When the terrorist attacks in London few years ago, we were all glued to the TV for the latest news. The images and stories of blood splattered survivors and long shots of those less fortunate shocked and saddened us. And yet we couldnot look away, despite the fact that research suggests that watching may cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Why do we seek out images and reports that are likely to be upsetting and perhaps disturbing?
Keinan, Sadeh and Rosen (2003) outline three psychological theories that help to explain this strange desire. Information seeking theory suggests that uncertainty causes conflict and increases arousal, so finding out what is going on reduces uncertainty and therefore reduces arousal. Safety signal theory places the emphasis on delineating safe from unsafe periods of time. We are continually asking ourselves whether the storm has blown over yet, whether it is safe to go outside or enter the danger zone. A final theory suggests that information gives us a sense of control over an event, even though it is essentially beyond our control.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.
Whichever theory is true, there is a lot more to our grim fascination with this type of event than simple voyeurism.