You are what You Watch: People's Thoughts and Fears Depend on What TV Crime Shows They Like

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Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 11:21 AM
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What does it mean if your idea of heaven is to snuggle down in front of the TV and soak in an episode of 48 Hours Mystery or any other real-life crime show?

And what kind of person are you if you prefer the swashbuckling antics of David Caruso on a show such as CSI: Miami, or one of the other many crime dramas that clutter the airwaves?

The type of crime show you watch, according to researchers, may say a lot about your own fears and how you view the criminal justice system.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently surveyed hundreds of people about what kind of crime shows they like on TV and discovered that each type of program - real-life, fictional drama and the local news - effected viewers views on crime.

The study concluded that:

-- The more frequently people watched non-fiction crime documentaries like "The First 48," the more fearful they were of becoming a crime victim. They also were less supportive of and less confident in the criminal justice system and said they believed the national crime rate was climbing.

-- Frequent viewers of fictional crime dramas were not affected by the programming to believe they would become crime victims, and their support of and confidence in the criminal justice system also was unaffected by their viewing habits. Interestingly, though, the more frequently they watched crime dramas, the more certain they were in their support of the death penalty.

-- The more often people watched crime coverage on the local news, the more they believed that the local crime rate was increasing.

Why? you ask.

According to the authors of the study, the level of reality offered by non-fiction crime shows really freaks people out. The shows often give the sensation that the crime could happen to anyone and are often set in small towns or suburbia.

True-life crime shows also tend to dramatize the fleeing felon and highlight a criminal's ability to hide out and elude the cops, which the researchers say indirectly casts doubt on the ability of law enforcement to do their job well.

Fictional crime dramas, on the other hand, pretty much stick to the old formula, where the cops are moralistic, shining white knights and the criminals are straight up twisted and evil. The study states that this seems to assure viewers that the police will protect and that the prosecutors will always punish the bad guys.

As for a stronger stance on the death penalty, researchers say that crime dramas often focus on murders and making sure criminals get their just desserts, which may reinforce a viewers' support for an eye-for-an-eye type of punishment.

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