The Psychology of Morbid Curiosity

The Psychology of Morbid Curiosity



Are you curious about what Gladiatorial fights in the Coliseum of Ancient Rome were like? Have you ever wondered how an autopsy is performed? Would you watch a documentary about a famous serial killer? If there was a supposedly haunted place in your city, would you be tempted to visit? Most people would answer yes to at least one of these questions. But why are people curious about phenomena that might be classified as morbid?

Though there is no formal definition, morbid curiosity is typically described as an interest in or curiosity about unpleasant things, especially death. The commercial success of horror films, popularity of true crime television shows, and prevalence of violence in the news implies that the average person possesses some degree of morbid curiosity. Likewise, the presence of death-related phenomena in literature and art and the historical attraction of public executions and gladiatorial fights suggests that morbid curiosity is an old and cross-cultural phenomenon. Despite the ubiquity of morbid material in entertainment, research on morbid curiosity is largely absent from the psychological literature. Moreover, although there is evidence that morbid curiosity is a well-understood lay phenomenon and that there are individual differences in morbid curiosity, no well-validated scale exists. In this research project, I am investigating the psychological nature of morbid curiosity by creating the Morbid Curiosity Scale (MCS), evaluating its ability to predict behavioral outcomes, and assessing its relationship with personality and behavior. The MCS and morbid curiosity behavioral tasks will be assessed in online adult samples, university samples, and attendees at events related to morbid curiosity, such as the Oddities and Curiosities Expo and haunted houses.





Select media coverage

My work on morbid curiosity has been covered by a wide variety of news and media outlets, including New Scientist, Metro, The Guardian, The New York Times, NY Post, Nautilus, Vice, and Dread Central

For a more in-depth discussion, check out my interview on the Mad Scientist Podcast.

Click here to download the Morbid Curiosity Scale and see how to use it. Please cite the Psychology of Morbid Curiosity paper (currently a preprint, found here) if you use the scale.

Relevant manuscripts

The Psychology of Morbid Curiosity.

Pandemic Practice: Horror Fans and Morbidly Curious Individuals Are More Psychologically Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic

An Infectious Curiosity: Morbid Curiosity and Media Preferences During a Pandemic





Below is a cabinet of curiosities I curated to test some ideas about morbid curiosity. While wearing Pupil Invisible mobile eye tracking glasses, participants inspect the cabinet and choose 5 items to manually inspect and 5 items to learn more about. In addition to serving as an external validation of the Morbid Curiosity Scale, the cabient of curiosities will illuminate the relationship between perceptual and epistemic curiosity.

Today I Read also made this great video summary of our results from the Pandemic Practice paper.

Fans of horror films showed more psychological resilience during COVID-19 pandemic

Fans of horror films showed more psychological resilience during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted by Hashem Al-Ghaili on Monday, September 21, 2020
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Coltan Scrivner
PhD Candidate

I investigate morbid curiosity and the evolution of social cognition