Why are we so fascinated with true crime stories?

Why are we so fascinated with true crime stories?

The Netflix true-crime saga “Making a Murderer,” the podcast “Serial” and the HBO crime drama “The Jinx” all have one thing in common – they all do a great job of having people mesmerized (and stunned) as the story unfolds, giving the audience the right to draw their own conclusions.

“From the time that we are a young child, we are undeniably intrigued by good versus evil,” says Dr. Elizabeth Rutha, licensed clinical psychologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “But at the same time, we are drawn to true crime and new accounts of serial killers and it connects us to our most primal fears.”

Dr. Rutha says this type of emotion is taught to be suppressed or is dangerous like a guilty pleasure. She says that watching a true crime about a brutal killing allows people to experience some of their darkest emotions without acting on them. It also provides an outlet to connect to fear or anger in a safe and controlled environment.

But, the fascination of true crime stories like Steven Avery’s in “Making a Murderer” or Adnan Syed’s in “Serial” isn’t a new phenomenon. Since the 1950s, the media has been bombarded with crime stories like the Black Dahlia or the killing spree in Nebraska by Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Clair. By the 1970s, criminals like Ted Bundy were infuriated with the media making them look like larger-than-life celebrities.

Michael Mantell, a clinical and corporate psychologist who also served as the chief psychologist for the San Diego Police Department for 10 years, said in an interview conducted by NPR, that “if it bleeds, it leads.” He emphasized in the interview that people’s interest in crime is normal and healthy. He said it serves a multitude of psychological purposes, including a psychological void of “thank God it’s not me.”

Experts agree that binge-watching true crime television isn’t negative, as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. Mantell added, “But if all you do is read about crime and that’s all you talk about and all you have are posters about it and newspaper clippings, then I’d be concerned. That’s where professional counsel might need to intervene.”

Related Posts



  1. Ahora entiendo porque se emociona tanto mi amorcito!

  2. Antoinette Castelow January 13, 2016 at 10:26 am · Reply

    I am one of those individuals who are fascinated about crime stories and series such as “How to get away with Murder.” My fascination is not for any of the reasons listed in this article. I had always wanted to be a lawyer and watching these types of shows allow me to pretend if I were a Lawyer or Investigator, what would I look for, what would be my opening statement or summation. I also watch these types of shows because they educate me on safety issues and I learn a lot about safety Awareness and not to be so trusting when I am out, because I am one of those people who always want to help someone in distress, and after watching the Bundy story, I realize this is not always good. Interesting topic/article, Thanks.

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.