Recent interviews: True crime and more true crime (with some The Last of Us)
Murdaugh made it a big month for True Crime
Sorry for the lack of posting these past few weeks. As I mentioned in my last post, I recently bought a Bed and Breakfast and moved across the country. Unsurprisingly, this has taken up a huge amount of my time the past couple of weeks.
I’ll get back to posting regularly soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some fun interviews I’ve done since my last post. I’m not sure if it’s just because of the Murdaugh Trial or what, but I’ve had tons of requests to talk about the psychology of true crime recently.
Poll of 2000 True Crime Fans
First up was a true crime poll commissioned by SWNS and conducted by OnePoll. They polled 2000 true crime fans and asked them a wide range of questions about their experience with the genre. One of the more interesting questions they asked was directly related to research I’ve done on the potential learning benefits of morbid curiosity.
I’ve argued that recreational fear, including consumption of horror or true crime media, can act as a form of learning and that this is part of its appeal. The poll gave us some evidence for this claim: 3 out of every 4 respondents said that they believed that consuming true crime content has helped them avoid falling victim to similar situations as those portrayed in true crime.
I’ll probably write a more extensive deep-dive into this poll because there was a lot of fascinating data from the poll that didn’t make it into the interview. The interview was picked up by hundreds of local news, radio, and TV stations, as well as a few international outlets. Until I get to writing the deep-dive, here are a couple of examples you can check out from The Daily Mail and the New York Post.
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More Murdaugh Trial
This case has been all over the news, so I wasn’t surprised when I started getting calls about it. The Washington Post and Time Magazine both published pretty good pieces about the psychology behind our fascination with the trial and included some commentary from me.
One thing both outlets wanted to know was why this trial in particular was so popular. I gave my standard answer for why true crime is popular, which I explored more in depth in a recent Substack post. However, there are some elements of the Murdaugh Trial that make it stand out.
First off, the case is just bizarre. I won’t even attempt to explain all of the odd facts associated with the case here, but I definitely encourage you to read about it for the sheer absurdity of it all. The novelty and obscure nature of this case definitely makes it more intriguing to the masses. It will make for incredible TV. In fact, it apparently already has. I haven’t seen it yet, but there was a Netflix special on the Murdaugh murders before the trial was even finished!
Aside from the novelty of the case, it also involves a man (and family) of great power and status. Just as humans are primed to pay attention to threats, we are also primed to pay attention to power and status. When you combine threat with status, you get a potent combo. Throw in novelty, and it’s almost impossible to ignore.
The Last of Us
HuffPost gave me a quick respite from true crime when they emailed me to ask why everyone loves The Last of Us. The short answer here is that post-apocalyptic fiction offers us a dangerous new world to simulate and explore — a world that one day could be our own. For their entire history, humans have faced near-apocalyptic events. Plagues, world wars, and natural disasters have threatened our species since the dawn of humankind.
Edgar Dubourg and Nicolas Baumard wrote a fascinating BBS target article on why we love imaginary worlds. Their basic argument is that these imaginary worlds tickle our evolved preferences for exploration. Humans explore and expand. It’s what we do. It’s why we have populated nearly every corner of the Earth.
But with exploration comes danger. And it’s important to preemptively learn about dangers we may encounter during exploration. That’s why Mathias Clasen and I wrote a commentary in response to the target article that we titled, “Why Frightening Imaginary Worlds?”
Although we agreed with Dubourg and Baumard’s main premise, we also argued that morbid curiosity plays a large role in our love of imaginary worlds. Nearly every popular imaginary world has a major villain. Without a major villain, those imaginary worlds just wouldn’t be as interesting. After all, what’s Harry Potter without Voldemort or The Lord of the Rings without Sauron?
Mathias and I will be in Paris in June for a workshop hosted by Edgar and Nicolas on the evolution of fiction, so I’m looking forward to exploring this idea more with them.
I had two recent podcast interviews for two very different types of podcasts, and both were a blast.
I chatted with Nick Burgraff on the Neuro Network Podcast about the science of fear and morbid curiosity. We had a great conversation that covered a wide breadth of topics from haunted house research to the neuroscience of fear. Shout-out to Ben Armstrong of Netherworld for recommending me as a guest.
I also had a lot of fun talking to the guys over at Horror Movie Talk about the science behind horror. I always love doing horror movie podcasts because horror fans have such fascinating personal insight into my research topics. We chatted about what makes a horror monster effective and the potential mental health benefits of being a horror fan.
I’ve got some more exciting things in the coming months that I can’t say too much about just yet. But I’ll post about it here first, so be sure to subscribe to stay in the loop.