We walk down the street and find a corpse What do we do? Aside from the obvious, which is being afraid to see it and call the police, we can do one of two things: cover our eyes, try not to see it, or come close. and see with all the luxury of detail.
No, being curious about a dead body isn’t exactly a very normal thing, but it’s not a symptom of psychopathy or anything like that, either. Human beings are curious by nature and there are many people who are very interested in grotesque, murky and macabre things.
Morbid curiosity is that feeling of not wanting to look at something that seems horrifying to us but still not being able to avoid looking at it.. It is a strange and ironic feeling that manifests itself to varying degrees with different people. Today we are going to see what are the key aspects behind this particular sentiment.
What is morbid curiosity?
Do you know Ricardo López? Among the many people who respond to this name, the most infamous is undoubtedly the Uruguayan-American who in 1996 wanted to make history by trying to end the life of his greatest idol, the Icelandic singer Björk .
Lopez is not only known for attempting to commit a similar homicide, but for the way he recorded his descent into madness through 18 hours of recording recorded with his camera, a gift he got to himself. offered on the occasion of his 21st birthday.
These recordings are video diaries where he exposes his thoughts, his love-hate for Björk and also his complexes for the overweight he suffered due to his Klinefelter syndrome. In most of the recordings, Ricardo López appears half-naked, with an evident level of neglect on dirtier ground with each recording. It’s also those video diaries where he records how he made the sulfuric acid pump that would send his idol. His latest recording, titled “The Last Day – Ricardo López” by himself, ends with him opening his mouth and striking a blow.
These grisly recordings, proof of the mental health problems of a fan who tried to change the Icelandic singer’s life by ripping her off, are hard to watch. Not because they can’t be accessed on the internet, in fact all of Lopez’s videos are on Youtube. What they find it hard to see is that it takes a lot of a stomach to see how Ricardo López shows us how his life and his mind are getting more and more murky, grotesque and disturbing.
But the truth is, the Youtube channel is full of videos on the case, and even has a specialty channel where everything is on display, even the lifeless body of the 21-year-old. There is an almost 2 hour long video documentary with over 200,000 views, made with Lopez’s most important videos.
And let’s not talk about the huge amount of YouTubers specializing in serial killers and notorious homicides who are talking about the case. If there are so many videos, it’s because there is a demand for the topic. People are interested in a subject that arouses a lot of morbid curiosity.
We have all felt this emotion more than once. Morbid curiosity is that feeling of not wanting to look, but still not being able to stop doing it.. We see something that seems threatening and disgusting, that our nature tells us that it is wrong to pay so much attention, that it is even dangerous, but we still carry on.
We feel a macabre attraction to something horrible, the same attraction that those interested in the case of Ricardo López and Björk feel.
The psychological elements of morbid curiosity
This emotion has been known for a long time. Plato himself recorded this 2,000 years ago when he told the story of a man named Leoncio. One day, Leoncio was walking near the walls of his city when he saw a pile of corpses with the executioner next to him.
Leoncio he longed to look at these lifeless bodies, but at the same time he felt the sincere feeling that it was wrong to look at them.. But his desire outweighed his aversion and Leoncio could not help approaching the corpses, exclaiming:
“There! Miserable! Contemplate your plenitude in front of the beautiful spectacle!”
Even from a modern point of view, Leoncio’s actions do not surprise us. After all, if the same happened to us, chances are we couldn’t help but watch them, even a little.
Of course, there are people who surely couldn’t look at anything, while others would not look up, because like all human traits, morbid curiosity also has individual differences.
What makes some people more likely to watch horrible things than others? This is the question posed by researcher Coltan Scrivner, who has conducted several surveys to determine what are the key aspects behind a person exhibiting a greater degree of morbid curiosity than others. Based on his research, Scrivner tells us about three main key aspects:
1.the rebellious nonconformity
According to Scrivner’s research, socially rebellious people score high on what is called rebellious nonconformity, i.e. the tendency not to obey social norms. Social rebels care little about the traditional way of life and prefer a certain unpredictability to their lives.
Many people, when told that something is forbidden or done wrong, feel a particular attraction to do it, as would those with high rebellious nonconformity. Most of the things that arouse morbid curiosity are often discouraged and penalized by cultural norms.
In Western circles, such as Europe and North America, it is considered a violation of social norms to show interest or curiosity about topics such as serial killers, violence, rape or paranormal activity, although we can find them in the media. Showing interest in all of this in a Western country is a strong predictor of morbid curiosity.
Of course, this depends on each cultural context, since in a culture where these issues are not taboo, social rebels will be less likely to show morbid curiosity about these same issues.
2. A disgust that reminds us of our animal origins
Another key aspect that Scrivner mentions when talking about morbid curiosity is what he calls “animal recall disgust,” translatable to something like disgust that reminds us of our animal origins. It’s a dimension of generic loathing that kicks in when we see corpses and things that remind us of death..
It is believed that this type of disgust seems to protect us from what could be dangerous to our health, such as contaminated bodily fluid or what killed the corpse we see.
In his research, Scrivner found that people with high morbid curiosity tend to feel less disgusted by those things that remind us of our animal origin. That is, curious morbid people are less likely to express fear in various aspects of life related to death and feel less disgusted by situations in which bodily integrity may be compromised.
3. Show social curiosity
Based on the work of Todd Kashdan, whose research shows that generic curiosity can be categorized into five dimensions, this researcher and his colleagues identified social curiosity as a key aspect behind curiosity.
Social curiosity can be divided into two types: open and secret. While open or overt social curiosity refers to an interest in the behavior of others, unmanifest is associated with an interest in gossip and gossip.
Coltan Scrivner relates this to one of the dimensions he identified in his work on morbid curiosity: that of interest in the minds of dangerous people. The main aspect of this dimension would be to show curiosity for the motivations and behaviors of dangerous people which drove them to commit a vile and bloody act. According to him, people who score high on overt social curiosity are more likely to display morbid curiosity.
The test of morbid curiosity
In conclusion, with his work Scrivner argues that, while the three key aspects that we have explained do not explain the variance set on human morbid curiosity, they notoriously influence their appearance and degree. with which it manifests.
From their work and in a nutshell, people who don’t pay too much attention to social norms, who don’t fear death, who don’t get upset when they see a damaged or dead corpse, and who are also curious criminal behavior of some people, they have all the votes to have a high morbid curiosity.
Perhaps you are also a very curious morbid person… Who knows? You will surely already have doubts as to whether or not you are according to your curiosity when dressing a dead animal or whether you like documentaries about murky things, but also, if you want to check, Coltan Scrivner himself has designed a test to assess morbid curiosity available on their website.
- Scrivner, C. (2021). The psychology of morbid curiosity: development and initial validation of the morbid curiosity scale. Personality and individual differences, 183, 111139.
- Scrivner, C. (2021). 3 key traits of curious morbid people. Psychology today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/morbid-minds/202110/3-key-traits-morbidly-curious-people
- Rozin, P., Haidt, J. and McCauley, C. (2000). Disgust. In M. Lewis and SM Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions, 2nd Edition. (pp. 637-653). Guilford Press.
- Kollareth, D. and Russell, JA (2017). Is it disgusting to remember that you are an animal? Cognition and emotion, 31 (7), 1318-1332.
- Kashdan, TB, Saturday, DJ, Goodman, FR and McKnight, PE (2020). The revised five-dimensional curiosity scale (5DCR): shorter subscales while separating open and hidden social curiosity. Personality and Individual Differences, 157, 109836.