allowed to write what was considered more of a fluff piece.’
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