Why Do People Fixate on the Killer When Tragedy Strikes?
The news storms the Internet with information
- Batman; Shooter James Holmes -- The Killers Arsenal | TMZ.com
James Holmes used 3 different kinds of guns during his assault on a Colorado movie theater ... including a high power assault rifle.The Aurora PD says…
- Colorado Movie Theater Shooting: 71 Victims the Largest Shooting in U.S. History - ABC News
An overnight shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., has left 14 people dead and 20 people were injured, according to authorities.
- Colorado shootings suspect: Who is James Holmes?
The suspect in the Colorado shootings is a 24-year-old recent medical school dropout from San Diego.
Colorado theater shooting highlights a quirky psychological behavior
When something horrible happens, why do people get fixated on the killer? It seems that James Holmes is now the most popular (and hated) man in America today. This seems to happen every time a tragedy strikes. What is behind our nosy and morbid curiosity?
Trying to make sense of tragedy
When something unthinkable happens, people need a reason. It is not enough to know that the universe is screwed up; there must be a motivation or underlying idea to why something so horrible can happen to innocent people. The bottom line is that a senseless tragedy is scary. It means no one can predict when or how it will strike. The fear of the unknown drives the masses to understand the “why” so they themselves will not be vulnerable.
Profiling the murderer
Watch the Twitter and Facebook feeds throughout a day like today, and it is easy to see how many of them are on James Holmes- his life, personality, and what he’s like. Taking a murderer apart piece-by-piece helps to give others a sense of security- if you know the profile of a murderer, you can avoid him in a crowd.
It is a distraction from mundane life
If you are not happy with your life or feel a frequent sense of boredom and despair; the momentary distraction is a welcome deviation from daily life. You can feel (for a moment) that you are blessed, safe, and better off than the victims or the killer. It gives a person the feeling of, “well thank God I am not such and such,” or “my kid will never turn out like because I am not making him do such and such.” Tragedy brings a strange sense of reassurance that we must be okay because our lives are not that messed up.
Crisis junkies feed on the drama
The media banks on the fact that people like “crises” because it causes a surge of stress hormones. These hormones raise vigilance, a feeling of urgency, purpose, and excitement- welcome emotions to those who feel lazy or mundane. Drama momentarily bonds people together, gives them a feeling of community, and promotes other happy hormones as they reunite against a common enemy.
People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are transfixed
Those with various phobias might find themselves unable to break away from the news. That feeling of, “What if I miss some new piece of information that completes the puzzle?” drives people who are prone to OCD to stay focused on the news updates as they come in.
Desperate to be in the “know”
No one likes to be the last person to know about an important event. For some, having the latest information on the killer gives them a sense of “importance” among friends and family. Others go to them looking for answers because he or she is known as the person with the inside scoop. It is essentially a way to build self-esteem, but unfortunately- the results are temporary. As soon as the news is old, the person must go looking for that new piece of info that will bond him/her with the community.
The bottom line
Whatever the reason may be, it is a common phenomenon in this modern world, that the media frenzy feeds all sorts of quirky habits in people intent on taking apart a senseless tragedy. Let’s hope that just as much attention, resources, and support go to the victim’s families as well.
[Updated December 14th, 2012] Given the trauma and tragedy of today's school shooting, I felt this article was relevant. Let's focus on the victims and not the shooter.