Does TV Increase Fear of Crime? | Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Does TV Make Us Perceive More Crime?

It seems like every season there is a new crime-solving show on television. With so much fictionalized violence on TV and even more crime reported in the news, it is not difficult to imagine that the depiction of violence may affect our own perceptions of crime. A new study done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania sought to find out just how much our viewing habits affect our perceptions of crime.

The study was testing the idea of “cultivation theory,” that is the idea that prolonged exposure to a reality on TV that differs from the true reality of our real lives may impact what we believe about the true reality we live in. Specifically, many researchers worry that by viewing so much crime on TV that we would overestimate the amount of crime occurring in the country. The results of the study, however, supported many other studies that showed that on average, watching fictional crime shows does not cause people to overstate the chances of becoming a victim of a crime; however, the study revealed that there is some truth to cultivation theory. Even when people do not believe that crime is more prevalent than it is in reality, there is a correlation between exposure to crime dramas and fear of crime.

Just because we know it isn’t real, doesn’t mean it does not scare us

Although we may understand logically that these crime dramas are not real, we do feel a connection with the victims and characters on the show, causing us to internalize some of the fear of that crime. These crime dramas play on our emotions in order to create more compelling and exciting television. This can mean that on some level we are stimulating the part of our brains that react to crime with fear. By continually exposing ourselves to these crimes that scare us, the fear increases, even if we know on a conscious level that the crimes are not real.

Over the past 40 years, the fear people have of crime and the amount of crime on television has increased in tandem, despite actual crime crates consistently dropping during that time. People have become more and more afraid of becoming victims of crimes and have enacted more precautions against crimes as the fears internalize. The study noted that perhaps the prevalence of female victims on TV may be a part of the reason that women have a greater fear of murder, despite the fact than men are the more frequent victims. The researchers hope that this study will open doors to do more research on the effects of television crimes on our actual lives. In the meantime, we would all do well to remind ourselves that while precautions are never harmful, we are probably safer than we feel.