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True Crime: Society’s obsession and how it can be harmful

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Suffolk chapter.

As a society, our love of true crime has grown immensely over the years. Whether it be case studies, missing persons, or unsolved murders, we’ve all indulged in some form of true crime in recent years. This type of entertainment can truly be one of a kind, captivating viewers in ways that other genres may not be able to. The thrill of such narratives is appealing to many, especially as the seasons get colder and darker. Getting lost in the world of true crime can be easy, especially for avid fans, but it is important to think about the longer-term effects of consuming these stories. Why do we love these stories? And more importantly, does our true-crime obsession have long-lasting effects on our mental health and wellbeing? 

Why are we hooked?

There are various reasons we find ourselves fascinated with true crime media. For instance, true crime could be therapeutic in a sense, as it gives us an opportunity to engage with what they consider negative emotions–anger, fear, sadness–in a controlled environment, such as the comfort of your own home. We also often look to true crime to educate ourselves about the dangers of the world, whether it be potentially dangerous situations or survival techniques. This is especially relevant, as statistics show that true crime audiences are overwhelmingly female, so this idea of survival education from true crime may be connected to the dangers women may face in society. In addition, some forms of true crime allow us to put the pieces together ourselves and solve the mystery from our couches, and this cognitive challenge can often be exciting in the context of a criminal investigation. Furthermore, true crime often focuses on dark topics like murder or kidnapping, and engaging in this media gives us a way to engage in these types of issues in a way that has been deemed socially acceptable. 

In a general sense, however, our love of true crime roots from one simple tendency of humans: curiosity. We as a society struggle to understand and accept many of the things associated with crime and tragedy, so true crime media gives us a way to explore these things that we don’t fully understand, whether it be the emotions associated with tragedy, the dangers of the world we live in, the puzzling nature of difficult cases, or simply the dark topics that our society avoids acknowledging in the proper way. 

Why does it matter?

So we know that our interest in true crime media can stem from many factors, but does it ever become too much? At what point do these stories begin to impact our wellbeing in the long term? The truth is, excessively consuming this type of media tends to take us to a bad place mentally. For instance, it can increase our paranoia and mistrust of our world, which can influence us to avoid certain behaviors or activities that we used to do without worry. Though some may argue this is simply being precautious, there is definitely an extent where it can go too far. Experts suggest that those who frequently view true crime stories are more likely to experience anxiety and feel more paranoid and vulnerable. In addition to increased paranoia, true crime may desensitize younger viewers to violence, which can be especially harmful, as studies have shown that this desensitization can lead to violent behavior in the future. Furthermore, this type of media can be particularly distressing for those who feel personal connections to these stories, such as a new, anxious parent reading about a kidnapped child. 

Even though there are potential risks associated with this type of media, this does not mean we cannot still indulge in the world of true crime. As mentioned, there are various reasons we may be interested in these stories. Rather, the takeaway here is to be mindful of our feelings and behaviors as viewers. It is crucial to know our psychological limits and be aware of how we are impacted to keep ourselves mentally healthy. As long as these limits are kept in mind, allow yourself to engage with true crime cases in a way that you find desirable. Just remember to take a break every once in a while, as too much of anything is rarely a good thing.

Kaviya is a junior studying psychology. Her hobbies include drawing and reading thriller/mystery novels, and she hopes to work in the field of clinical psychology one day.