Have you noticed the rise in popularity for true crime stories? It’s so popular, it seems as if Netflix introduces a new crime documentary every week. And with smash hits such as Making a Murderer and Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, you can expect more to follow.
Of course, Netflix isn’t alone. There are plenty of podcasts that focus on true crime (Serial, My Favorite Murder), not to mention good old fashioned books (The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream, by Dean Jobb; and Couple Found Slain, by Mikita Brottman).
Of course, stories that involve theft and murder are nothing new. Humans have always been fascinated by other people behaving badly.
But why are we drawn to true crime stories? What about these dramas hook us to stay until the end?
Here are three reasons why we can’t look away.
We want to explore our own dark side
We all have to deal with negative emotions, and it’s human nature to get upset at others once in a while. But few of us take that anger to the level of committing a crime.
Watching others do dirty deeds on TV, however, allows us to see what it takes to push someone to perform criminal acts.
Janice Holly Booth, author of A Voice Out of Nowhere: Inside the Mind of A Mass Murder, said, “We all possess a dark side, although I would say most are light grey as opposed to inky black, and maybe that’s why so many of us are obsessed with the sinister doings of others.”
With true crime, we can see ways in which we are similar to criminals. But just as importantly, we can see how we differ, too.
We like to be scared
With true crime, we can explore the dark side of humanity, but we do it in the safety of our own home. That’s a key component of what makes these documentaries so compelling: we can be scared by the darkness of others, but we’re safely out of reach of the criminals.
Scott Bonn, Professor of Sociology and Criminology explained to Psychology Today, “As a source of popular-culture entertainment, serial killers allow us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment, where the threat is exciting, but not real.”
Through true crime shows, we get pulled into the deeper and darker machinations of the criminal mind. but knowing we’re not the victim allows us to feel a safe detachment as the plot develops.
We love puzzles
Murder mysteries, whether they be true crime documentaries, a good book, or interactive theater such as The Dinner Detective, offer a chance for you, the viewer, to solve a puzzle. You’re the detective, and you get to figure out the story yourself.
Krista Jordan, PhD, a clinical psychologist, said, “The reason that we managed to become the apex species is that we’re fantastic problem solvers. If we don’t have problems to solve, we actually get restless and uncomfortable. True crime stories give our brain something to chew on in our down time.”
It’s our love for solving puzzles that explains why true crime documentaries are built around discovering who committed the crime. The mystery pulls in viewers, and they’re hooked until they figure it out for themselves.