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Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers?



The true crime genre, which consists of nonfiction books based on gruesome topics such as rape and murder, has amassed an extensive audience. Many people might assume that men, being the more aggressive sex, would be most likely to find such gory topics interesting. But a perusal of published reader reviews suggests that women enjoy these kinds of books more so than do men. The purpose of this research was to shed light on this apparent paradox. In Studies 1 and 2, the authors conducted a study of reader reviews and a study of book choices that demonstrated that, in fact, women are more drawn to true crime stories whereas men are more attracted to other violent genres. In Studies 3 to 5, the authors manipulated various characteristics of true crime stories to determine which features women find appealing. The authors discuss the findings in light of contemporary evolutionary perspectives on aggression and murder.
Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women
Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial
Amanda M. Vicary
and R. Chris Fraley
The true crime genre, which consists of nonfiction books based on gruesome topics such as rape and murder, has amassed an
extensive audience. Many people might assume that men, being the more aggressive sex, would be most likely to find such
gory topics interesting. But a perusal of published reader reviews suggests that women enjoy these kinds of books more so
than do men. The purpose of this research was to shed light on this apparent paradox. In Studies 1 and 2, the authors
conducted a study of reader reviews and a study of book choices that demonstrated that, in fact, women are more drawn to
true crime stories whereas men are more attracted to other violent genres. In Studies 3 to 5, the authors manipulated
various characteristics of true crime stories to determine which features women find appealing. The authors discuss the
findings in light of contemporary evolutionary perspectives on aggression and murder.
aggression, crime, evolutionary psychology, homicide, sex differences
In 1959 in a small town in Kansas, the bodies of four family
members were found in their home. The father’s throat had
been slit and the mother and two children had been shot
through the head. The killers were on the run for weeks until
they were finally arrested, tried, and, ultimately, hung for their
crimes. Despite the horrific details of the case, Truman
Capote’s book based on this crime, In Cold Blood, became a
best seller. Indeed, since the publication of In Cold Blood in
1966, nonfiction books based on real crimes, including murder,
robbery, and rape, have become extraordinarily popular.
Although it might seem that these gruesome topics would have
little appeal, the ‘true crime’ genre has amassed an extensive
audience. In fact, these books often occupy coveted spots
on the New York Times Best Sellers List (‘‘Paperback Best
Sellers,’ 2004).
Who finds these books appealing? It might be reasonable to
assume that men would be more likely than women to find such
gory topics interesting. After all, a great deal of research has
demonstrated that men are more violent and aggressive than
women (Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974;
Wilson & Daly, 1985). In addition, men commit the vast major-
ity of violent crimes, accounting for 79% of aggravated assaults
and 90% of murders in 2007 (Federal Bureau of Investigation
[FBI], 2007).
Moreover, many true crime stories include details that
women would presumably find distasteful. For instance, these
books often include horrific accounts of women being
kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed. Research by Haidt,
McCauley, and Rozin (1994) demonstrated that women are
more disgusted than men by thoughts of gory experiences, such
as touching a dead body. As such, it seems reasonable to pre-
sume that these types of stories would be not only unattractive
to women but also repulsive.
Curiously, a brief perusal of reader reviews of true crime
books on and related Web sites suggests that
women may in fact be more drawn to these kinds of tales than
are men. And although it is the case that women are more likely
to read for leisure than men (Griswold, McDonnell, & Wright,
2005), it seems from these sites that women are less likely than
men to contribute reviews to other kinds of books characterized
by violence, such as accounts of war. In sum, there seems to be
a paradox: Despite being the less violent sex, women may be
more drawn to accounts of true crime than are men.
The purpose of this research is to shed light on this paradox
by, first, demonstrating that it exists and, second, testing sev-
eral potential explanations for why women may be drawn to
true crime. To document the phenomenon itself, we conducted
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Corresponding Author:
Amanda M. Vicary, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of
Psychology, Champaign, IL 61820.
Social Psychological and
Personality Science
1(1) 81-86
ª The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/1948550609355486
two studies—an investigation of reader reviews and an investi-
gation of which books people would select to read if given the
choice between true crime and another violent topic. To inves-
tigate potential explanations for the phenomenon, we drew on
contemporary evolutionary theories of aggression and homi-
cide. According to Buss, evolved survival strategies include not
only the propensity for people to commit murder in some situa-
tions (Buss, 2005; Buss & Duntley, 2008) but also people’s
obsession with murder. In other words, by learning the motives
and methods of murderers, people learn ways to prevent
becoming their victims. In fact, it might be the case that
fascination with murder arises from evolved mechanisms more
broadly concerned with monitoring fitness-relevant
But why would women, more so than men, be interested in
crime, especially given that men are more likely to be victims
(Chilton & Jarvis, 1999)? The answer may lie in fear of crime,
as much research has shown that women fear becoming the vic-
tims of a crime more so than do men (Allen, 2006; Mirrlees-
Black, Mayhew, & Percy, 1996). As such, we might expect
women to be more interested in true crime books because of the
potential survival cues contained therein. In Studies 3 to 5, we
manipulated various features of true crime stories, such as the
presence of fitness-relevant cues, to determine the effect of that
content on reader’s preferences for the stories. In sum, this
research provides two significant contributions to the social-
personality literature: (a) a documentation of a novel and pre-
viously unexplored phenomenon, both verifying its existence
and teasing apart the factors that result in the aforementioned
sex difference, and (b) a deeper understanding of how evolved
survival strategies pertaining to aggression and murder may
play out in modern times.
Studies 1 and 2: Do Gender Differences Exist
in Reading Preferences?
The purpose of our first two studies was to determine whether,
in fact, women and men differentially prefer true crime stories.
Study 1
Method. Data were collected from book reviews posted by
customers on the Web site We used these
reviews to investigate whether reviews of books in the true
crime genre were more likely to have been written by women
and whether reviews of books in the war genre were more
likely to have been written by men. We coded the reviewers’
user names for gender when those names had unambiguous
gender assignments (e.g., ‘MissClaudia’ was coded as female,
whereas ‘MikeLikesBooks’ was coded as male). For the war
genre, we used the first 25 books listed under the ‘military’
category, specifically focusing on books in the subcategories
of ‘Biography,’ ‘World War II,’ ‘Vietnam,’ ‘Korean,’ and
‘United States.’ Because there was not a specific crime sec-
tion, we searched for ‘true crime’ and selected the first
25 books listed. (A list of these books is available from the
authors on request.)
Results. More women than men reviewed books in the true
crime genre (70% vs. 30%), w
(1, N ¼ 306) ¼ 22.08, p <
.001. More men than women reviewed books in the war genre
(82% vs. 18%), w
(1, N ¼ 1,263) ¼ 520.76, p < .001. One
potential limitation regarding these findings concerns possible
differences in the base rates of the sex of reviewers. For
instance, it may be the case that 70% of the reviewers are
women for most genres, making the findings concerning true
crime less meaningful. To address this concern, we also coded
the user names of the reviewers of all 18 books that were listed
in a ‘New In Paperback’ category. Results indicated that
females contributed 52% of the reviews and men 48%.
We also verified that it was not the case that authors of true
crime books are more likely to be female, ruling out the possi-
bility that women are simply drawn to female authors. In addi-
tion, a chi-square test showed that women were equally likely
to contribute reviews to a true crime book by a male versus a
female author (48% vs. 52%), w
(1, N ¼ 82) ¼ 0.20, ns. Finally,
we determined that more than 95% of the reviews in both the
true crime and war categories were positive, ensuring that it
was not the case that women were contributing negative, versus
positive, reviews of true crime. In summary, our results indi-
cate that women are drawn to true crime books more so than
are men. However, it is not the case that they are simply more
interested in books containing violent content, given that men
were more likely than women to submit reviews of books
on war.
Study 2
Method. Data were collected from 1,866 people through a
study posted on the second author’s Web site, which contains
a variety of Web studies regarding topics in personality and
social psychology. Research has demonstrated that studies con-
ducted online are of ‘at least as good quality as traditional
paper-pencil methods’ (Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava, & John,
2004, p. 102). The description of the study that was posted did
not include words related to crime to ensure that people who
had an interest in true crime prior to the study were not more
likely to participate. Of the participants, 68% were from the
United States; 6% were from Canada. The remaining partici-
pants were from other countries. The median age was 30 years
(M ¼ 32.27, SD ¼ 11.71). Of the participants, 73% were
Participants were presented with instructions to imagine
they were browsing in a bookstore and were given the opportu-
nity to take home a free book. They were given summaries of
two books and asked to indicate which one they would select.
Some participants were asked to choose between Violence in
Paradise: A True Account of the Murders That Shocked
Hawaii, which was described as the true story of two murdered
women, and Dangers of War: A True Story of an Army Unit
Serving in the Gulf War, which was described as a true account
82 Social Psychological and Personality Science 1(1)
of two female soldiers’ missions in the Gulf War. Other parti-
cipants chose between the true crime story above and Danger-
ous: The True Story of L.A. Gang Members, which was
described as a true account of two young women’s experiences
in a gang.
It is important to note that we are not implying that all
women necessarily prefer true crime books more than books
of other genres but rather that, when considering stories with
violent content, women are drawn to true crime stories more
so than are men. As such, the purpose of including the non–true
crime options was to offer participants an option that did not
adhere to the prototypical true crime narrative yet also con-
tained true accounts of violence and murder. The plot summa-
ries for each of the three stories included information that the
main characters were two women who were killed. Participants
viewed the title of the book and several sentences summarizing
its plot. In addition to selecting a book, participants were also
asked to indicate how much they thought they would enjoy the
book by clicking on a continuous scale ranging from 1 (very lit-
tle)to7(very much).
Results. A chi-square test revealed that women and men were
not equally likely to chose the true crime versus the war book,
(1, N ¼ 938) ¼ 63.76, p < .001, f ¼ .26. Of the female par-
ticipants, 77% chose the true crime book, whereas only 23%
chose the war book, w
(1, N ¼ 679) ¼ 202.71, p < .001. The
male participants were evenly split, with 51% choosing the true
crime book and 49% choosing the war book, w
(1, N ¼ 259) ¼
0.04, ns.
A chi-square test also revealed that women and men were
not equally likely to chose the true crime versus the gang book,
(1, N ¼ 928) ¼ 21.77, p < .001, f ¼ .15. Of the female par-
ticipants, 73% chose the true crime book, whereas only 27%
chose the gang book, w
(1, N ¼ 679) ¼ 144.28, p < .001.
Although the male participants were slightly more likely to
choose the true crime book (57%) over the gang book as well
(43%), w
(1, N ¼ 249) ¼ 4.92, p ¼ .03, this difference was not
as large as it was for women. In summary, women were much
more likely than men to select the true crime book over the
A comparison of the men and women who selected the war
or gang book over the true crime book showed that men
expected to enjoy this book (M ¼ 3.69, SD ¼ 1.68) more than
did women (M ¼ 3.30, SD ¼ 1.76), t(469) ¼ 2.38, p ¼ .02, d ¼
.23. In other words, even if a woman selected the war or gang
book over the true crime book, she did not expect to enjoy it as
much as did the men who selected this book. In addition,
women who chose the true crime book expected to enjoy it
more (M ¼ 4.00, SD ¼ 1.83) than did the men who selected
it (M ¼ 3.71, SD ¼ 1.61), t(1027) ¼ 2.12, p ¼ .03, d ¼ .17.
In summary, women, compared to men, preferred true crime
books over other books based on violent topics. In addition,
women expected to enjoy these books more than did men (even
when men selected to read them), whereas men expected to
enjoy books on war or gang violence more so than did women
who selected those books.
Studies 3 to 5: Why Are Women Drawn to
True Crime Stories?
In the next set of studies we examined the hypothesis that
women may be drawn to true crime stories more so than are
men because those stories may confer valuable information
about avoiding or surviving violent crime. The following
studies were conducted using the same Web site described in
Study 2.
Study 3: Do Women Enjoy Reading True Crime Because
They Learn Defense Tactics?
Consider the following passage from The Stranger Beside Me
concerning the only victim to successfully escape from serial
killer Ted Bundy:
She reached for the door handle on her side and started to jump
out, but the man was too quick for her. In an instant, he had
clapped a handcuff on her right wrist. ... She fell backward out
of the car. ... Now he had a crowbar of some kind in his hand,
and he threw her up against the car. ... She kicked at his geni-
tals, and broke free. (Rule, 1980, p. 116)
As previously stated, people’s fascination with murder may
stem from a desire to avoid becoming the victim of a deadly
crime (Buss, 2005). As true crime books sometimes contain
successful defense tactics and escape tricks used by surviving
victims, these books can offer insight into how one can achieve
this goal. To test this possibility, we modified one of the plot
descriptions to include the information that the victim used a
clever trick to escape from her attacker.
Method. Data were collected from 13,535 participants. Of
the participants, 61% were from the United States; 8% were
from the United Kingdom. The remaining participants were
from other countries. The median age was 25 years (M ¼
29.60, SD ¼ 11.65). Of the participants, 74% were female.
Participants were asked to choose between Danger in Den-
ver: The True Story of an Escape from a Killer, a story about a
young woman kidnapped while jogging and taken to an aban-
doned farmhouse, and Turmoil on Thunder Trail: The True
Story of a Confrontation with a Killer, a story of a young
woman attacked while hiking on a mountain trail. One of the
book summaries contained information that the potential vic-
tim used a trick she learned from the Internet to escape from her
attacker, that is, removing a pin from her watch and using it to
unlock her handcuffs. The summary of the other book also con-
tained information that the victim escaped but did not mention
the use of a clever trick. For each participant, the information
regarding the escape trick appeared in one description, whereas
in the other description this detail was omitted. The pairing of
this manipulation with the two stories was counterbalanced
across participants such that the escape trick appeared in
Danger in Denver half of the time and in Turmoil on Thunder
Trail the other half of the time.
Vicary and Fraley 83
In addition to selecting which book they wanted to read, par-
ticipants also were asked to indicate how much they expected
to ‘learn anything helpful’ from the book by clicking on a
scale with anchors ranging from 1 (very little)to7(very much).
Results. When asked to indicate the extent to which they
expected to learn something from the chosen book, those indi-
viduals who selected the book description that contained the
clever trick indicated they expected to learn more (M ¼ 4.06,
SD ¼ 1.73) than did those who selected the other book (M ¼
3.13, SD ¼ 1.61), t(13,461) ¼ 29.41, p < .001, d ¼ .56. This
finding indicates that our manipulation was valid.
A chi-square test revealed that women and men were not
equally likely to chose books with the manipulation, w
(1, N
¼ 13,535) ¼ 32.73, p < .001, f ¼ .05. Of the female partici-
pants, 71% chose the book that mentioned the use of an escape
trick, whereas only 29% chose the book that did not mention
this information, w
(1, N ¼ 9,965) ¼ 1,832.27, p < .001. The
male participants were more evenly split, with 66% choosing
the book with the manipulation and 34% choosing the book
without the manipulation, w
(1, N ¼ 3,570) ¼ 380.83, p <
.001. Although men were more likely to select the book that
contained the manipulation, this difference was not as large
as it was for women. In summary, women, more so than men,
were drawn to the book that contained tips on how to defend
oneself from an attacker. It appears that the potential to learn
defense tactics from these stories is one factor that draws
women, more so than men, to true crime books.
Study 4: Do Women Enjoy Reading True Crime Because
of the Psychological Content?
Consider the following excerpt from the true crime book Mind
Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, concerning
how to determine when a potential killer will go beyond mur-
derous fantasies to actually commit a crime:
So when is this dangerous behavior likely to occur? This guy is
an inadequate loser. In his mind, everyone’s out to get him and
no one recognizes his talents. If the stressors of his life become
unbearable, that’s when he’ll go one step further with his fan-
tasy. (Douglas & Olshaker, 1995, p. 358)
Many true crime books include speculation as to why an indi-
vidual decides to commit a murder and whether the motivating
factor lies, for example, in a stressful life event or rejection by a
significant other. Such understanding might increase a
woman’s chances of detecting the signs that a jealous ex-
lover or stranger may turn violent. To test this possibility, we
modified one of the plot descriptions to include the information
that the killer was interviewed by an FBI profiler in an attempt
to determine the motivations behind his murders.
Method. Data were collected from 3,237 participants. Of the
participants, 83% were from the United States; 4% were from
Canada. The remaining participants were from other countries.
The median age was 33 years (M ¼ 35.12, SD ¼ 11.60). Of the
participants, 76% were female.
Participants were asked to choose between two true crime
books. For each participant, the information that the killer had
been interviewed in an attempt to understand his motives
appeared in one description, whereas in the other description
this detail was omitted.
Results. A chi-square test revealed that women and men were
not equally likely to chose books with the manipulation, w
N ¼ 3,237) ¼ 8.26, p ¼ .005, f ¼ .05. Of the female partici-
pants, 65% chose the book that contained information on the
killer’s motives, whereas only 35% chose the book that did not
mention this information, w
(1, N ¼ 2.460) ¼ 210.73, p < .001.
Of the male participants, 59% choose the book that contained
the information on the killer’s motives and 41% choose the
book without this information, w
(1, N ¼ 777) ¼ 24.87, p <
.001. Although significant, this difference was not as large as
it was for women. In other words, women were drawn to the
book that contained information on the killer’s motives more
so than were men. It appears that the psychological content
of true crime stories is one factor that draws women, more so
than men, to these books.
Study 5: Do Women Enjoy Reading True Crime Because
the Victims Are Often Female?
Consider an excerpt from Green River, Running Red:
It was another Thursday, August 12, 1982, four weeks after
Wendy’s body was found, when what had appeared to be an iso-
lated tragedy began to take on a horrific pattern. Another
woman’s body floated in the Green River about a quarter of a mile
south of where Wendy had been discovered. (Rule, 2004, p. 16)
In addition to the victims mentioned above, the Green River
Killer confessed to killing 46 other young women. Because the
victims in true crime books are often women, it may be the case
that women simply have more to gain from reading these books
in terms of understanding survival strategies and defense tac-
tics. We tested this hypothesis by manipulating the gender of
the victims described in the plot summaries.
Method. Data were collected from 7,435 participants. Of the
participants, 61% were from the United States; 10% were from
Canada. The remaining participants were from other countries.
The median age was 24 years (M ¼ 28.8, SD ¼ 11.29). Of the
participants, 72% were female.
Participants were again asked to choose between two true
crime books. The pairing of the victims’ sex with the two stor-
ies was counterbalanced across participants.
Results. A chi-square test revealed that women and men were
not equally likely to chose books with female versus male
victims, w
(1, N ¼ 7,435) ¼ 25.07, p < .001, f ¼ .06. Of
the female participants, 59% chose the book with female
84 Social Psychological and Personality Science 1(1)
victims, whereas only 41% chose the book with male victims,
(1, N ¼ 5,355) ¼ 155.66, p < .001. The male participants
were evenly split, with 52% choosing the book with female
victims and 48% choosing the book with male victims, w
N ¼ 2,080) ¼ 3.72, ns .
Overall, women were more likely than men to select the true
crime book that featured female victims. If women are drawn to
true crime books because of the survival information contained
therein (as the above studies demonstrate), it makes sense that
women would be more attracted to a book with female victims.
Essentially, women, more so than men, would have something
to gain from reading these books, especially when the story
features female victims.
General Discussion
While divorcing her husband, Sheila Bellush, a mother of quad-
ruplets, told her sister that if anything were to happen to her, to
find true crime writer Ann Rule to tell her story. Shortly there-
after, Sheila was gunned down by a hit man hired by her hus-
band. The resulting Ann Rule book, Every Breath You Take
(Rule, 2001), was bought by nearly one million readers. What
kinds of people read such tales? Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated
that women, more so than men, are drawn to books in the true
crime genre. (Indeed, 86% of the Amazon reviews for Every
Breath You Take were written by women.)
Why are people fascinated by accounts of kidnappings, rape,
torture, and murder? It is likely that, for as long as humans have
lived, humans have murdered. In 1991, two men found a frozen
skeleton in a glacier near the border between Austria and Italy.
Scientific testing showed the skeleton, nicknamed the Iceman,
to be approximately 5,300 years old. The cause of death? Mur-
der by arrowhead (see Buss, 2005, for more details). It seems
plausible not only that murder has ancient roots in human his-
tory but also that fascination with murder does as well (Buss,
Why would women, more than men, find this information
compelling? Our findings that women were drawn to stories
that contained fitness-relevant information make sense in light
of research that shows that women fear becoming the victim of
a crime more so than do men (Allen, 2006; Mirrlees-Black
et al., 1996). This sex difference in fear is intriguing because,
in actuality, men are more likely than women to be the victim
of a crime (Chilton & Jarvis, 1999). Many reasons have been
suggested for why women experience more fear, including the
fact that certain crimes, such as rape, do occur more frequently
for women (Riger, Gordon, & LeBailly, 1978). Other research-
ers have suggested that the media are to blame in that unusual
and rare crimes (which usually focus on female victims) are
reported more often than other crimes (Ditton & Duffy, 1983).
Regardless of the reasons behind women’s heightened fear
of crime, the characteristics that make these books appealing
to women are all highly relevant in terms of preventing or sur-
viving a crime. For example, by understanding why an individ-
ual decides to kill, a woman can learn the warning signs to
watch for in a jealous lover or stranger. By learning escape tips,
women learn survival strategies they can use if actually kid-
napped or held captive. In addition, the finding that women
consider true crime books more appealing when the victims are
female supports the notion that women may be attracted to
these books because of the potential life-saving knowledge
gained from reading them. If a woman, rather than a man, is
killed, the motives and tactics are simply more relevant to
women reading the story.
Despite the fact that women may enjoy reading these books
because they learn survival tips and strategies, it is possible that
reading these books may actually increase the very fear that
drives women toward them in the first place. In other words,
a vicious cycle may be occurring: A woman fears becoming the
victim of a crime, so, consciously or unconsciously, she turns to
true crime books in a possible effort to learn strategies and
techniques to prevent becoming murdered. However, with each
true crime book she reads, this woman learns about another
murderer and his victims, thereby increasing her awareness and
fear of crime. It is not possible to state with certainty from these
studies whether or not this vicious cycle occurs, but we do
know that women, compared to men, have a heightened fear
of crime despite the fact that they are less likely to become a
victim (Allen, 2006; Chilton & Jarvis, 1999) and that women
are drawn to true crime books that contain information on how
to prevent themselves from becoming the victim of such a
Limitations of the Present Studies and
Future Directions
Although we manipulated three different features of true crime
books in an attempt to understand the appeal of the genre, there
may still be other important factors that we have yet to inves-
tigate. It may also be of interest to determine whether men find
certain characteristics of war or gang violence books more
appealing than others. We would also like to note that although
our findings from Study 5 demonstrate that women were espe-
cially drawn to stories portraying female as opposed to male
victims, there may be reasons in addition to the relevance of
survival strategies for this finding, such as the desire to read
about someone similar to oneself—a possibility we plan to
investigate more thoroughly in future studies. In addition, we
realize that some of the effect sizes reported in these studies
may appear, at first glance, to be small. We would like to
remind readers that these effect sizes are in the range of effects
that are commonly observed in social-personality psychologi-
cal research (median rs of .21; see Fraley & Marks, 2007).
Indeed, given the large number of factors that potentially con-
tribute to the variation in people’s preferences for books, it
could be argued that it is surprising that we see any of the
effects reported here.
Even though our studies solely focused on the characteris-
tics of the true crime book genre, it is possible that sex differ-
ences concerning interest in crime would appear for other
mediums as well. A recent article in Entertainment Weekly
noted the popularity of these types of shows among women
Vicary and Fraley 85
(who account for two thirds of CSI viewers between the ages of
18 and 49) and questioned why women would find such grue-
some topics fascinating (Armstrong & Katz, 2005). It may be the
case that the characteristics we found to be of interest to women
readers are also of interest to women watching these shows.
In conclusion, despite the fact that true crime books are
often gruesome, shocking, and frightening, they have garnered
a considerable audience. As long as serial killers, rapists, and
jealous lovers continue to commit their horrific crimes, it is
likely that accounts of their dreadful deeds will continue to
be written. Fortunately, as women continue to read these stor-
ies, they may very well be learning important skills that will
prevent them from one day becoming the victim of a killer and,
in turn, the unwilling star of their own true crime book.
1. We conducted two additional studies with more than 35,000 parti-
cipants using the same method. In one study, however, the victims
were described as male instead of female to investigate whether
men may have been reluctant to select the true crime book because
they thought it would imply they enjoy reading about women being
killed. In another study, we modified the stories to be more proto-
typical of books in each of these genres (i.e., the true crime story
featured female victims, whereas the war and gang violence stories
featured males who were not murdered). In both studies, women
were more likely than men to choose the true crime book and also
expected to enjoy it more. (These data are available from the
authors on request.)
The authors thank Gregory D. Webster and Caroline Tancredy for
their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the authorship and/or publication of this article.
Financial Disclosure/Funding
The authors received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.
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86 Social Psychological and Personality Science 1(1)
... Indeed, Buss (2005) argued that interest and attention to murders is an evolved strategy affording us the information necessary to avoid and survive. Stated another way, as underscored by Vicary and Fraley (2010), people may be fascinated by murder because they seek to avoid being the victim of a deadly crime. We concur and assert that the proximate mechanism of morbid curiosity facilitates an ultimate, unconscious protective vigilance to attend to, learn about, and avoid people and events that can harm us as individuals. ...
... This may not be the case, however, as Green et al. (2004) posited that fiction is a more enjoyable experience, transporting individuals to exciting narrative worldseven ones that can be frightening. Further, this is some evidence that women prefer fiction over nonfiction (Vicary and Fraley 2010). Moreover, with our brains operating on the same level as they did in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA), our primitive response systems may not readily distinguish fact from fiction (Kanazawa 2002). ...
... This is in contrast with findings by Boling and Hull (2018) who argued that more women than men listen to "true crime" podcasts; although informative, their assertions may be limited to who responded to their survey versus actual consumer demographics. Similarly, Vicary and Fraley (2010) reported that women read more true crime than do men, but their results also may be limited in generalizability, as their data were based on a forced-choice research question where the only alternative to a book about true crime (murder) was a book about Army service persons in war. ...
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A plethora of movies, television programs, podcasts, and online videos are dedicated to horror and terror, with fictional (e.g., zombies) and nonfictional (e.g., serial killing) themes. Morbid curiosity is a phenomenon where individuals attend to, or seek information about, horrid subjects, such as terror and death. Moreover, morbid curiosity has been tied with sexual curiosity and sensation seeking in past research, with men typically demonstrating more of each phenomenon. We hypothesized that interest in the topic of serial killers and other morbid academic and entertainment topics would be positively associated with morbid curiosity, sexual curiosity, and sensation seeking. Data supported these hypotheses with some notable gender differences. Viewed through the lens of evolutionary psychology, interest in horrific events, such as serial killing, may be a product of protective vigilance. We discuss these results, limitations, and future directions for research.
... 1). Importantly, Vicary and Fraley (2010) found women tend to engage with true crime books because they are fearful of becoming victims and want to "learn the warning signs" (p. 85). ...
In this directed qualitative content analysis of four season-long true crime podcasts, the researcher examined how different types of intimate partner violence (IPV) were portrayed. Across the podcasts, controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, and coercive control were commonly depicted. Physical violence was not the most common form of abuse depicted, but it was presented in sensationalistic ways—with a pointed focus on strangulation and bruising. Overall, the podcasts provided a much more realistic portrayal of IPV at the individual level than traditional news sources, yet did not go far enough in describing the societal conditions that permit abuse.
... As we have seen, true crime also allegedly boasts an instrumental power, to help solve unsolved crimes, to correct naïve beliefs about the criminal justice system, etc. but also to provide audiences with the kind of knowledge that may help them avoid becoming victims of violent crime. This is at least the view shared by social psychologists Vicary and Fraley (2010) and evolutionary psychologist Marissa Harrison (Thorpe, 2019). It is a view also widely expressed among true-crime superfans (Linnemann, 2021) and perhaps best summed up by the title to the popular book Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide, written by the creators of the successful true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder, Karen Kilgariff (2019) and Georgia Hardstark. ...
This paper takes as its point of departure the newly resurgent controversy about whether the possible civic or pedagogical functions of true-crime documentaries outweigh the harm they are occasionally known to inflict. Although supporters of true-crime documentaries tend to downplay their potential to create or exacerbate trauma, their arguments, like those of the subgenre’s critics, presuppose that trauma functions as an unwanted byproduct. This paper maintains that while this assumption buttresses belief in a shared moral universe of what qualifies as the just administration of law or authority it also conceals the dual possibility: (1) that the design of certain true-crime documentaries constitute an exercise of extra-juridical punitive power; and (2) that viewers are capable of deriving pleasure from such an exercise. To that end, the paper examines three recent, critically acclaimed true-crime documentaries— The Thin Blue Line, Tickled, and The Act of Killing—identifying in each a specific form of technologically enabled retribution: interrogation, surveillance, and torture, respectively. It argues that insofar as the films succeed as entertainments and elicit pleasure from audiences, they engender and maintain subjective adherence to extra-juridical practices of retributive justice, at both a cognitive and affective level.
... 28 A commonly cited 2010 study by Vicay and Fraley, examining true crime and women, suggests that women are interested primarily because they are attempting to acquire survival strategies. 29 Today, and throughout history, the media has been criticised for glorifying villainous crimes and criminals. Dismissive criticisms commonly contain words and phrases such as: morbid, obsessed, grisly, glamorising, unethical, discomforting, exploitative, romanticising, and disturbing. ...
The public’s interest in murder narratives has generated an increase in television programming, documentaries, movies and dedicated 24/7 true crime networks. Critics argue that the public’s interest is based upon the negative, the unsavoury, base instincts of the viewer. This paper challenges that perspective, traces the history of the interest and explains the role that risk plays in the public’s attraction to this subject area. The paper also discusses the concept of risk in the context of the public’s persistent cultural fascination with the crime of murder and the murderers themselves, and introduces a new perspective.
... This is surprising given that individual differences in morbid curiosity likely exist. Moreover, research on morbid curiosity and related topics has become increasingly more common (e.g., Andersen et al., 2020;Clasen, 2012;Clasen, 2017;Clasen et al., 2019;Harrison & Frederick, 2020;Kerr, 2015;Kerr et al., 2019;Martin, 2019;Niehoff & Oosterwijk, 2020;Oosterwijk, 2017;Oosterwijk et al., 2020;Robinson et al., 2014;Scrivner 202;Scrivner & Christensen, 2021;Scrivner et al., 2020;Stone & Sharpley, 2008;Vicary & Fraley, 2010;Wabnegger et al., 2021). This boom in research -largely in the field of psychology -on morbid curiosity and related psychological and behavioral phenomena implies that the construct is interesting, relevant, and in need of theoretical clarification and an appropriate assessment tool. ...
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The success of horror films, popularity of true crime, and prevalence of violence in the news implies that morbid curiosity is a common psychological trait. However, research on morbid curiosity is largely absent from the psychological literature. The current project explored the psychological nature of morbid curiosity, defined as a motivation to seek out information about dangerous phenomena. In Study 1 (n = 376), the Morbid Curiosity Scale (MCS) was created. A four-factor model emerged consisting of 1) motives of dangerous people, 2) supernatural danger, 3) interpersonal violence, and 4) body violation. Study 2 (n = 330), confirmed the factor structure of the MCS and provided evidence that morbidly curious individuals are rebellious, socially curious, and low in animal reminder disgust. Study 3 (n = 317) demonstrated that trait morbid curiosity is stable over 4-6 weeks and that morbidly curious individuals prefer movies where threat is a central theme. In Study 4 (n = 137), participants were presented with a series of images or descriptions and asked which image or description they would prefer to further investigate. Each choice was between a morbid stimulus and a highly controlled non-morbid stimulus. Morbid curiosity predicted over half the variance (r2 = .53) in decisions to further investigate morbid information. These four studies provide evidence that morbid curiosity is a normally occurring psychological trait that exhibits inter-individual variation, explains media preferences, predicts threat-related information gathering, and can be assessed using the new 24-item Morbid Curiosity Scale.
... There are true crime sections in bookstores, true crime book clubs and Time Life once offered a twenty-volume true crime series (Durham et al. 1995). True crime books frequently occupy top spots on the New York Times Best Sellers List and the genre continues to cultivate a devoted audience (Vicary and Fraley 2010). ...
This study examines true crime podcasts with a critical/cultural lens to explore how podcasts are impacting the true crime genre, public opinion and the criminal justice system. Four in-depth qualitative interviews with true crime podcast producers offer insight into both the political economy of podcasts and effective audience engagement. Ultimately, this study argues that true crime podcasts are impacting the criminal justice system in unprecedented ways and that the future of this emerging media could challenge both criminal justice and media reform. Practical implications for genre-specific media are also discussed.
The female voice in cinema has been discussed throughout film sound theory as persistently de-acousmatised, denied the power of narrative creation and relegated to onscreen, visual space. This paper will contrast this visual containment of female vocalisations with that of the female-hosted podcast, in which nothing is or can be seen. The podcast offers alternative routes of resistance for the female acousmetre, allowing her to maintain her disembodied status. This is poignantly evident in the popular true crime podcast, My Favorite Murder, in which the acousmatic female hosts counter crime film and television’s reliance on images of violated female bodies with purely aural recountings. Through their anti-ocularcentric reliance on the aurally evocative, rather than the visually manifested, these female voices transform themselves and the victims of their discussions into haunting spectres that force listeners to imaginatively reconstruct scenes of female-directed violence, while acknowledging the ethics of their complicity in the propagation and popularisation of these narratives. Thus, the true crime podcast is one potential site of doubled resistance against the de-acousmatisation of female voices and the visualisation of mutilated female bodies; this resistance leads to an ethics of the spectral, a Derridean mourning without end.
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Das immer noch stark wachsende Podcast-Angebot ist ein Indiz dafür, dass die Gattung noch nicht die Phase der Konsolidierung erreicht hat. Erst wenn eine einheitliche Währung geschaffen ist und die Herausforderung der besseren Auffindbarkeit gelöst ist, wird eine Konsolidierung eintreten. Weniger, dafür größere Produktionsstudios produzieren mehr reichweitenstarke Formate, deren wesentliches Kennzeichen starke Protagonisten sind. Auch dürfte sich das Angebot nach Zielgruppen klarer fragmentieren, als das bisher der Fall ist. Vor allem mehr in den Mainstream ausdifferenzieren und den Nimbus als das Medium für die Gebildeten ablegen. Und schließlich wird den an die Erregungs-Plattformen längst verloren geglaubten jüngeren Mediennutzern mit Podcasts ein „nachhaltiges“ Content-Medium ans Ohr gereicht. War Musik bislang der stärkere Treiber für die Mediendigitalisierung von Audio, so verhelfen nun Podcasts der Gattung zu ihrem endgültigen Coming of Age. Deren sprachnarrative Inhalte verpassen Audio den entscheidenden Push zur Mündigkeit und schlagen damit gleich zwei mediendiskursive Fliegen mit einer Klappe: das Hören gewinnt an Bedeutung, erlebt gar eine Renaissance. Und es scheint endlich ein Mittel gefunden worden zu sein, dem nicht entrinnbaren Gezerre um die Aufmerksamkeit zumindest partiell zu entkommen.
Following Carol Smart’s argument that feminists have reason to mistrust legal institutions and to seek justice elsewhere, this article suggests that contemporary Australian true crime podcasts offer women and their families alternatives to seek justice beyond formal systems. This article will examine the representation of women in two recent and popular Australian true crime podcasts that followed inconclusive investigations of murder cases. Trace (2017–2018) is a seven-episode true crime podcast by Rachael Brown for the ABC about the 1980 murder of Maria James in her Melbourne bookshop, where she lived with her two sons. The Teacher’s Pet by Hedley Thomas for The Australian is about the disappearance of Lynette Dawson from the northern beaches of Sydney in 1982, leaving behind her two daughters. Thomas explicitly accuses Dawson’s husband, former professional rugby player, Chris Dawson, of murdering her and disposing of her body. Both true crime podcasts represent women in ways that—while not always feminist—use the affordances of mass media to draw support from the public, effectively inviting the audience to perform as an alternate jury. In both cases, this jurified audience has then engendered changes in formal processes.
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Human groups contain reproductively relevant resources that differ greatly in their ease of accessibility. The authors advance a conceptual framework for the study of 2 classes of adaptations that have been virtually unexplored: (a) adaptations for exploitation designed to expropriate the resources of others through deception, manipulation, coercion, intimidation, terrorization, and force and (b) antiexploitation adaptations that evolved to prevent one from becoming a victim of exploitation. As soon as adaptations for exploitation evolved, they would immediately select for coevolved antiexploitation defenses--adaptations in target individuals, their kin, and their social allies designed to prevent their becoming a victim of exploitation. Antiexploitation defenses, in turn, created satellite adaptive problems for those pursuing a strategy of exploitation. Selection would favor the evolution of anticipatory and in situ solutions designed to circumvent the victim's defenses and minimize the costs of pursuing an exploitative strategy. Adaptations for exploitation have design features sensitive to the group dynamics in which they are deployed, including status hierarchies, social reputation, and the preferential selection of out-group victims. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Henry Fleming, the central character of (Stephen Crane’s (1952/1895)) Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, eagerly joins the Union army although he knows little about war. Only much later does he realize how ignorant he is about whether he will run when the fighting starts. This uncertainty about himself sets off a disguised but full-scale search for social comparisons until, through the gut check of battle, he can “… watch his legs discover their merits and their faults” (Crane, 1952/1895, p. 21). Much of the classic and current social comparison theory would find support in how Fleming uses social comparisons during the several days portrayed in the novel (Suls & Miller, 1977; Suls & Wills, 1991). Festinger (1954) emphasized the role of uncertainty in motivating a person’s interest in social comparisons, and it is Fleming’s ignorance about his own capacity for bravery that first prompts him to probe for fears among the other soldiers so as “… to measure himself by his comrades” (Crane, 1952/1895, p. 21). Even the seemingly objective test of battle is confounded by social comparisons. In an early battle, Fleming panics and runs, but it is the sight of other soldiers turning tail first that induces his behavior, creating in social comparison terms a form of social validation (Cialdini, 1993) that spurs him to “…speed toward the rear in great leaps” (Crane, 1952/1895, p. 47).
Sociological research on reading, which formerly focused on literacy, now conceptualizes reading as a social practice. This review examines the current state of knowledge on (a) who reads, i.e., the demographic characteristics of readers; (b) how they read, i.e., reading as a form of social practice; (c) how reading relates to electronic media, especially television and the Internet; and (d) the future of reading. We conclude that a reading class is emerging, restricted in size but disproportionate in influence, and that the Internet is facilitating this development.
The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) overcomes a basiclimitation of the traditional summary Uniform Crime Reporting program (UCR)by collecting victim information. Using this new victim information tocompare National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and NIBRS results, wefind some similarities as well as some differences in the characteristics ofvictims and offenders suggested by the two programs. Similarities appear inthe proportions of men and women involved as victims and offenders forrobbery and assault. Comparisons are more difficult and the proportions lesssimilar for property offenses. Nevertheless, the results suggest that whenthe NIBRS is fully developed, it will be an important source of informationon the characteristics of both victims and offenders. Even before theredesigned program is fully implemented, one of the most important featuresof NIBRS reports will be their ability to provide local area victimizationinformation. In addition, the NIBRS will provide much more information onarrests and the characteristic of offenders than any existing program.
Political campaigns are often characterized by the various events occurring that move the tide in favor of one candidate or another. Each event, depending on which candidate it favors or harms, produces either happiness or sadness for those who care about the outcome. This research examined whether such reactions would hold for events that are misfortunes for other people and even when they negatively affect society more broadly regardless of political party affiliation. Ingroup (i.e. political party) identification was examined as an important moderating variable. In four studies, undergraduate participants gave their emotional reactions to news articles describing misfortunes happening to others (e.g. poor economic news and house foreclosures). Party affiliation and the intensity of ingroup identification strongly predicted whether these events produced schadenfreude.
We describe the development of a reliable measure of individual differences in disgust sensitivity. The 32-item Disgust Scale includes 2 true-false and 2 disgust-rating items for each of 7 domains of disgust elicitors (food, animals, body products, sex, body envelope violations, death, and hygiene) and for a domain of magical thinking (via similarity and contagion) that cuts across the 7 domains of elicitors. Correlations with other scales provide initial evidence of convergent and discriminant validity: the Disgust Scale correlates moderately with Sensation Seeking (r= - 0.46) and with Fear of Death (r= 0.39), correlates weakly with Neuroticism (r = 0.23) and Psychoticism (r= - 0.25), and correlates negligibly with Self-Monitoring and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire Extraversion and Lie scales. Females score higher than males on the Disgust Scale. We suggest that the 7 domains of disgust elicitors all have in common that they remind us of our animality and, especially, of our mortality. Thus we see disgust as a defensive emotion that maintains and emphasizes the line between human and animal.
Sexual selection theory suggests that willingness to participate in risky or violent competitive interactions should be observed primarily in those age-sex classes that have experienced the most intense reproductive competition (fitness variance) during the species' evolutionary history, and in those individuals whose present circumstances are predictive of reproductive failure.Homicidal conflicts in the city of Detroit in 1972 are reviewed in the light of the above perspective. Homicide in Detroit, as elsewhere, is overwhelming a male affair. Victim and offender populations are almost identical, with unemployed, unmarried, young men greatly overrepresented. The most common conflict typologies are described, and it is suggested that many, perhaps most, homicides concern status competition.Other manifestations of “taste for risk,” such as daredevilry and gambling are briefly reviewed. The evidence suggests that such a taste is primarily a masculine attribute, and is socially facilitated by the presence of peers in pursuit of the same goals.Such dangerous, competitive acts as the classic “trivial altercation” homicide often appear foolhardy to observers. However, it remains unknown whether the typical consequences of such acts are ultimately beneficial or detrimental to the perpetrators' interests.