News & Features

Is true crime desensitizing the world?

People-gone-missing mysteries, confession tapes, and interviews with killers – true crime has captured most of the world’s attention. The genre has been popular for many years, with a plethora of podcasts, books, and documentaries dedicated to exploring the world of crime and criminals. Parrot Analytics, a media-tracking company that measures audience demand, revealed that true crime was not only the biggest documentary subgenre but that it was also growing faster than nearly any of the others.

While these stories can be fascinating and gripping, there is growing concern that the true crime genre may be desensitizing us to the very real and often tragic consequences of crime.

SuperSummary surveyed 1,000 people using the Amazon Mechanical Turk service. This survey determined that in one year, the average true crime consumer enjoys approximately 84 episodes of true crime TV, 44 chapters of true crime books, 34 episodes of true crime podcasts, and 20 true crime movies. And these numbers are even higher among women who consume significantly more.

Researcher Emily Dworkin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, suggests true crime allows consumers to experience difficult situations from a distance. The viewer is removed from the full impact of the event. People can therefore view true crime as a distant fantasy instead of a reality.

While many true crime stories are based on real events and can shed light on important issues such as the failings of the justice system, the constant exposure to stories of violence and trauma can lead to desensitization and a lack of empathy for the victims and their families.

Another concern is that the true crime genre can normalize violence and criminal behavior. While many true crime stories focus on catching and punishing the perpetrator, there is often little focus on the root causes of crime and the societal factors that contribute to criminal behavior. This can lead to a simplistic view of crime as an individual failing rather than a systemic issue that requires broader solutions.

Results from a 2022 YouGov survey on American opinion on the genre of true crime reveal that half of Americans say they enjoy the genre of true crime, including 13% who say it’s their favorite genre. One in three (34%) say they don’t enjoy it, and 13% say it’s their least favorite genre. One in three Americans (35%) says they consume true-crime content at least once per week, including one in four (24%) who say they consume it multiple times per week. Only 30% say they never consume it.

Additionally, the true crime genre can contribute to a culture of fear and paranoia. While it’s important to be aware of potential dangers and to take steps to protect oneself, constant exposure to stories of violence and crime can create a sense of unease and mistrust in the world.

According to the survey conducted by SuperSummary women’s increased fear of crime in their daily lives piques their interest in true crime, and hearing real-life stories is their way of learning how to prevent becoming a victim. However, 42% of true crime consumers said the content decreased their faith in humanity, while 38% said it made them feel less safe in their daily life.

Overexposure may increase anxiety, and nightmares, and make consumers more paranoid and sheltered. 53% of true crime consumers said it made them more suspicious of other people, while 41% said it made them more worried about experiencing violence.

— Shappelle Marshall