Fascination With Psychopaths

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A good size of the population has a fascination with the macabre and specifically psychopaths. Nightly entertainment is chock-full of crazy, psychotic killers, and for some reason, we can’t get enough of them. What might our insatiable interest in the vilest of humans say about us as a people? There are three main theories floating around to explain this obsession.

The first idea is that watching or hearing about psychos allows us to temporarily step out of our conscientious, law-abiding shoes and vicariously step into the shoes of someone who only thinks about himself. He doesn’t do any of the things we automatically do every day, like worrying about others’ feelings or being fair. Imagining ourselves as that person (even unconsciously) temporarily liberates us from these obligations without actually causing any harm.

In contrast, forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy says that psychopaths are a type of predator, and hearing about them connects us with our primal existence of constantly being both the hunter and the hunted. Entertaining ourselves with the stories of human predators allows us to relate with our primal, animalistic selves without experiencing the real danger of the natural world.

Finally, psychiatrist and Harvard professor Ron Schouten says that our draw to psychopaths is similar to our attraction to horror movies or roller coasters. Sometimes we just like to be frightened, and tales of psycho killers can definitely fulfill that need. This is because being frightened sends a rush of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which evokes feelings of pleasure. In an entertainment setting where there’s no real danger, our fear doesn’t last long. On top of the dopamine-induced pleasure, we usually leave the theater or turn off the TV feeling a sense of well-being or justice (depending on how the film or show ends). This type of satisfaction keeps us coming back for more.

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