Why Are We So Addicted to Mysteries Like ‘Making a Murderer?’

Why we can’t turn away from shows like Serial and Making a Murderer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ever since we all binge-watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer over the holidays (if you didn’t, what are you waiting for?), it’s been a hot topic of conversation everywhere from Facebook newsfeeds to the bar on New Year’s Eve.

If you remember back to last October, the same type of craze surrounded season one of Serial, a podcast produced by NPR and journalist Sarah Koenig that investigated the case around Adnan Syed’s conviction for allegedly murdering his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Like Making a Murderer, listeners were left debating whether he did or didn’t do it.

Related: Binging on Netflix is Probably Rotting Your Brain

Whether or not we realize it, our obsession with true crime shows may actually come from a place of self-preservation, explains Amanda Vicary, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the psychology department at Illinois Wesleyan University who has researched why women in particular are drawn to true crime.

“Many popular crime shows and books focus on things that one would think people would find disgusting — dead bodies, blood, etc., yet these shows are consistently at the top of the ratings,” Dr. Vicary explains. “My research suggests there may be something deeper going on — that on an unconscious level, perhaps we are interested in these shows because they can teach us how to survive.”

Vicary’s 2010 study revealed that women are into the topic of crime and enjoy reading about it more than men, “especially if there is information on the reasons behind the murder or how to escape if captured,” she adds. “By learning about how people commit murder and why, people can basically learn how to prevent being a victim themselves.” It’s unlikely anyone consciously thinks about this while deep in that Netflix black hole, but maybe you’ve changed your behaviors in the smallest ways after learning so much about the criminal…

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