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Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime stories.
- True crime podcasts can get as many as 500,000 downloads per month. In the Top 100 Podcasts of 2020 list for Apple US, several true crime podcasts ranked within the Top 20.
- Our fascination with true crime isn't just limited to podcasts, with Netflix documentaries like "Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" scoring high popularity with viewers.
- Several experts weight in on our fascination with true crime stories with theories including fear-based adrenaline rushes to the inherent need to understand the human mind.
Why are we fascinated with true crime stories?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzODA1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzkwOTAzOX0.7WqeWaf-odtEJV5XB2jdEG1uPU5d6Uaujw6iy6MKMbw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="d99fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4d3cc24145f6a0f324162f1cf1dfe83" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman standing in front of crime scene notes true crime stories true crime podcasts" />
Several experts and psychologists weigh in on why we could be so fascinated by violence, destruction and true crime stories...
Photo by Motortion Films on Shutterstock<p>Several experts have weighed in on this topic over the years, as the spike in popularity of true crime media has continued at an astonishing rate.</p> <p><strong>Psychopaths are charismatic.</strong> </p><p>One of the <a href="https://www.scienceofpeople.com/psychopath/#:~:text=Psychopathy%20researchers%20found%20that%20psychopaths,defer%20gratification%20and%20control%20behavior" target="_blank">defining qualities of a psychopath</a> is that they have "superficial charm and glibness", which could explain part of our fascination with podcasts, tv shows, and movies that cover the lives of famous serial killers. </p> <p><strong>Our psychology demands we pay attention to things that could harm us.</strong></p><p>Psychology can play a large role in why we like what we like, and our fascination with true crime stories is no exception. When it comes to potential threats or things that could be threatening to humanity, perhaps we've been conditioned to pay those things extra attention. </p> <p>According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at <a href="http://www.doctorondemand.com/" target="_blank">Doctor on Demand</a> who spoke about the process <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">in an interview with NCB News</a>, seeing destruction, disaster, or tragedy actually triggers survival instincts in us. </p> <p><em>"A disaster enters into our awareness - this can be from a live source such as driving by a traffic accident or from watching a news report about a hurricane, a plane crash or any disaster. This data from our perceptual system then stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat to you, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the 'fight or flight' response is evoked." </em></p> <p><strong>Could it just be morbid curiosity? </strong></p><p>Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., and professor at De Sales University explained <a href="https://www.bustle.com/p/why-are-people-so-obsessed-with-true-crime-experts-reveal-the-evolutionary-reasons-why-18138062" target="_blank">in an interview with Bustle</a>:</p> <p><em>"Part of our love of true crime is based on something very natural: curiosity. People reading or watching a true crime story are engaged on several levels. They are curious about who would do this, they want to know the psychology of the bad guy, girl, or team. They want to know something about the abhorrent mind. They also love the puzzle - figuring out how it was done." </em></p> <p><strong>Perhaps it's a way of facing our fears and planning our own reactions without risking immediate harm. </strong></p><p>Psychiatrist Dr. David Henderson spoke with NBC News on this topic, suggesting that we may be fascinated with violence, destruction or crime as a way of assessing how we would handle ourselves if put into that situation.</p> <p><em>"Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety. This sensation is sometimes experienced when we stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look through the glass at a ferocious lion at the zoo. We watch because we are allowed to ask ourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the true reality of the disaster: 'If I was in that situation, what would I do? How would I respond? Would I be the hero or the villain? Could I endure the pain? Would I have the strength to recover?' We play out the different scenarios in our head because it helps us to reconcile that which is uncontrollable with our need to remain in control."</em></p> <p><strong>Psychologically, negative events activate our brains more than positive events. </strong></p><p><a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0033-2909.134.3.383" target="_blank">A 2008 study</a> published by the American Psychological Association found that humans react to and learn more from negative experiences than we do positive ones. The term "negative bias" is the tendency to automatically give more attention (and meaning) to negative events and information more than positive events or information. </p> <p><strong>A forced perspective may trigger empathy and act as a coping mechanism. </strong></p><p>Viewing destruction (or listening to/watching true crime stories) could be beneficial. How? According to Dr. Mayer (who explained this stance in <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">his interview with NBC News</a>), <em>"the healthy mechanism of watching disasters is that it is a coping mechanism. We can become incubated emotionally by watching disasters and this helps us cope with hardships in our lives…" </em></p> <p><a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">Dr. Stephen Rosenburg points out</a>, however, that this empathetic response can also have a negative impact.<em> "Being human and having empathy can make us feel worried or depressed." </em></p> <p>Dr. Rosenberg goes on to explain that this can also impact the negativity bias.<em> "We tend to think negatively to protect ourselves from the reality. If it turns out better, we're relieved. If it turns out worse, we're prepared." </em></p> <p><strong>Perhaps the adrenaline of fear that comes from listening to or watching true crime can become addicting. </strong></p><p>Similarly to how runners get a "runners high" from exercise or feel depressed when they have missed a scheduled run, the adrenaline that pumps during our consumption of true crime stories <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201508/can-you-be-addicted-adrenaline" target="_blank">can become addictive</a>. </p> <p>According to sociology and criminology professor Scott Bonn, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201605/the-delightful-guilty-pleasure-watching-true-crime-tv" target="_blank">in an interview with Psychology Today</a>: <em>"The public is drawn to these stories because they trigger the most basic and powerful emotion in us all: fear." </em></p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.
You may be surprised at how your body and brain react to this type of pleasure.
- An orgasm is described as a feeling of intense pleasure that happens during sexual activity.
- By studying the brain activity of people experiencing orgasms, researchers have been able to pinpoint some of the key changes that occur.
- These changes include heightened sensitivity to areas of the brain that control how we feel pain, making us less sensitive to it.
What really happens in the brain during orgasm?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMjAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzk0MTg3N30.XMncIeu8myjL-bgF936p4NYAmXpCbI7dQl1AXuXBZc0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C93%2C0%2C94&height=700" id="aab53" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="309e980e413d58c454f6fed13596917f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="3D rendering of hypothalamus lighting up" />
The hypothalamus, which plays a key role in releasing hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, is one of the regions of the brain that lights up during orgasm.
Image by SciePro on Shutterstock<p><strong>Does the "logical" part of your brain shut down? That's hotly debated.</strong></p><p><strong></strong>There may be a reason why you feel bold and uninhibited during your climax.<br></p><p>"The lateral orbitofrontal cortex becomes less active during sex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for reason, decision making, and value judgments. The deactivation of this part of the brain is also associated with decreases in fear and anxiety," explains clinical psychologist <a href="https://www.betweenusclinic.com/about-us/" target="_blank">Daniel Sher</a>. </p><p>However, not all experts in the field agree with this widely publicized study's findings. Recent (2017) research suggests otherwise, with results that show that these areas of the brain <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28986148/" target="_blank">did not deactivate within the 10 female participants of this study</a>.</p><p><strong>Parts of your brain associated with memories, touch, and movement may light up. </strong></p><p>Research has found that the hypothalamus, thalamus, and substantia nigra may light up during orgasm. "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships" author <a href="http://kaytsukel.com/" target="_blank">Kayt Sukel</a> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/nov/16/orgasm-mri-scanner" target="_blank">was interviewed</a> for her work alongside researchers who studied the effect of an orgasm on the brain while she was in an MRI machine.</p><p>The thalamus helps integrate information about touch, movement, and sexual memories/fantasies. This could explain how you call upon sexual memories and fantasies (or why your imagination is able to be more active) during sexual arousal and peak. </p><p><strong>Oxytocin builds up and is released.</strong></p><p>Oxytocin is defined as a "bonding" hormone. The forming of oxytocin during sex happens in the pituitary glands and it is then released in the hypothalamus. The <a href="https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/hypothalamus" target="_blank">hypothalamus</a> plays a key role in many important functions including the releasing of other hormones (like dopamine), regulation of body temperature, controlling of appetite, and of course, the management of sexual behaviors.</p><p><strong>A surge of dopamine is released. </strong></p><p>During orgasm, your brain works hard to produce various hormones, like the aforementioned oxytocin. In that cocktail of hormones is dopamine, which is released at the moment of orgasm. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and desire and therefore acts as a motivation to keep experiencing those feelings of pleasure and desire. </p><p>Dopamine is formed <a href="https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_03/d_03_cr/d_03_cr_que/d_03_cr_que.html" target="_blank">in the part of the brain</a> that receives information from several other areas in order to define if your needs (specifically your human needs) are being satisfied. </p><p><strong>The release of endorphins, oxytocin, and vasopressin make you less sensitive to pain during sex. </strong></p><p>For many, pain and sex go hand in hand. Many people enjoy a little bit of pain during sex, and there is actually a very good reason for this: you're less susceptible to pain during sex. The pituitary gland is activated during sex, which then frees your brain up to release all kinds of endorphins that are able to promote pain reduction. </p><p>An interesting thing to note is that some of the same areas of the brain that are active during sex are also active when you experience pain. <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4000685/" target="_blank">A very interesting 1985 study</a> looked at the correlation between vaginal stimulation and the elevation of pain. </p><p><strong>In people who are unable to feel genital stimulation, the brain may actually be able to "remap" itself. </strong></p><p>People who have suffered lower-body paralysis can still achieve orgasm through stimulation of other body parts such as the nipples. In this case, the brain actually creates new pathways to pleasure that doesn't involve our genitalia. <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/paralyzed-women-rediscover-orgasms/" target="_blank">This Seattle Times article</a> details paralyzed women who were able to rediscover their ability to orgasm through various other sensations.<br></p><p><strong>Having orgasms can keep your brain healthy. </strong></p><p>Because there is a significant increase in blood flow across multiple areas of the brain so dramatically when we achieve orgasm, it's entirely likely that orgasms may have developed in part to keep our brains healthy.</p>
What really happens in the body when you orgasm?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMjAzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTYyMzA2Nn0.-etGxz-ejxnP2n4CJ4OVoQy5KrrLL2uTxet7i-nBFZk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="4b6fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="648070a56f9fea934d8780dba38bfb1f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman holding blanket in her hand" />
What really happens in the body when we orgasm?
Photo by NATNN on Shutterstock<p><strong>Your body swells and becomes more sensitive.</strong></p><p>While men experience the obvious swelling in the genitals due to increased blood flow, women can experience some forms of swelling during sex as well. From your breasts to your vulva, many women experience swelling during sexual arousal and release. </p><p><strong>Your heart rate quickens, which leads to euphoria. </strong></p><p>Of course, your heart rate elevates when you're experiencing orgasm, but along with that, you also experience a blood pressure rise and your breathing rate also increases. Both of these things are considered mild aerobic activity responses and could factor into the kind of euphoria you feel during sexual experiences - similar to a "runners high."</p><p><strong>Muscles in the vagina, anus, and uterus contract and release - like a workout.</strong></p><p>Not only is your pulse racing, but you may also be working out some of the muscles in your body (aside from the ones you're using to physically have sex). </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.bustle.com/p/9-things-that-happen-to-your-body-when-you-have-orgasm-that-you-never-realized-8487239" target="_blank">Bustle</a>, "Increased blood flow to the genitals during orgasm also maintains the integrity of the smooth muscle that lines the vagina, rectum and connective tissue between the penile shaft and scrotum."</p><p><strong>Orgasms may improve allergy symptoms or clear blocked nasal passages.</strong></p><p>"Orgasms can be effective at opening blocked nasal passages and can alleviate some allergy and congestion symptoms," according to sexologist and clinical professional counselor Dr. Laura Deitsch.</p>
Big brains come at a big cost, however.
- A recent study examined the relationship between brain size and the development of motor skills across 36 primate species.
- The researchers observed more than 120 captive primates in 13 zoos for over seven years.
- The results suggest that primates follow rigid patterns in terms of which manipulative skills they learn first, and that the ultimate complexity of these skills depends on brain size.
Fig. 1 Eight food manipulation categories and their order of emergence during ontogeny. Ninety-seven percent of all observed species (N = 36) and 82% of all observed individuals (N = 128) strictly followed this ontogenetic sequence.
Heldstab et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our results show that the neural development follows extremely rigid patterns -- even in primate species that differ greatly in other respects," Sandra Heldstab, an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich, said in a <a href="https://www.media.uzh.ch/en/Press-Releases/2020/Dexterity.html" target="_blank">press release</a>.<br></p><p>For the study, the researchers observed 128 primates in 13 European zoos over seven years, recording more than 10,000 observations from the time the animals were born until they reached adult-level dexterity. The team found that smaller-brained primates, like lemurs, start learning simple motor skills at an earlier age than larger-brained primates, like chimpanzees.</p>
Heldstab et al.<p>But the wait pays off for larger-brained primates: They're eventually able to perform more complex tasks with their hands, like using tools, or moving both hands simultaneously to move multiple objects.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It is no coincidence that we humans are so good at using our hands and using tools, our large brains made it possible," Heldstab said. "A big brain equals great dexterity."</p><p>It seems inefficient that primates, like chimps and humans, undergo such a long period of learning and dependency. But the researchers suggest this represents a fitness tradeoff: primate parents and children spend more time on development, but it leads to complex skills that help them get more food, and survive longer. In other words, animals don't evolve to perform complex manipulative tasks unless it significantly prolongs lifespan.</p>
William Vanderson / Stringer<p>So, what does this mean for the evolution of other animals? The researchers say their findings imply that if a species is going to make and use tools, it needs to have "reached a sufficiently slow life history pace to permit such a change in their foraging niche." In other words, the baby giraffe that hits the ground running might be good at escaping predators, but don't expect it to do something like <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEk_sNYAyCo" target="_blank">build a primitive fishing rod to "fish" for algae</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our study shows once again that in the course of evolution, only mammals that live a long time and have enough time to learn were able to develop a large brain and complex fine motor skills including the ability to use tools," Heldstab said. "This makes it clear why so few species could follow our path and why humans could become the most technologically accomplished organism on this planet."</p>