An US academician has said that looking at an accident site or suffering of others can actually be good for mental health.
Eric Wilson, professor of English at Wake Forest University in North Carolina has argued his case in a new book called Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away.
AdvertisementHe asserted that his investigations into obsessions with the macabre began after he realised that he was becoming more and more drawn to the darker side of life.
"I was asking myself: 'Why am I so interested in writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley and becoming increasingly fixated on horror movies? Why as I become more mature - I have a wife, a daughter - why can't I stop watching bad Boris Karloff movies?'" the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
"I realised, though, that maybe my morbidity doesn't make me weird, maybe it's not such a bad thing - that we all have a morbid side."
To find out more Professor Wilson embarked on a journey to what he described as 'the dark underbelly of America'.
He interviewed a host of experts including biologists, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists and even spoke to Rick Staton, who sells the art of serial killers.
"I did a lot of field work, visited what you might call "masters of the macabre," he said.
He concluded that if we approach darkness in the right way, it could lead to light.
"There are many reasons why we're attracted to the morbid. It's titillating, it's a weird physiological arousal, an animal stimulation - some scientists even think it has an evolutionary value."
"For instance, some gazelles watch while one of their own is eaten by a lion. And some humans might share this trait - we learn what not to do."
Professor Wilson insisted that this was something that the renowned psychologists Carl Jung believed in.
"Jung might say that we have a shadow side. Most of us go through life repressing it, yet it draws us to death and gore. But Jung says it's psychologically healthy, because it can help us get to know ourselves."
"Morbid curiosity allows us to think about the meaning of suffering and death."
But Professor Wilson said that the key is to use imagination.
"If a celebrity falls from grace we commodify these experiences, we're not allowing ourselves to imagine it. If we open up empathetically to the other person it can make us more human."
"It's about the necessity of using our imagination in trying to make suffering meaningful. What's the difference between titillation and exploitation? The power of imagination to empathise. It's not something I'd thought about before."
However Professor Wilson draws a firm line between looking at destruction and empathising - and becoming obsessed with it.
"If you look at a car accident by the road, hopefully you think about the suffering of others and feel relieved, you don't seek out other accidents. You don't dwell on it," he said.
"Someone who seeks out pain, suffering and catastrophe as his main purpose in life - that can lead to depression. It leads to insensitivity, to being less sensitive to the meaning of catastrophe and a bleak life," he added.