Humanity’s obsession with serial killers and murders shows itself in many different forms. Be it from watching crime programmes on TV and movies, reading true crimes about horrific murders that happened in the real world or some people decide to research and interview killers themselves. People are very interested in serial killers but why? In this fascinating forensic psychology episode, we look at why are people interested in serial killers? People interested in forensic and criminal psychology will enjoy this great episode.
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Why Are People Fascinated By Serial Killers?
Personally, I cannot deny that I’m one of these people interested in crime and murder and negative events. I will never be a true crime reader or podcast listener, but I do find myself reading and listening to cases on the news, reading crime and mystery fiction and other smaller ways that expose me to the darker side of human nature. I even think that once in a
while we cover something here on the podcast that is a little dark.
However, I think we can all agree that people are fascinated by serial killers and this isn’t anything new since Aristotle commented on this back in 250 CBE with the following quote:
“Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.”
Therefore, even back in ancient Greece, you can see how people were thinking about dead bodies and this fascination has only increased over the past thousands of years. Leading some researchers to propose that this allure of destruction as well as death could have a physiological basis.
One piece of evidence for the idea is our brains and our physiology shows a greater response to negative stimuli than positive ones. Meaning people are stimulated more by negative events, and this is why the media also focuses on negative stories since people are drawn to
stories about destruction and death.
Typically, this phenomenon is called “morbid curiosity” and this encompasses people’s fear and excitement that draws their attention to death and terror. And this is very used by endless numbers of podcasts, movies, books and TV shows, because all of these forms of entertainment try to help give people something to satisfy their hunger for more information about death and terror.
In fact, and personally I do find this very disturbing, murderabilia (the collecting of things connected to murders) is a pricey industry. With the industry selling all sorts of things connected to famous crimes, like hair, murder weapons and sketches as well as drawings of killers.
At the end of the day, morbid curiosity is all about excitement and fear. And personally I don’t know anything that would be more fearful and exciting then going into someone’s house and seeing they had a weapon used in a famous murder. It would be a brilliant conversation starter and stopper.
Why Are People Fascinated With Serial Killers: Fear
Let’s face it, serial killers, murderers and all those extreme criminal types they scare us and they provoke a fearful response. This is good from a survival viewpoint because we all fear things that can harm us and having a fear response helps us to avoid harmful things, so we constantly monitor things that can and will harm us.
This is because fear is a natural response that humans have to a horrific event, and as much as we try to close our eyes, we have to open them at some point. Having closed eyes to the dangers of the world will not keep us safe.
Therefore, some researchers argue that we’re interested in serial killers, murderers and other criminals in the real world so we can understand the dangers better.
Personally, I do understand this but again, I prefer to do this in fictionalised ways. Yet I do understand why some people want to hear about the true crimes because they’re reals (obviously) and they’re darker than a lot of what they show on TV.
Lastly for this section, we’re also relieved that we aren’t the victims. And by watching, listening and reading about true crimes, people might be provided with information about how to survive a similar situation or perhaps avoid becoming a victim of a violent act altogether. As a result, people do struggle to look away from threatening events and this is why the allure of murder, terror and death is so strong all over the western world.
And it will remain for a long time.
Serial Killers And Sensation-Seeking
Finally, another aspect to how people are fascinated by serial killers is a person’s sensation-seeking behaviour, because this involves their need for ever-increasing stimuli to satisfy the need for new and exciting experiences. Sometimes this sensation-seeking comes in the form of risky behaviours like skydiving and mountain climbing or betting on horses. Yet serial killers serve as another way for some people.
Since learning about serial killers, their terrifying ways of stalking and hunting victims and the long often twisted road to finally get justice for the victims can be stimulating to some people. Now I say some people, because I read and write and watch enough entertainment with serial killers in that I just don’t want to see real life serial killers.
I seriously don’t.
However, I will note that the downside of sensation seeking behaviour is that over time greater and greater amounts of stimulation are needed to satisfy their need for exciting and new experiences.
Forensic Psychology Conclusion
In this episode, we looked at a lot of reasons why people are fascinated with serial killers and if we bring it all together, we have these reasons. People are interested in death and destruction because of our own morbid curiosity and this is something we all have. We all want to find out more about the darker side of life including death and murder. Also people’s fear responses make them focus on serial killers because they want to learn about these dark events so perhaps they could be learn from them or fulfil their own need for sensation and stimulation.
At the end of this episode, I want to wrap up by saying that I won’t be reading, listening or watching true crime programmes anytime sooner. Yet tonight as I’ll write this I’ll probably read a mystery with a dead body or something similar. The vast majority of people enjoy learning about death and terror that is simply a part of us as a culture.
And as psychologists I certainly think that is something that should fascinate us, but maybe also scare us. Just a little.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Criminal Profiling. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day.
Forensic and Criminal Psychology Reference
Harrison, M. A, & Frederick, E. J. (2022). Interested in serial killers? Morbid curiosity in college students. Current Psychology, 41, 3768-3777.
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