Does Watching Crime Shows Lead to Committing Crimes?

by caterinamaria on January 22, 2014

criminal tv shows committing crimesDavid Berkowitz (Son of Sam) said his neighbor’s dogs told him to shoot people. Richard Ramirez (Night Stalker) claimed the music of AC/DC made him kill. Mark David Chapman found reason to kill John Lennon in the pages of Catcher in the Rye and John Hinckley, Jr. blamed Jody Foster for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Whether you choose the right TV service or not crime shows are littering the airways mixed with true life scenarios and some ridiculous schemes. Either these men cast blame to external factors to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, or these external factors lead them to lives of crime. The validity of the claims that these shows may or may not inspire criminals is a real concern that many have.

Who made who?

The question of who made who continues its ageless march through society as the effect of true crime television on criminal behavior comes under scrutiny. Television programs depicting real crime events, including the most heinous violence and depravity imaginable, begs for an evaluation of its effects on the human brain.  Finding the extent to which society reflects the onslaught of televised crime divides professionals who search for definitive proof that crime rates rise with the increased exposure to these television programs.

Criminal behavior stems from several environmental factors:

  • Poverty
  • Violence in the home
  • Unemployment
  • Gang influence

Another controversial environmental factor that contributes to criminal activity stems from watching true crime programs on television.

Media influences reaction

A New Zealand study shows a direct link between television viewing in childhood and adolescence and criminal behavior as adults. The study tracked the viewing habits of 1037 children born in 1972 and 1973 from the ages of 5 thru 26-years old. The study used controls for sex, IQ, parental control, previous criminal behavior and antisocial behaviors so all the subjects fell into the research parameters.

Those who watched television more hours a day than the others had significantly more:

  • Criminal convictions
  • Diagnosed personality disorders
  • Aggressive behavior patterns

For the first time, a scientific study presents evidence linking the amount of television children watch to criminal behavior in early adulthood.

Columbine changed the nation

The media sensation surrounding the Columbine high school shooting in Colorado inundated all media channels, which kept the massacre on the minds of children and adults for weeks. The weeks of investigating the reasons for the shootings led to a national change in how schools react to imminent danger. It also scares parents and puts the idea that kids are becoming more violent than statistics show.

In reality, one in 3-million children will die in school at the hands of another student during any year. This equals the same chance a child has of being struck by lightning. Both scenarios end tragically.

Nature and nurture

Research shows that environmental and biological factors work together to create a criminal. While early theories divided the two and psychologists chose nature or nurture, today they work in tandem to form the profile of a criminal. Career criminals have a different response to violence than non-criminals.

Violence stunts growth

The Australian Council on Children included presentations of brain scans to show how violence on the screen inhibits the development of the frontal lobe.  The frontal lobe houses impulse control and stops aggression. The images showed that watching acts of violence activate the limbic system, which controls emotional responses and memory.

The study proves violent images alter the brains of young people.  Gaming discussions at the Australian Council on Children introduced the desensitizing of the adolescent brain with Japanese video games allowing the player to create their own rape victim with a choice of ages as young as 10-years old.

Future Criminals

Studies indicate that young minds react to repeated images of crime and violence by desensitizing them to the acts. They also stunt the growth of the brain’s frontal lobe which leaves them lacking impulse control. No definite numbers yet prove violence or criminal acts rise in young adults as a direct result of true crime programming.

The opposing opinion stands by the criminal casting blame on external factors in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Fear of crime

The other side of the coin predicts crime will continue to drop statistically while people perceive the opposite.  This phenomenon comes from excessive media exposure to crime. With so many crime shows available, viewers begin to perceive crime as constant threat.  An interesting study by Kenneth Dowler  published in Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 10(2) (2003) 109-126, attests to these results

Without concrete proof, society will remain split on the subject of crime television making criminals.

I am interested in matters of the justice and legal systems and the correlation between the two. I enjoy writing and researching as it keeps my mind fresh and enhances my knowledge on a variety of topics.

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