Why Are We Morbidly Curious?

Why Are We Morbidly Curious?


Hey Vsauce. Michael here. In 1924 psychologist Carney Landis drew lines on people’s faces and then photographed them in various
scenarios to study facial expressions. But he didn’t use actors and he didn’t tell the participants to
pretend to feel emotions. Instead, he subjected them to actual trauma. He had them do things like smell ammonia, look at pornographic images and even reach their hand in buckets of wet slimy frogs. His most intense directive involved ordering them to take a knife and while being photographed cut off the head of a living rat. Seriously. Most initially refused to cut the head off,
but eventually two-thirds agreed to do as they were told, including a 13-year-old boy referred to
the psychology department by a doctor for high blood pressure thought to be
caused by emotional instability. Many believe his inclusion in Landis’ experiment was an accident. If replicated today Landis might be arrested but what is psychologically arresting
about these images is that the unease and disgust and fear they show is real. It’s disturbing but fascinating. We are paradoxically drawn towards some
pretty repulsive things: car accidents, car chases, the possibility of a crash or a fight, or a natural disaster; I mean not one that hurts anyone, of course, but one that’s exciting. Celebrity scandal, drama, disfiguration, true crime, war and gore, the macarbe. Like the Kangling, a trumpet used during Himalayan Buddhist rituals
that’s made out of a human leg bone. We often feel guilty for being interested in these types of things, after all, they are unpleasant but yet we can’t look away. Why? Well, there is no single reason, there are
many of them but they can be mould into a mnemonic. We like disturbing things because we like to scream. They give us strength, catharsis reality, exploration, acceptance and meaning. Watching someone eat gross tasting jellybeans or a ghost pepper or a spoonful of cinnamon or suffer in more extreme ways, is a kinda
strange thing to like to do but it’s part of what keeps us alive. We are curious, even if the outcome could be bad. We often find uncertainty more
unpleasant than unpleasant certainty. At least if we look we know. There’s a neurological basis for
exploring in the face of danger. We become more attentive and alert when we are frightened, which makes
sense. Neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine are released when we are scared physically and mentally preparing us to take on a threat or successfully escape from it. Dopamine is famously part of the brains reward system. Dopamine is released in response to pleasurable things, like sex and food, but that doesn’t mean our brains find disturbing things
pleasurable. It’s more interesting than that. When dopamine systems are inhibited in laboratory animals, they will cease to seek out food and literally starve to death; because
they no longer find food fun? No. If food is placed in their mouths, they will consume it and express signs of satisfaction. Evidence like this suggests that the brain contains systems that motivate seeking, approaching and curiosity for their own sake. This has implications in the study of compulsive behaviour. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you like it. The rush of chemicals into our brains and bodies when we are scared help us. When the threats are real. But if the threats aren’t real, or if we are safely distant from them, and merely spectating, the same chemicals still appear, making us more attentive, more curious and making it more difficult to look away. In the early nineteen hundreds Eugène-Louis Doyen published incredible
images of corpses he cut into stackable slices. The images are amazingly macarbe but yet utterly fascinating and a wonderful reminder of what we are literally made of. We often feel like we need an excuse, like Halloween or anatomy homework, in
order to look at things like that without coming across as a total weirdo. I mean come on if you look too interested in
the macarbe it might look like you are into, approve of or enjoy the gruesome. Funny enough, that guilt may very well fuel our desire to look in the first place. Sometimes pressure to not do something can
actually make people more likely to do that thing. It’s called The Boomerang Effect. There are many different ways for things to boomerang: one is The Streisand Effect, when trying to suppress something unintentionally makes it more widely distributed. In 2003 Barbra Streisand sued to suppress a photo published online, as part of a
California Coastline Preservation Project. One of the photos, the one she was trying to get rid of, showed her house. Within a month of the lawsuit going public nearly half a million people had flooded
the website and downloaded the picture. Before the suit only six people had downloaded the image, two of which were her lawyers. In a similar fashion, social pressures
and tabboos against viewing disturbing things can make them more interesting, rarer and so a more valuable commodity, and also free, in that deliberately viewing them can demonstrate to ourselves and others that we are free and can do what we want. Disturbing things can also make us feel stronger, because their repulsiveness is a challenge. Glenn Sparks at Purdue University has studied the way terrifying films affect us. After watching them, viewers often feel stronger, satisfied that they didn’t chicken out, that they made it through, they conquered something disturbing and were able to handle it. It’s almost a form of practice. As Stephen
King put it, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones”. On the more negative side, following
celebrity scandals or seeing defeat on the faces of the rival team can make you feel pretty good. It’s
called ‘Schadenfreude’, which means harm joy; getting pleasure from others misfortunes. Social comparison theory describes and predicts behavior like this
although grades and rankings cause anxiety, we nonetheless
possess a drive to seek out evaluations of ourselves in comparison to others, we especially
enjoyed the evaluations that put us on top. Now, causing other people to be less well off sort of makes sense under this lens. If its relative happiness you’re
concerned with, trolling or harassing or griefing other people sort of works, it doesn’t make you happier but compared to the people
you’re annoying, you are less annoyed. So… yay? Viewing scenes of anger and vengeance and violence that don’t even involve us can nonetheless cause our own anger and aggression to burn off, as though they’re being satisfied. It’s called catharsis, a cleanser, a purification. Creating images and movies
and stories that play with our emotions might be grasping at low hanging fruit. A task beneath such logical
creatures as ourselves. Or, it might be a powerful demonstration of the fact that we have control, or at
least a leash, around how we feel. We condemn the actions of serial killers but nonetheless often
treat them like rock stars. Web sites like RedrumAutographs and Serial Killers Ink sell autographs, souvenirs, trinkets
and works of art made by real serial killers. Some call it murderabilia. On a spectrum of
petty thrills and morose voyeurism to complete overwhelming obsession and fear, our relationship with the morbid is
complicatedm but it is under our control if we’re aware of our actions. One of the most
constructive and socially important uses of the morbid is the facilitation of meaning, acceptance and empathy. In his book ‘Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck’ Eric G. Wilson says that our attraction
to the macabre is on some level a desire to experience someone else’s suffering. Morbid curiosity is often about the
imagination. Imagining what it would be like to be that
other person, what if that happened to me? Could it happen to me? Empathetic feelings remind us that our
time is limited and that we are fragile and in doing so
bring us closer together. Sure enough, the last
movie I watched it made me want to go out and hug the very first friend I could find wasn’t a happy feel-good comedy. Instead, it was Louis Theroux’s somber ‘Extreme Love Dementia’. Viewing unpleasant things doesn’t always make them less unpleasant
or any less real but that’s not always the point. Morbid
curiosity is also about acceptance. Remember, our brains are wired with motivations
to explore unpleasant things, because doing so
can be preferable to ignorance. Gawking at morbidity is often about asking why? There must be a reason, a meaning behind all of this. When tragedy strikes or horrors are
revealed, we listen to experts give opinions, neighbors describe the killer, we look for
signs that were missed and confirmation that others feel the same
way we do, that people are helping or making sure
justice is served. Katelin Dodi the host of ‘Ask a
Mortician’ here on YouTube just wrote a phenomenal book ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other
Lessons from the Crematory’. In the book she says “accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be
devastated when someone you love dies, it means you will be able to focus on
your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions, like why do people die? And why is this
happening to me? Death isn’t happening to you, death is happening to us all.” That’s heavy stuff but acceptance like that is one of the
greatest things morbid curiosity has to offer and don’t worry, there’s a funny side to all of this, or at least a funny side related to this and how morbidity helps us make sense of the world. A study in Finland found that children were four
times as likely to be scared by their usual television programs if a parent was in the room. It surprised researchers
but one explanation lies in the “Uh oh, Mom flinched theory”. The idea is that to a young child almost
everything is brand new but parents are older, they’re wiser, they know what’s normal and if they are scared of what’s on TV uh oh… How we feel and how we feel about
how we feel is to a large degree learned. There’s a
theory about the origin of humor called the encryption theory of humor. It
suggests that one of the great roles humor plays is in measuring who is inside and
who is outside, who is similar and who is socially
or ideologically too different. Jokes test what
researchers call unstated common knowledge the teller and
listener both share. So might we be morbidly curious for the same reason we
enjoy telling jokes? Jokes assess underlying shared attitudes. Morbidity helps us asses shared underlying attitudes of an existential variety, morality and justice. Whether it’s used for empathetic or
exploitative reasons, morbidity and laughter may share a similar adaptive role. We are morbidly
curious because we like to scream but more
strangely the yuk…and the yuk yuk overlap. And as always, thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Why Are We Morbidly Curious?

  1. 6:35 I once watched Kickass 2, and I was horrified. My aunts kept asking me if I'd like to leave the theatre, and by god I did, but I told them "if I don't watch this to the end, I'll never be able to get it out of my mind". It's like a dream. If you wake up before it's over, you're more likely to remember it. Now I only remember the movie for it's vulgarly stupid humor and how irresponsible those prison guards were.

  2. Lets start a petition to have Trump push the button. Humanity is broken and we cant be fixed. Population 0 👍

  3. Could it be that we're drawn to the suffering of others because it may give us an edge if we are ever put in a similar situation? If one of your monkey buddies slips up and dies, you watch and assess what they did wrong so that you can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. The train wreck instinct arguably gives you a survival advantage, and therefore could have been a result of natural selection.

  4. xDD, how you pronounced Schadenfreude ahhahah. Not really wrong but a bit weird.(im from Germany so..
    Really good Video!!

  5. Curiosity killed the cat
    that's not the full saying, in fact it's
    Curiosity killed the cat, but the satisfaction brought it back

  6. My earliest memory of something like this was when I was about 5 or so and my dad took me along fishing and I can remember being absolutely fascinated and transfixed on the suffocating fish in the bucket.

  7. "If you're really that morbidly curious, you can find the full video on LiveLeak." -ScareTheater 2019
    If you can tell me what video this quote is from, reply saying it and nothing else will happen.

  8. I'm currently reading a manga called Domestic Girlfriend, Its like watching a burning car crash but and cant look away.

  9. ah i love his videos, they’re so good for lazy summer days when i want to learn but not really study

  10. Everything he talks about comes full circle eventually. That mortician eventually cameoed in Mindfield years later.

  11. Fun fact, VSause and Caitlin are actually good friends in real life. They went to the same school together if I'm not mistaken.

  12. I saw a video today of a hockey player getting his throat slashed by a skate, he recovered (thank god) but it was so fascinating seeing how you fast he almost died.

  13. I love anything and everything morbid. I stopped caring a very long time ago about whether people think it is weird or not. To be honest I think the people that judge just don't want to accept that they too are interested…

  14. I spent about an hour a few months ago watching real death videos, or trying to in some cases. Death sucks and is brutal, but interesting because we're all getting there one way or another.

  15. Get the story straight. Landis asked them to decapitate a rat, but the knife given them was blunt and couldn't cut. He was only interested in thier responses.

  16. On first viewing:
    "I don't really understand murderabilia."
    After getting into the Doom modding community and beginning to seek out The Harris Levels:
    "Okay, yeah, it's starting to make sense."

  17. i feel like micheal is the kinda guy to be in the shower for three hours cause he’s talking to himself and that how must of these topics are picked

  18. I love vsauce for it's scientific knowledge, but it can be dangerous in a government like ours that needs to create moral threats.

  19. So that's why I'm addicted to Shane Dawson's conspiracy and creepy videos. Even though they freak the fuck out of me😂

  20. There are 123k likes on the video.
    How curious.

    (to bad this isn't the previous video I watched about strange coincidences, because that would've a strange coincidence. Oh well, this one was still good, and at least its…. curious… Kinda fits with the video… right?)

  21. when he talks about the mice choosing dopamine over food it was the experiment about mice choosing meth over food until they starve

  22. I'm literally so sacred that I expected every minute theres gonna be a terrifying image that I almost flinch every minute

  23. psychologists have observed what people might do in an apocalyptic scenario using footage from a game. These were real people playing a MMORPG and a bug caused a fatal disease to spread though several towns. One of the surprising things they found out is that some people heard about the disease spreading so they went to the infected towns to see for themselves. this was previously not considered what people would do in an apocalyptic scenario.

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