Science Current Events | Science News | Brightsurf.com
 

What your TV habits may say about your fear of crime

February 08, 2011
Study examines relationship of crime dramas, real-life documentaries with viewers' feelings on crime

What's your favorite prime-time crime show? Do you enjoy the fictional world of "CSI" or "Law & Order," or do you find real-life tales like "The First 48" or "Dateline" more engrossing? Your answers to those questions may say a lot about your fears and attitudes about crime, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln surveyed hundreds of adults about how often they watched various kinds of crime TV - made-up dramas, documentary-style "real crime" programs, and local and national news. They found that how each type of program depicts crime was a factor in viewers' opinions on everything from their fear of crime to their confidence in the justice system to their support of the death penalty.

"The results support the idea that program type really does matter when it comes to understanding people's fear of crime and their attitudes about criminal justice," said Lisa Kort-Butler, UNL assistant professor of sociology and the study's lead author. "The audience appears to negatively evaluate the criminal justice system while also supporting its most punitive policy -- which this study suggests is due to the types of shows people watch."

Among the study's findings:

* 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 does watching different strains of crime TV result in such different feelings? While both crime dramas and non-fiction crime programs focus on serious and usually violent crimes, Kort-Butler said, the non-fiction programs offer more realism and may have more psychological impact than fictional dramas.

Non-fiction shows, she said, add more context than dramas -- interviews with victims, families and friends can be used to point out how crime could happen to anyone and play on fear for dramatic impact. They also convey a sense of proximity: Fictional crime dramas are often set in big cities, but non-fiction documentary shows are often set in smaller cities or suburbia.

Non-fiction documentary shows also often delve into a criminal's personal history to explain his or her behavior and highlight, for dramatic purposes, his or her ability to evade detection, indirectly casting doubt on law enforcers' competence, Kort-Butler said.

"This narrative structure is nothing new to storytelling about crime, but it may lead to a heightened fear among viewers because it seems like such a crime could happen to them or their loved ones," she said. "Because the criminal is often portrayed as one step ahead of the law, viewers may be less confident in the authorities' ability to stop the crime before it's too late."

Crime dramas, meanwhile, are more straightforward, portraying offenders as evil and the criminal justice system as a moral authority, assuring that cops and prosecutors will protect the public and punish criminals.

"To the extent that crime dramas focus on the most serious crimes and criminals getting their just desserts, dramas may serve to reinforce viewers' support for the death penalty," Kort-Butler said.

###

The study, which appears in the current edition of The Sociological Quarterly, was authored by UNL's Kort-Butler and Kelley Sittner Hartshorn.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Related Criminal Justice System Current Events and Criminal Justice System News Articles


Serious violence in England and Wales drops 10 percent in 2014
Overall, an estimated 211,514 people attended Emergency Departments (EDs), Minor Injury Units (MIUs) and Walk-in Centres in England and Wales for treatment following violence in 2014 - 22,995 fewer than in 2013.

Disabled girls vulnerable to abuse by carers and partners due to isolation and incapacity
Disabled girls and women are vulnerable to abuse by carers and partners because of their isolation and physical incapacity, new research says.

Age concern in largest ever study of heroin user deaths
In the largest study of opioids users ever undertaken, the researchers used records of 198,247 people in England who had been involved in drug treatment or the criminal justice system between 2005 and 2009.

Previously removed immigrants more likely to be rearrested later, study finds
Unauthorized immigrants who previously have been removed from the United States are more than 2.5 times more likely to be rearrested after leaving jail, and are likely to be rearrested much more frequently than those who have never been removed, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Crime, British Muslims and their relationships with the police
Muslim communities may not be as victimised by violent crime, or as dissatisfied with the police as is widely suggested and believed, according to new research by a Cambridge academic.

New approaches needed for people with serious mental illnesses in criminal justice system
Responding to the large number of people with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system will require more than mental health services, according to a new report.

Non-citizens face harsher sentencing than citizens in US criminal courts
Non-Americans in the U.S. federal court system are more likely to be sentenced to prison and for longer terms compared to U.S. citizens, according to a new study.

Racial makeup of private prisons shows disparities, new OSU study finds
A disproportionate number of Hispanics are housed in private prisons across the United States, a pattern that could leave such prisons vulnerable to legal challenges, new research from Oregon State University shows.

Researchers treat incarceration as a disease epidemic, discover small changes help
The incarceration rate has nearly quadrupled since the U.S. declared a war on drugs, researchers say. Along with that, racial disparities abound. Incarceration rates for black Americans are more than six times higher than those for white Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Victims want to change, not just punish, offenders
A series of experiments conducted by researchers affiliated with Princeton University has found that punishment is only satisfying to victims if the offenders change their attitude as a result of the punishment.
More Criminal Justice System Current Events and Criminal Justice System News Articles

© 2015 BrightSurf.com