Psychologists warn watching true crime documentaries to relax is a major red flag

We are drawn to true crime because it allows us to understand the thoughts of those who have committed horrible crimes. Picture by /Pexels

We are drawn to true crime because it allows us to understand the thoughts of those who have committed horrible crimes. Picture by /Pexels

Published Jul 11, 2023


People find the strangest things relaxing or even soothing.

True crime documentaries have garnered a surprisingly large and dedicated fan base, with some individuals even claiming that watching these shows helps them unwind and fall asleep.

This phenomenon has sparked curiosity and speculation about why people find tales of crime and mystery soothing before bedtime.

And while that genre can be interesting, one psychologist has claimed that if you watch violent or gritty media to unwind and help you drift off to sleep, it could be a red flag about the way you process trauma, reported the “Mirror”.

Speaking to Mel Robbins on The Mel Robbins Podcast, Dr Thema Bryant said: “If your idea of relaxing before you go to sleep is to watch three episodes of ‘Law and Order’, then I would encourage you to think about ‘why is trauma relaxing to me?’

“It may be an indication of something deeper than just a simple hobby.”

One theory suggests that people find comfort in true crime documentaries because they tap into our innate desire for problem-solving and puzzle-solving.

The unfolding of the investigation, piecing together evidence and the resolution of the cases can provide a sense of closure and satisfaction.

This mental engagement may divert one’s mind from personal worries or stressors, paving the way for relaxation and sleep.

True crime enthusiasts reportedly feel empowered when watching these documentaries. The ability to understand and analyse criminal behaviour may empower an individual to navigate potential dangers in his or her own life.

As a result, a sense of control could reduce anxiety and promote a calmer state of mind conducive to sleeping.

Though limited, a few studies have explored the appeal of true crime documentaries and related genres. Research shows that true crime stories disproportionally appeal to women.

Psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD, explored why people become obsessed with crime and the psychological impact of it. In a post by Cleveland Clinic health essentials, she claimed: “Watching true crime doesn’t make you strange or weird. Being curious is in our nature.

“We are drawn to true crime because it allows us to understand the thoughts of those who have actually committed horrible crimes.

“Additionally, we want to watch true crime in part to learn how to avoid being a victim.”

It can help us become more prepared in case we encounter that circumstance in the future.

More studies indicate that watching true crime documentaries often focus on the resolution of criminal cases, providing closure for victims and their families.

Witnessing justice being served can create a sense of catharsis for viewers, offering a feeling of closure and a release of tension.

The intricacies of criminal investigations, the pursuit of truth and the unravelling of mysteries can be intellectually stimulating. Engaging with complex narratives and trying to piece together clues can distract the mind from personal worries or stressors, promoting relaxation.

Psychologists suggest that the appeal of true crime documentaries lies in the balance between fear and safety. By engaging with these narratives from a position of safety, viewers can experience a controlled sense of fear, stimulating the release of adrenaline without the real-life consequences associated with danger.

The fascination with true crime documentaries as a means of relaxation is a complex phenomenon that intertwines emotional detachment and psychological engagement.

While more research is needed to fully understand the underlying reasons, existing studies and statistics suggest that a significant portion of individuals indeed find solace in these documentaries.

As long as viewers maintain a healthy relationship with such content, the paradoxical relaxation response can continue to be explored and appreciated.