Serial bingeing: A look at the science behind true crime obsessions

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When you are watching yet another crime show on TV, do ever think to yourself, “why am I so obsessed with this?”

Experts say there is actually a science behind those viewing habits.

“People are so fascinated by serial killers,” said Dr. Stephen Benning, an Associate Professor of Psychology at UNLV.

Dr. Stephen Benning — Associate Professor of Psychology at UNLV

Engrossed with evil. From the deliciously dark storylines on network TV, to the documentary series saturating streaming services, it is clear audiences cannot get enough of criminal-centric content.

“It almost begs to be solved,” Dr. Benning said.

Dr. Benning adds that, in addition to piecing the puzzles together, the killers in crime shows create a novelty response in viewers.

“It’s so outside the normal range of experience that it actually probably triggers different brain regions that are more in the front than in the back,” Dr. Benning said.

But what is the specific science behind that? Psychiatrists say when we enjoy watching something, chemical compounds influence our minds.

Dr. Sid Khurana — Psychiatrist with Nevada Mental Health

“Our brain and we as humans love dopamine. So, when we engage in an activity like this, dopamine is released,” said Dr. Sid Khurana, a psychiatrist with Nevada Mental Health. “Once your brain gets a taste of that dopamine, it wants you to have more.”

While fictional shows tend to have little real impact on us, experts say true crime shows can affect us.

“We do know that people can sometimes experience PTSD from just viewing some really difficult things,” said Dr. Katherine Hertlein, a professor with the Couple and Family Therapy Program at the UNLV School of Medicine.

Dr. Katherine Hertlein —Professor with the Couple and Family Therapy Program at the UNLV School of Medicine

But for a psychological drama we know is made up, many people crave it since it is a controlled setting.

“You can experience fear in a way that puts limits on that experience,” Dr. Benning said.

Dr. Benning adds that because crime shows have such an engaged audience, we can expect to see even more of them to premiere for years to come.

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