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

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.

What they did find was the type of person who makes the best criminal. The study suggests younger, highly-educated males working in technical professions appear to have certain advantages when it comes to concealing illegal activities.

"We can now dispel certain of the myths that have been coursing through the media and other publications for the past 20 years because we are able to state with relative certainty that people who watch CSI are no better at covering their tracks than other people," said Baranowski in a statement.


What the team didn't account for was how the CSI effect impacts jurors. We've all seen it: A dramatic evidence reveal proving once and for all that the glove does indeed fit. 

The authors note that some attorneys are "concerned that jurors no longer expect the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but rather expect the defense to prove the innocence of the accused."

The study also doesn't account for the "inspiration" factor, like this man accused of killing his girlfriend who was reportedly motivated by an episode of Breaking Bad, or these nine crimes inspired by movies


In the CSI effect experiment, researchers conducted four separate investigations, including a crime scene mock-up to be "cleaned up" by subjects.'Andreas Baranowski.


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  • psychology,

  • CSI,

  • crime scene investigation,

  • Johannes Gutenberg University,

  • csi effect,

  • national institute of justice