Watching Crime TV Doesn't Make You A Better Criminal

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation not only spawned a new era of tv crime dramas, it also inspired a psychological theory. Couperfield/Shutterstock

Madison Dapcevich 05 Jan 2018, 23:51

Binging on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation won't make you a better criminal, no matter how deep into the series you may be.

In one of the first studies of its kind, a team of psychologists at Johannes Gutenberg University tested the "CSI effect". This is the belief that watching crime television drama, both fictional and based on actual events, helps better inform people on ways to get away with crime.

In line with this effect, many attorneys, judges, and journalists have also claimed that watching crime television programs may make some jurors wrongfully acquit guilty defendants when the evidence doesn't meet their TV standards, says the National Institute of Justice.

In regards to the former concern, however, the team found no evidence of a correlation between watching forensic science television shows and the ability to get away with committing a crime. The study is published in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice.

Lead researcher Professor Heiko Hecht and colleagues undertook four separate investigations to examine to what extent criminals may learn about forensic evidence through these shows.

First, the team analyzed crime statistics from the FBI and its German equivalent. They did so by comparing crime and detection rates from before and after the launch of the CSI series. Researchers then asked 24 convicted criminals in prison for their opinions on crime TV and whether they thought such shows could help them cover up a crime.

To test whether crime show viewers are better equipped to hide traces of a mock crime, researchers asked fans of crime series, as well as a control group of non-watchers, to hypothetically "slip into the role of a criminal by enacting the cleaning up a murder crime scene."

Finally, researchers created an actual mock murder scene in a dollhouse, asking 120 of the subjects to clean it. The would-be murderers proved they weren't, perhaps disappointingly, criminal masterminds. None of these experiments provided supporting evidence of the CSI effect.

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